Gorgeous Gourds (cont)
By: National Gardening Association Editors
Pruning and Training
Gourds are slow starters, but once the heat of summer hits, the vines grow by leaps and bounds. When vines growing on the ground reach 10 feet long, snip off the growing tip to stimulate the formation of side shoots (laterals). Gourds, like all squash family crops, produce separate male and female blossoms on each plant, and these shoots produce the most female flowers, so the more branching, the more fruits. Pruning also keeps the vines under control.
Some gourds, such as the bottle and dipper types, grow best on trellises. Let the vines climb naturally, and position the fruits so they can hang unobstructed. Trellised vines are not only attractive, but they produce straighter and cleaner fruits than vines grown on the ground. Be sure the trellis is sturdy, especially in windy areas, since an individual plant can be huge--vining up to 40 feet.
Some of the heavier basket-type gourds may need to be supported with a sling; old pantyhose are an inexpensive means of support. On the other extreme, some kinds of mini gourds can be grown in containers. Although smaller, they're still aggressive growers, so you'll need to be more diligent about trellising and watering.
On a trellis, remove all the side shoots, and train the main stem up the trellis post. Once it reaches the top of the trellis, clip the main stem and allow the laterals to form and fill out the top of the trellis.
Gourds on trellises are easy to shape by tying soft, stretchy strings around young fruit and then bending or constricting them by applying slight pressure. Some gourds can be placed in molds or jars and will take the shape of the container. Be careful to select the right-sized container for the mature size of the gourd, or the container-bound fruit will be damaged.
Hard-shelled gourds produce large white flowers that open at night. It's not clear which insects pollinate these flowers, but if your baby gourds are shriveling and dropping off the plant, you may need to hand-pollinate the flowers in the evening shortly after they open. Some growers like to let only a few gourds set and then snip off all others, since the first fruits to set produce the largest gourds with the thickest skins. In cool climates, snipping off late-setting fruits will redirect the plant's energy to maturing the first few fruits before frost.
Pests and diseases that affect gourds are similar to those afflicting other squash family crops; they include downy and powdery mildew, cucumber beetles, vine borers, and aphids. Generally, the techniques and products recommended for controlling these pests on cucumbers and melons will also be effective on gourds.