Arlington Gourd Patch

Member of Texas Gourd Society Est 2004

Growing Gourds

by Dave Hodgson

Presented to TGS Arlington Gourd Patch February 20, 2005 (notes taken by Joe Pritchard, TGS Arlington Gourd Patch)

Dave is a retired professor who now lives in Alvord (Wise County), Texas, about an hour and fifteen minutes northwest of Arlington. He attends TGS Arlington and TGS Cowtown Patch meetings. Dave has raised gourds in many locations – Texas, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Carolina. All locations have their pluses and minuses, as far as the raising of gourds is concerned. He raised his first gourds in Travis County, Texas, in 1959. Dave has entered his gourds in recent Texas Oklahoma Regional Fairs and has won several awards. This past season, Dave raised the third largest gourd he has grown to date – 54" in circumference.

Dave says that his property in North Texas consists of alluvial clay, which is not especially good for growing gourds because gourds like lots of water and clay soils do not hold water well. Thus, his growing areas require a lot more work. Those who are fortunate enough to live in East Texas have black lands prairie soils, which are created from decayed limestone and hold water much better.

In 1959, Dave bought his first packet of gourd seeds at the local store; results were not that great. But, he was hooked! Most gourd growers, and particularly artists, are most likely looking for plants that produce gourds that are predictable in size and shape. Seed packets bought in garden and feed stores probably won't always produce such results. Dave says the best way to get such predictable gourds is to purchase the seeds from a grower who guarantees that the seeds are from gourds that were grown isolated from other gourd types; cross-pollination is a problem. He says the best sources for such seeds are probably from those who advertise in the American Gourd Society's "The Gourd." He says seeds from these sellers are usually quite inexpensive, and the follow-up from those who sell the seeds is outstanding.

A long-growing season (90 to 130 days) is important for gourds. North Texas has an ideal season and is probably one of the farthest north with such a forgiving season. One can start planting as much as two months late and still have a sufficient growing time for gourds to properly "harden off" before the first frost/freeze. Gourd seeds need warm ground temperatures to germinate. The ground should be noticeably warm to your hand over a whole day's time. Thus, you must wait until all danger of frost and freeze is over and the soil has warmed. You may soak the seeds overnight in room-temperature water prior to planting; some say this speeds germination. Seeds usually take 7 to 10 days to germinate but could take longer if the soil Is not warm when the seeds are planted. You may start your gourds indoors if you live in cooler areas or want an early start. Plant the seeds in peat pots 3 to 4 weeks before your usual gardening time begins. Gourd plants transplant fairly well, but you must be careful not to damage the roots.

Dave says he plants his gourds in long rows running east to west. When the plant vines begin to "run," Dave tries to alternate them left and right of the row in order to maximize sunlight usage. He piles all his lawn cuttings, leaves and other compostable materials in a row next to where he will plant. He then digs a trench about the width of three shovel blades and the depth of one-half shovel blade. He rakes all the mulch materials into the trench and covers that with the soil he removed. This helps amend the clayey soil in his area. Plant the seeds in the prepared trench. This year, Dave plans to experiment with placing tar paper on either side of the row of gourd plants to help choke out weeds and grass. He says he knows he will have to keep adjusting the tar paper to ensure that plants get sufficient water. Dave will report the results of this experiment at a fall meeting.

Gourds need an awful lot of water – a constant supply of water is necessary. A week without water and your plants will die. Once the plants emerge and begin growing, they may add up to a foot of vine length per day. You may notice that the leaves closest to the plant base may appear wilted during the day – even though you are watering – while the leaves at the end of the plant appear fine. This is the plant's compensation for the high rate of dehydration caused by Texas's hot, sunny days; water is directed to the new growth and to the gourds at the end of the vine. By evening, the wilted leaves should appear OK again. When the plants first emerge, rabbits love the tender plants. Once full-size leaves appear, almost nothing will eat them; gourd plants apparently have a bitter quality that repels animals.

Some say that you should pinch off the last 1/8" of vine when it reaches 10 feet in length. The theory is that by doing so, you will force the plant to direct all its energy into the lateral tendrils where the gourds grow. Dave says he has not been able to prove or disprove this theory.

Gourds are night-blooming (at least the Lagenaria, or hard-shelled varieties). The white flowers begin to open as the sun goes down. Male flowers predominate early on; within a couple of months, you should also see plenty of female flowers – they have a small round bulb at the base of their bloom. Many claim you should hand-pollinate the blooms. Use an artist's brush to collect the yellow pollen from the make flower and then dust the female flower. Or, you can just pinch off a male bloom and rub it on the female bloom. Dave says everyone should try this for a year or so, to feel you are "in control" of the pollinating. Then, just give up, because there are sufficient night-flying insects to accomplish natural pollination.

Gourds do not need a whole lot of attention from you. But, they need water every day. It is best to water early in the morning, when it is relatively cooler and the evaporation rate is a little slower. Gourd leaves are susceptible to mildew; overhead watering could cause problems. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are probably best. Dave says you should fertilize your gourd plants every couple of weeks. Fertilizer heavy in potash seems best; it promotes healthy vines and large, thick-walled gourds. Be careful of using too much nitrogen, as it favors vine growth and tends to retard fruiting.

Gourds may be grown on the ground or on trellises. If you use trellises, they must be strong enough to support your gourds – remember, gourds are about 90% water before they begin drying. A gourd Dave grew last year weighed 89 pounds at harvest; it still weighs 40 pound four months later. The base is the weakest part of the gourd. If you grow them in the uneven ground, you will probably need to place a plank or a pad of newspapers under the gourd to produce an even base so the gourd will sit properly when it has been crafted into a beautiful art object.

In the fall, when the stem from the vine to the gourd is rigid and dry, there is no more nourishment flowing to the gourd. You may harvest it then by cutting the gourd from the vine, leaving at least 2" of stem intact on the gourd (water evaporates through this stem piece). Many people prefer to just let the gourd begin its drying process on the vine. They may even be left to dry through freezes and frosts. The vines will die at the first sign of frost. Any gourds not mature at the first frost will usually collapse and be useless.

Smaller gourds, up to football-size, will typically cure out in about 60 days or so. Larger gourds may take six months or more to cure and dry completely. You can leave the gourds outside to dry. However, Dave says, squirrels love gourd seeds and seem to have a sixth sense as to when the seeds are ready. They will eat a hole in the gourd and eat all the seeds. And, of course, the hole is not where you would want it for crafting

Growing Gourds in Containers

 by Cindi Creswell

Presented to TGS Arlington Gourd Patch February 20, 2005 (notes taken by Joe Pritchard, TGS Arlington Gourd Patch)


Gourds may be grown in containers if you have limited space. Cindi recommends large, plastic planters – 24" or larger in diameter. Do not use terra cotta planters because they dry out too rapidly. Miniature gourds and the smaller ornamental gourds (Cucurbita family) lend themselves well to container-growing. The hard-shell Lagenaria gourds are generally too large to grow in containers.

You must have good drainage at the bottom of the container. A layer of rocks, pebbles, or broken clay pots will ensure there is no standing water in your container. Fill the container with composted materials and good-quality potting soil.

Fill an empty egg shell (save them from breakfast and cooking) with good potting soil. Place a seed in the soil in the shell. Use Styrofoam egg cartons that contain a small amount of water. Place your seed-in-a-shell in the egg cartons. Keep them in a warm area – seeds prefer temperatures of 85 to 90 degrees to germinate.

Once all danger of frost and freeze has passed, you may plant your seedlings in the containers. Make a small hole or crack in the bottom of the egg shell so the roots can grow through. Plant the seedling – egg shell and all – about three per container. Plants grown in containers like some shade, but they also require sun. You will have to water your container gourds frequently, since the containers dry out quickly. But – don’t over water them!

You will have to construct some type of vertical framework for your container gourds to climb. The simplest structure to make is a cylinder of medium-gauge wire mesh which can be wrapped around the pot and extend approximately four feet above the upper edges of the pot. Simply direct the emerging vines to the wire mesh. Or, you can use four wood or PVC pipe rods stuck in the pot around the perimeter; use twine or wire mesh to provide a growing "cage." Or, stick a single rod in the center of the pot and then create a "tepee" with heavy garden twine. In any case, allow at least four feet above the surface of the container for growing. Finally, you could place the containers along a chain-link or wire mesh fabric fence and let the vines grow on the fence.

Gourd plants may have several types and shapes of gourds on the same vine, especially the miniature and ornamental gourds. Three of Cindi’s container-grown plants yielded 80 miniature gourds of varying types and shapes.

Ornamental and miniature gourds usually mature in 110 to 130 days. They should be harvested before any sign of frost or freeze. Dry them as you would any other gourd – lots of air flow and separated from each other. Ornamentals will usually dry in a couple of weeks after harvest. Discard any gourds that are collapsing or that have damage so they do not contaminate the rest of your crop.

The bright skin colors on ornamental gourds usually begins to fade in three to four months. A protective coating of paste wax or floor wax and a soft buffing may increase their life to four to six months.



For more information on growing gourds, check out the sites we have listed in the "Growing Gourds" section of Our Favorite Links.


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