Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
For those with lots of space for cutting gardens, gourds are a wonderful alternative to traditional cut flowers. During the fall months, gourds of all types are very popular for floral designs. That is a good reason to grow your own. Unlike fresh cut flowers, the gourds will last for months with no special treatment.
Gourds are pretty much grown as you would any other vine crop, such as cantaloupes, squash, melons, and cucumbers. They need plenty of space, but they are very rewarding when it comes time to pick the crop.
There are several kinds of gourds that can easily be grown for cutting gardens. Though these may differ in appearance, they all pretty much require the same type of growing conditions and care.
Gourds can be direct sown into the garden where they are to grow. This should be done after the date of the last expected frost has past. As an alternative, you can start the seeds indoors three or four weeks earlier if you can give the seedlings enough light.
When planting seeds outdoors, two or three should be placed in each hole. Later, these can be thinned to leave the largest, healthiest plant.
Gourd plants should be spaced two to four feet apart in the row. The wider spacing is recommended. Sufficient space between rows is also needed. If necessary, save space by training them to go up walls, fences, and trellises. They can even be grown on porch rails.
In the past, I have grown some without support, and found they will climb nearby plants, including corn and trees. If you are short on garden space, consider planting gourds on the compost pile. Quite often, I allow them to sprout in the compost, and the plants do beautifully.
When picking a spot, choose a warm, sunny one. Gourds require lots of sunlight. Generally, these arenít very particular when it comes to soil. A well drained one is ideal. Adding organic matter before planting will help the vines to grow better.
Like the other members of the cucumber and squash family, gourds need lots of water. They are very vigorous, fast growing vines. Allowing the plants to become dry may affect the size and quality of the gourds. If sufficient rainfall doesnít occur, water them when they need it.
Because they are large plants, gourds will do better if you fertilize them as soon as the plants become established. Once they start blooming, use a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen (the first number listed on the fertilizer container). For example, a 5-10-10 ratio is suitable.
Gourds do require pollination by insects, such as honeybees or bumblebees. Because chemical pesticides are harmful to the pollinators, I avoid using them.
Usually, gourd plants require very little attention. Normally, they suffer from few serious problems. Some gardeners become concerned when the plants seem slow in setting fruits. That is probably because the first flowers will be female, and these will not be pollinated until the male flowers also begin to open as well.
It is also normal for some of the young fruits to drop off. This will happen when a plant has more fruits than it can support. So it gets rid of the extras.
The fun part comes when harvest time comes. For drying, the gourds should be allowed to remain on the vines until they become lighter in color. At that point, they are ready to pick and use for floral designs. Without any special treatment, they should be useful for several months. If you really want to dry them so they will last even longer, use a needle to poke a hole near the stem. This allows the extra moisture to escape. Otherwise, the gourd will eventually rot.