Artful Creations by Patti Jo

Gourd Art

Growing Gourds in your Yard

Gourd plants are easy to grow. Minimum preparation is required and if left to themselves, gourds will thrive with just sunshine and regular watering. 

Each year, when spring time rolls around, it's time to decide what kind of gourds you want to grow. There are many gourd shapes and sizes, and you want to make sure that you plant the gourd type that you need for your projects. The Lagenaria gourd types dry out with a hard "woody" shell suitable for making decorations and utensils. Click here to see illustrated examples of the basic types of Lagenaria gourds. 

So now that you have a good idea of the type of gourds you want to grow, you need to find the right seeds to sow in your garden. You can purchase packaged seeds at garden stores. You can also search online for "gourd seeds" and "gourd growers". Gourd growers sell gourds and they usually sell gourd seeds. Of course you can always use the seeds from a gourd that you have opened and cleaned (see section "How to Get the Right Gourds" if you use this method).

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Sowing

Once the threat of frost has passed, you can safely plant your seeds. I like to get a head start on my gourd growing season by planting my seeds in a little "greenhouse" like the one pictured below. It can be purchased from a garden store.

 

I always dedicate each row in the greenhouse to a particular gourd type. I use stickers to number each row of the greenhouse, and then I write down which gourd type is planted in each row. Just follow the instructions on the greenhouse for planting your seeds.

I keep the greenhouse in my garden room to ensure that it stays warm until the frost threat has passed. In 4 to 6 weeks, the gourd plants will be ready to plant outside. Don't wait too long to transplant your gourds outside. I plant mine as soon as 2 or 3 leaves have developed. Gourd plants don't really like to be transplanted and if you wait too late to transplant them, they might not turn into healthy, productive plants.

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Planting

You need a lot of space to grow your gourds. It is a good idea to give them something to "climb" on to keep them from spreading out too far.

I attach garden wire to the fence for the gourd runners to climb up. Make sure that the fence is strong and and that your garden wire is attached well enough to support the gourds as they mature. If you plant large gourds, this is very important because large gourds are very heavy when they mature. 

 

Early in the growing season just after gourds start developing, I fertilize my gourd patch with a good nitrogen rich garden fertilizer. That is the only time I fertilize the soil. If your soil is already high in nitrogen then this is not necessary.

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Growing in Containers

As seen in the photo below, I use concrete planters for planting many of my gourd plants. The round pots are 16" wide, and the oblong pots are 26" wide. Since the containers are above ground, they can quickly dry out in the heat of the summer. To help maintain the moisture level in the pot, I fill the pots with a good moisture control potting soil. I plant no more than 3 plants per round pot and 4 plants per oblong pot. It takes a LOT of water to support this many plants in a single pot. I use a drip watering system to keep my pots moist all summer long. I have a timer on the system to initiate daily watering cycles. I find that I get better results if I run my drip system in short intervals multiple times a day. You will have to be the judge for how often and how long you need to water your container plants based on the weather conditions in your area. If your gourd plants start looking wilted, it is time to increase the amount of watering.

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Growing in Beds

I also have a flower bed to plant gourd plants directly in the ground. I like for some of my flat-bottom larger gourds to rest on the ground to ensure that as they mature they don't fall and get damaged. Since the gourds touch the ground, I prepare the bed with a generous amount of mulch to help preserve the bottom surface of the gourds.

The mulch also helps to keep the moisture in the ground. Since the ground does not dry out at fast as containers, I water the flower beds much less often than the containers, but each watering is longer to ensure that the ground gets fully soaked. As with the containers, if your gourd plants start looking wilted, you just need to increase the amount of watering.

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How to Get the "Right" Gourds

If you ensure that the gourds you grow are genetically "pure", you will know that the seeds you retrieve from your gourds will produce plants that will produce the same gourd style. If the gourds you grow are genetically "impure", the seeds you retrieve from those gourds will produce plants with gourds of an unpredictable style--you might like it, and you might not.

Without getting too botanically technical, I will explain how you get "pure" and "impure" gourd seeds. As seen in the photos below, lagenaria gourd plants produce lovely white flowers. If you look closely, you will see that your plants actually produce 2 types of flowers--male flowers and female flowers. The photo on the right is a male flower, and the photo on the left is a female flower. The females are easy to spot because they have the "beginnings" of a gourd at the base of the flower. At the center of the female flower is its yellow colored piston. The piston is glossy and sticky. Conversly, at the center of the male flower is its yellow colored stamen covered with powdery pollen. In nature's way, pollen gathering insects fly from one flower to another in search of pollen. When they do this, they get pollen from male flowers on their bodies and then when they land on a female flower, a little bit of pollen is left on the female flower's piston. This pollen results in the fertilization of the female flower, and a gourd is born! If the female flower is not pollenated, then no gourd will develop. 

So if a female flower from a canteen gourd plant is fertilized by pollen from a bottle gourd plant then the resulting gourd will be a canteen gourd containing impure canteen gourd seeds. I don't know what the gourds produced by the impure seeds of this canteen gourd would look like, but they would surely be examples of an impure gourds which will also contain impure seeds. But if that canteen female flower is fertilized by pollen from a canteen gourd plant then the resulting gourd will be a canteen gourd containing pure canteen gourd seeds.

How do you know for sure that your gourds are gentically "pure"? One way would be to always purchase seeds from a reputable seed company. In that way, you can feel certain that the seeds you sow will produce the proper gourd style.

But if like me, you want use the seeds from the gourds that you grow in your garden, you must do a little work to promote gourd purity.

The first thing you must do is locate your gourd plants such that each gourd type is planted in a different area of your yard. Don't mix your plants up! The further apart you plant your gourd types, the better are your chances of growing pure gourds. If this is all you do, then it is likely that insects will naturally pollenate correctly as they travel from flower to flower. However, since insects have the ability to travel from group to group, you could still get some impure gourds. 

A way to improve your chances of getting pure gourds is to pollenate your female flowers yourself. I go out each evening and then again early each morning to check for newly opened female flowers. (Female flowers only bloom for one night.) Using a clean cotton tipped swab, I brush the stamen of an appropriate male flower loading it with pollen. I then gently touch the piston of the female flower with the pollenated swab. So if an insect carrying incorrect pollen didn't get there before me, I'll get a gourd with pure seeds!

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Bugs in the Gourd Patch

It seems like each year some new type of insect infestation rains down on my gourd patch. This usually happens early in the season. Particularly destructive are catepillars that love to chew on new growth and tiny young gourds. Aphids can be very destructive as well. But whatever the culprit is, if you take measures to rid them with insecticide, you will not only kill the destroying bugs but you will kill the "good" pollenating bugs as well.

The gourd growing season never seems long enough. The longer the growing season, the more time your gourds will have to mature. If you try to "ride out" an insect infestation letting it run its course, you will lose out on a lot of gourd growing time.

My solution to insect infestation is to use insecticide to get rid of the destroyers, and then manually pollenate until the infestation has subsided. (See the section above, "How to Get the Right Gourds", for information on how to manually pollenate your gourd plants.)

For more information about pests in your gourd gardern, check out this article from North Carolina State Univeristy, "Pests of Curcurbitus".

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Controlling your Gourd Plant Growth

Gourd plants grow in long runners. These runners can get very long and out of control before you know it. It is actually better to keep these runners cut back to about 8 feet long. Keeping the runners cut back helps to keep them in their proper growing area, and it also actually promotes gourd production. When a runner is cut back, it will quickly produce side runners which will produce plenty of female flowers. It seems counter-intuitive to cut back thriving gourd runners but if you do, you will end up with a healthier and more productive gourd patch.

Once the gourd plants start producing runners, I put out tomato cages for them to give them additional climbing space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I try to keep them from getting in my shrubs and trees. Check out my yucca plants with gourds hanging in them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This picture shows what happens when you allow a gourd vine to climb up a tree. See the huge gourd at the top of the picture? Before it had time to mature, a wind storm blew it out of the tree and the gourd was destroyed when it hit the ground.

 

 

 

 

Harvesting Your Gourds

I don't harvest my gourds until after the first "hard" freeze. This ensures maximum gourd maturation. The more mature the gourd is, the thicker its shell will be. If a gourd is cut too soon before maturity, it will shrivel during the drying process. Technically, a gourd is mature when its stem has turned hard and brown. Some growers cut the gourd as soon as the stem turns brown. I leave mine on the vine until after the first hard freeze because I want to make sure that all gourds are as mature as they can possibly be. It doesn't do any harm to leave them on the vine--they will just start their drying process on the vine.

Some growers harvest their gourds too early because the vines start looking ugly in the fall. For this reason, it is tempting to pull everything up to make the yard look nice. The gourds that don't shrivel will likely have thin shells. So my advice is to resist that temptation and wait.

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Curing Gourds

It usually takes 3 to 6 months for gourds to dry. It is best to leave a couple of inches of stem on the gourds, then you can hang them from their stems. Moisture actually leaves the gourd through its stem.  Drying can be done outside, or in a storage barn or garage. Mold will very often develop on the outside of the gourds--this normal and will be removed during the cleaning process. If a gourd shrivels or gets mushy, it likely did not mature. Gourds like this will not cure and should be discarded. A gourd is considered to be cured when it is no longer green, light-weight and the seeds rattle when you shake it.

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Cleaning Gourds

Once your gourds are completely cured, they are ready for cleaning. There is a thin layer of skin that must be removed before the gourd is suitable for painting. I like to clean a "batch" of gourds at a time. This is a messy process that I do outside. I put as many gourds as will fit into a plastic storage bin and fill it with water. The gourds will float. When I put the lid on the bin, it pushes the gourds down and water gushes out. Once the lid is down tight, all of the gourds are completely submerged in water. I let them soak for a few hours--until the skins are easy to scrape off. I use the back side of a knife to gently scrape the skins from the gourd, taking care to not mar the beautiful wooden finish of the gourd. I finish by rubbing the entire gourd with a plastic kitchen scrubbing pad. Allow the gourd to dry completely before you cut or paint the gourd.

If you need to open the gourd for your project, you will need to remove all of the pulp and seeds from the inside. If the opening you make is small (like in a birdhouse), you may need to use a heavy duty wire to scrape as much of the pulp and seeds out as you can. If the opening is large enough, you can use larger scraping tools to clean out the inside of the gourd. If you want, you can save the seeds for next year's planting season--make sure that you label and date the bag that you save the seeds in.

You're all done. Your gourd is ready to decorate!

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My Sweet Pearl

 

This picture is of my little cat, Pearl, guarding our gourd patch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feedback

I hope you have found this information helpful. Please Contact Me if you have any comments or questions. I would love to hear from you!