Plain and simple, gourds are fun to grow and if you are growing gourds next year, it’s time to start planning. We grow about six different types of gourds each summer, starting the seed indoors in mid-spring and moving the plants to the garden once the risk of frost has passed in May.
There are two main types – hard-shell (Lagenaria siceraria) and ornamental (Cucurbita pepo). The vines of hard-shell gourds have pretty, white flowers that open at night and produce green or mottled fruits in an assortment of shapes and sizes. The gourds can be dried after harvest, turning a soft tan colour, and kept indefinitely. The cured fruits of hard-shell gourds have been used for centuries in crafts, as musical instruments (for example, maraca’s), and put to more practical uses as bottles, dippers, bowls, bushels, birdhouses, and baskets.
Ornamental gourds, on the other hand, are related to pumpkins and squash and are best enjoyed in autumn, fresh from their vines and used for seasonal décor. The plants produce golden yellow blooms, much like their pumpkin cousins, which mature into colourful fruits. Unlike hard-shell gourds, these fruits do not dry well, but they can be waxed or shellacked after harvest to help extend their lifespan. Like hard-shell gourds, there is a wide mix of fruit shapes and sizes, but ornamental gourds have a much larger colour range that includes yellow, gold, green, orange and white.
Gourds are nutrient pigs and when growing gourds, you’ll need to find a sunny spot with rich, well-drained soil. Work in a generous amount of compost or aged manure and add a few handfuls of organic fertilizer before setting out your seedlings.
Gourds can be grown on the ground, where their long vines will sprawl in every direction, but I prefer to grow them up a sturdy A-frame trellis. Growing them vertically keeps their rampant growth under control, uses up less precious garden space and keeps the fruits clean. Plus, it helps my snake gourds grow long and straight.
Gourds to Grow:
Here are a few of my favourites – and the kids think they’re pretty cool too!
- Spinning Top Gourds (top photo of gourds in bowl) – Also called Tennessee dancing gourds, these cute little fruits are produced on extremely vigorous and productive vines that can yield up to twenty per plant. The 2 to 3 inch long gourds are shaped like miniature bottles and have eye-catching green and white stripes. Because they can be spun like a top, they make a great homegrown toy! These are ornamental gourds, not hard-shell, but I’ve found that the fruits can be successfully dried. The kids love to paint them as mini maracas.
- Speckled Swan Gourds – Speckled Swan gourd plants bear large fruits, up to 2-feet long, with a distinctive shape that resembles its namesake, the swan. The bottom of the fruit is the rounded body, followed by a long elegant neck and topped with a small head. The skin on the fruits is deep green and heavily speckled with gold and white flecks. If grown on the ground, the necks will curve, while trellised vines will yield long, straight necks.
- Snake Gourds – Snake gourds are the most popular gourd in our garden for their sheer size! If allowed to grow along the ground, the fruits will curl up like a coiled snake, but if grown on a sturdy trellis or fence, they will mature long and straight, sometimes reaching lengths up to 4 1/2-feet! Each plant will give you 2 or 3 gourds of various sizes, but if you want super-long fruits, allow only one per plant. Unlike most gourds, snake gourds are edible, but need to be picked while still immature and tender. We harvest them at 10 to 12 inches and cook them like zucchini.
Are you going to be growing gourds in your garden?