Ready to get gourding? Here are some tips

Staff reports

Gourds - close cousins to cucumbers, squash and melons - need a lot of room to grow. One seed can produce a vine 100 feet long. Bonnie Cox of Peoria Heights, Ill., grows hers in three different sunny spaces: over arbors in her front yard, in her neighbor's back yard and at another friend's farm.

Following are growing tips gleaned from Cox, various university extension Web sites, the American Gourd Society and Foothills Farms, a commercial gourd grower based in Ohio.

Getting started

First, find some space. As noted, gourds need room. Select a sunny, well-drained site then prepare the soil.

Fertilizer and lime applications are best, based on soil tests results available from your county Extension office, but a general recommendation is to apply two to three pounds of 1:2:2 ratio fertilizer, such as 5-10-10, per 100 square feet of garden. Lime should be applied only if indicated by a soil test.

Next, decide what type of gourds you want to grow. For instance, there are more than 30 different varieties of hardshell gourds. Small ornamental types of gourds can be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart provided they are trellised vertically 6 to 8 feet. Larger gourds like Cox grows require wider spacing and a very substantial trellis to hold the weight of the fruit. Gourds allowed to touch the ground will form areas of discoloration.

Many area experts suggest starting your seeds indoors and transplanting after all chance of frost has passed. This isn't necessary in warmer climates, but here in the Midwest it will help lengthen the season and improve the quality for long season types like the popular Lagenaria, also known as the bottle gourd.

Growing season

Because they grow such long vines, gourds need good soil. Fertilize them once during the growing season and reduce water and nutrients in late summer to slow their growth so fruits can harden off.

A number of diseases (downy mildew, powdery mildew, alternaria) and pests (cucumber beetles, vine borers and aphids) will attack gourds. Few chemicals specifically mention gourds on their label, but those that work on cucumbers and melons will, for the most part, work on gourds as well.

There are four main species of Cucurbita included in the pumpkin, squash and gourd grouping. The varieties within a botanical species can cross-pollinate. However, cross-pollination does not affect the taste, shape or color of the current season's fruit. Crosses only show up if the seeds are saved and grown the next year. Bees carry pollen for distances of a mile or more. When there are many gardens in close proximity, the fruits must be bagged and pollinated by hand to avoid cross-pollination.

The growing season is the time to shape your gourds. Create new shapes by tying soft string or pantyhose around young gourds or inserting it into a glass container so it will take on that shape. When desired, the container can be removed by carefully breaking it. Be careful not to scratch the fruit if possible.


Gourds are ready to harvest when the stems dry and turn brown. Experts advise harvesting before the first frost. Mature gourds with a hardened shell can survive a light frost, but others may be damaged. Cut the gourd leaving a few inches of the stem attached. Take care not to bruise.

After harvesting, wash the gourds with soap and water, then dry them and apply rubbing alcohol to the surface.


Curing gourds is often a two-step process that can take months. Surface drying is the first step, which takes about one week. Place clean, dry gourds in a dark, well-ventilated area. Do not let them touch. A slatted tray will allow air to circulate underneath. Check gourds daily for decay or mold and discard any with soft spots.

Internal drying is next and takes at least four weeks.

Keep the gourds in shallow containers in a dark, warm, well-ventilated area. If any mold appears on the surface, they can be wiped clean and allowed to keep drying. However, discard any that are shriveled or decaying. Periodically turn the fruit. The gourd is cured when it becomes lightweight and the seeds can be heard rattling inside. Cured gourds are ready for crafting.

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