Plant of the week: Gourd - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Plant of the week: Gourd

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Posted: Friday, June 20, 2008 3:34 pm | Updated: 10:47 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The basic types of gourds are the cucurbita, or ornamental gourds; the lagenaria, or large utilitarian gourds; and the luffa, or vegetable-sponge gourds. Despite the invention of plastic, these worldwide wonders still hold an important place in our culture

The plant: The basic types of gourds are the cucurbita, or ornamental gourds; the lagenaria, or large utilitarian gourds; and the luffa, or vegetable-sponge gourds. Despite the invention of plastic, these worldwide wonders still hold an important place in our culture.

Plant of the week, gourd, illustration by Gabriel Utasi/The East Valley Tribune
Illustration by Gabriel Utasi, Tribune

There are gourd societies, guilds and growers dedicated to preserving gourd culture, and there are many books on the subject. So let’s join the ranks of dedicated “gourdheads” by planting a few seeds in our own gardens. Just think: We’ll be ensuring the continuation of the oldest known cultivated plant on earth.

Growing guide: Full sun exposure

Cultural notes: In the low desert, we can plant gourds in June and July. I like to grow them from seed. Keep the soil moist until seedlings are established, then water a couple of times a week. For the first couple of months, the vine is the star of the show; watch it lengthen literally before your eyes. Next, flowers mean fruit is on the way. Like cucumbers and melons, gourds have male and female flowers on the same plant. You’ll see male flowers first (straight, trumpetlike), then female flowers a few weeks later (wider, with bulging bases). As with most members of the cucurbitaceae family, you might have problems with pollination. The lack of it will cause the plant to produce immature fruit that remains small, then shrivels and dies. Use a paintbrush or cotton swab to transfer pollen from the male to the female flowers. As fruit sets, you may want to increase water to avoid heat stress. The more water your gourds receive, the bigger they will grow.

Maintenance: Mulch soil with straw, compost or wood shavings as the heat climbs in late July. To keep the abundant growth happy, plan to fertilize once a month with an organic water-soluble fertilizer. I like to use earthworm casting tea or fish/seaweed emulsion. If you allow your growing gourds to lie on the ground, they may form flat bottoms or even rot from excess moisture. Make frequent checks of your plants, and lift the new fruits up onto supports like recycled plastic berry boxes, slide cardboard underneath them or cradle them in slings made from old pantyhose.

Barn Goddess tips: Try these varieties: Hard-shelled gourds for crafting (lagenaria siceraria) include O’odham dipper, bird’s nest and speckled swan. Soft-shelled gourds for decoration (cucurbita) include Aladdin’s turban, striped crown of thorns and orange warted. Sponge gourds for body care (luffa aegyptica) include luffa, Chinese okra or dishcloth gourd. Good sources for seeds are Native Seeds/SEARCH, Renee’s Garden and Seed Savers Exchange.

Looking to learn more? Check out the Southwest Gourd Association and the American Gourd Society, and read “Gourds in Your Garden: A Guidebook for the Home Gardener” by Ginger Summit.

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