Ornamental and Unusual Gourds
by National Gardening Association Editors
There are two types of ornamental gourd. The first is brightly colored, with fanciful shapes. The names often describe them: apples, bells, pears, turbans or eggs. You can grow the gourds for table decorations, floral displays and harvest baskets. The second group, known as bottle or dipper-shaped gourds, are more functional. They're also used for decorations, but they can be used as ladles, jugs, planters and birdhouses, too.
In your garden, gourds are like other vine crops, except they require a longer growing season -- 140 to 150 days. Unless you live in an area that enjoys a long, hot summer, start seeds indoors and transplant the seedlings after the last spring frost. Plant three or four seedlings in hills six to eight feet apart; plant seedlings in rows at two-foot intervals.
Gourd vines spread up to 100 feet, so use a trellis or fence if you can. This saves space, and gives you the best shaped gourds.
Harvest gourds when they're fully mature. The shells will be brightly colored, the skins hard and the stems brown and dried. Don't use the fingernail test -- you'll ruin an unripe gourd if you break or dent the skin.
The larger, utensil-shaped gourds tolerate light frosts, but small decorative ones do not. Harvest these before the first frost. If they aren't quite ripe and an early frost is predicted, cover the plants for the night with a sheet. They'll probably survive the first frost, and the next one may still be a few weeks off.
Cut the gourds off the vine when they're ripe, leaving a few inches of stem. Wash or wipe off any surface dirt and cure the gourds for a week or two, being careful not to bruise them or let them touch one another.
To cure gourds, lay them on an old screen placed across two sawhorses and set in a dry place (your garage or attic works well) for several weeks. Then wash the cured gourds in a Chlorox solution.
Once cured, you can display the gourds just as they are, or you can wax, varnish or paint their shells. Cut the long, bottle-shaped or crook-necked gourds into a planter or birdhouse, and enjoy their appearance while they serve a useful purpose.
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