In East Texas, gourds are produced on long vines and are known for their interesting shapes and colors. Some member of the gourd family, such as pumpkins and summer squash, are eaten but others are dried and used to make containers and craft projects. There are many varieties of gourds available to grow, such as the birdhouse gourd commonly seen housing purple martins, and dipper gourds. Colorful orange, yellow and green gourds are popular decorations in the fall. However, the biggest gourds are grown from a variety of gourd commonly known as the basket gourd.
Find a location in the garden that is exposed to the sun for at least eight hours each day. Morning-to-afternoon sun is best in East Texas because the morning sun quickly dries the dew on the vines that causes mildew and bacterial disease problems. Each basket gourd vine can take up a space 10 feet wide, so plan your gourd growing space accordingly.
Clear the area of all weeds and grasses. Spread a 2-inch layer of well-rotted compost over the planting area. Work the compost into the top 3 inches of soil using a hoe. Rake the area smooth. The soil pH in most areas of East Texas falls in the slightly acidic or alkaline range of 6.5-7.5, acceptable for growing gourds. If you're unsure of your soil pH, contact you local County Agricultural Extension Office for soil-testing information.
Plant the gourd seeds as soon after your average last frost date as possible. It takes over 100 days for gourd vines to produce mature gourds once the seed has sprouted. Gourds are frost sensitive and will die if exposed to freezing temperatures for any length of time. Plant seeds pointed side up or lay them horizontally 2 feet apart. Because of the low seed sprouting rate, plant two seeds 1 inch apart in each space and be prepared to thin to one plant per space. You can dig up one of the plants growing close to the other, while they are still small, and put it in a space where the two seeds failed to sprout. Gourd seeds will sprout in 10-14 days in moist compost-enriched soil.
Allow the gourd plants to grow while supplying moisture so the plants do not wilt. When the vines begin to put on rapid growth, or run, fertilize around the roots with a general garden fertilizer at the recommended rate on the fertilizer container label. Do not over-fertilize, or the vines will produce more green growth at the cost of gourd production. Only fertilize one time during the season, and keep soil consistently moist but not wet. Try to water around the root base rather than over the leaves and fruit to prevent mildew problems.
Trim the excess growth and newly formed gourds off the vines until you have three to four gourds per plant. You will see new gourds begin to form along the vines after the blooms fade. Choose three or four gourds you would like to keep on the vine and gently prune off the other ones where they are attached to the vine. Any lateral vines or branches that are attached to the main vine that do not have a desirable gourd growing on them can be cut back to the main vine. Leave at least 12 inches of vine beyond any gourd you are leaving on the vine. Continue to prune off any lateral vines and newly formed gourds throughout the season. The vine will concentrate their growing energy on the gourds you are allowing to stay on the vine. The gourds will get very large, up to 3 feet across. Harvest them when the stems begin to turn brown and shrivel. Cut with as much as 4 inches of stem left on the gourds.