Ornamental gourds, also referred to as cucurbita, are related to the cucumber family, which also includes squash and pumpkins. They come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes and are grown for use as decoration. A basket of ornamental gourds on the front porch makes an inviting seasonal display. At Thanksgiving, consider a centerpiece of a variety of gourds nestled in fall leaves. Growing your own gourds can be a fun addition to your garden.
Ornamental gourd seeds can be started indoors in peat pots four weeks before the last frost. Plant outside in full sun after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed. If you plant them outside too early, you risk the seed (or plant if transplanting from indoors) rotting in the ground. Ornamental gourds need 100 to 180 days to mature. Plant them similarly to winter squash; 2 feet between plants in the row and 5 feet between rows.
Harvest gourds when the stems have dried and turned brown, ideally before the last frost of the season. Leave several inches of stem when harvesting. Handle with care, as bumps and scratches may result in bruising that will eventually ruin the fruit. Once harvested, clean the gourds with soap and water, dry and then clean with a disinfectant such as rubbing alcohol or a weak bleach solution to remove any organisms that might damage the fruit while it dries.
Gourds take several months to cure properly. The outside of the gourd will dry first, becoming hard and brightening in color. The inside will take several months to dry and is considered done when you can hear the seeds rattle. Turn the gourds regularly during the drying process. Keep them from touching one another.
Cross-pollination amongst squash, gourd and pumpkin plants can make it difficult to save ornamental gourd seeds. If you do, you will likely get a wide variety of fruit types the following season, none of which may be what you intended to grow. This could, however, make your next growing season more fun and interesting.
Ornamental gourds can be attacked by a variety of pests and diseases. If you observe discoloration on the plant leaves or wilting of the plant, or notice insects eating the leaves or fruit, you will want to take immediate action. Sometimes a solution is as simple as cutting out the impacted part of the plant. When cutting out diseased parts, be certain to clean your clippers between each plant to minimize the spread of the disease. In the case of pests, consult your local extension office or vegetable guide for the best remedies.