In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
August, 2005
Regional Report

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Luffa gourds have been allowed to climb a tree, where they have better air circulation than on the ground.

Growing Gourds

Gourds grow like gangbusters in the midst of summer heat. Vines scramble across the ground, shooting out a few feet in a few days. If you have planted other vining crops like squash or cukes, gourds take pretty much the same care.

Where to Plant
Choose a location that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun. Depending on variety, vines can reach up to 65 feet in length, so leave plenty of room for them to sprawl on the outer edges of your garden, or use a very sturdy trellis. If possible, direct luffa gourd vines to grow up a tree, ramada, or trellis. This allows the gourd itself to hang down with good air circulation, rather than rest against moist soil where it can rot. It also helps the fruit to maintain a nice straight shape suitable for making loofa sponges.

Sowing Seeds
Sow seeds when soil temperatures have warmed up, anytime from March through early August. Seeds germinate quickly but then young plants seem to sit awhile before suddenly growing by leaps and bounds when hot weather kicks in, so I don't miss much by planting late in the season. Just make sure that the gourd variety you select can mature before the first hard frost in your area. Ornamental gourds (Cucurbita pepo) with the bright colors used for holiday table decorations take about 90 days to mature. Hard-shelled gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) that are used for arts and crafts take longer, about 120 days. Luffa gourds (Luffa cylindrica) are fleshier and take about 130 days. Since it's getting a bit late in the season, plant them in a location protected from frost or near a wall with reflected heat to extend the growing season.

I like to let the vines scramble up and over compost bins that I don't turn in summer anyway. The lush vines with their big leaves completely obscure the bin, creating a prehistoric-looking green mound. I figure they also shade the compost a bit, perhaps helping to maintain some moisture.

If you incorporate plenty of organic matter into the soil before planting, you probably won't need additional fertilizer. Sow seeds about 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep and leave 3 to 6 feet of space between plants. Keep soil moist until germination.

Watering
Keep plants well watered, but don't overwater if the plants wilt in the afternoon heat. Plants can lose more water through transpiration (water loss from the leaves) than the roots can take up to replace it during hot weather. If the plants are wilted in the afternoon, wait until morning to water. They may recover. If still wilted in the morning, give them a drink.


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