Gardening Tips for the Gourd Grower

March - It's time to start your gourd seeds indoors. Start in February if you can. Some gardeners soak their seeds overnight (or longer) to help jump start the germination process. Simply lay some paper towels out onto a shallow tray or cookie sheet. Then space your seeds out so that each variety is separate from one another. Be sure to make a chart of your seeds on a separate sheet of paper to identify your varieties. I generally put the small seeds next to the larger ones to help identify them in case any wander in the soaking process. Drape another paper towel on top and gently water the tray.

Larger seeds can have the shoulders near the point clipped slightly to encourage germination.

I've experimented with soaking the seeds for up to a week and typically will put a heating pad underneath to speed things up. I use a gardening heating pad that is waterproof and stays at 80 degrees.

Don't let your seeds dry out.

After soaking, then pot them up in peat pots or Styrofoam cups with holes punched in the bottom for drainage. Keep them warm and moist but don't drown them.

Plant A Seed, Grow An Orchestra.

Once you see sprouts emerge from the soil then place them in a well lit area. You can place grow lights a few inches over them if you have the space. You will then have good size seedlings to transplant to your garden in about 4 or 6 weeks.

Wait until the last frost in your area to transplant. That's generally the middle of April to early May here in central Virginia.

They like all day sun and plenty of compost.
Amend soil with a neutral (10-10-10) fertilizer when planting, but after a month or so when the vines start producing gourds, add a low nitrogen fertilizer like (0-10-10) that is higher in potash and potassium. This will limit leaf and vine growth while diverting energy to the fruit.

After 10 feet of main vine growth where the males flower, you can cut the vine to produce side lateral vines where the female flowers will emerge. The female flowers have a miniature gourd potential bulge directly under the flower and have three stigma. These now need to be pollinated by the pollen from the male flower. The male flower has five stamen and are joined directly to it's stem without any bulge under the flower.

The Gourd flower blooms only at night.

Around dusk the flowers start to open and the male flower can be bent or plucked to tap on the female flower to pollinate. You can also use a Q-tip or paintbrush to dip pollen from the male and swab the female.

Other pollinators like cucumber beetles will help pollinate in case you miss some females. If the female flower is not pollinated then it will shrivel in a day or two. Otherwise if pollination occurred then you will see immediate growth in the baby gourd.

The Gourd flower will bloom only once. But you may have several bloom in an evening. Whoa is the garden where there are no males to pollinate the females.

Cover the emerging female flower with a plastic or paper bag if you want your gourd seeds to remain pure (true) for next season, then after pollinating the female, place a bag back over the female to prevent any cross-pollination from occurring by any other pollinators. After the flower drops you can remove the bag. A garden miles away could potentially cross pollinate with your garden by wandering bees, beetles or bats.

Photos of Gourds in the Garden

When the stem turns brown, the growing season is over for that gourd. It's time to cut it free and let it dry. Mold may occur, but be patient and wipe your gourd with a bleach solution to minimize mold growth. Some growers in Virginia leave their gourds outside all winter to find them all cleaned and dried in the spring.

Gourd harvest from 12 crowded gourd plants grown on a bamboo arbor.


seeds in tray

Place Gourd seeds between paper towels on tray.

pouring water to soak seeds
Fold or cover seeds with a paper towel over seeds and gently water so the seeds don't migrate.

soaking seeds
Soak seeds at least overnight. Some growers soak them until seeds sprout before potting in cups or planting in soil.

female flower

A female flower is opening on left. The baby gourd on the right was pollinated two days earlier.

two female flowers

Here are two female snake gourd flowers. The one on the left is opening for the night and the one on the right will open in about 2 days.

male flowers side view

It's easy to recognize the male flower by the side view as there is no bulge at the flower base. The flowers on the left are opening for the night. The spent male flowers at right opened the night before.