Angled luffa, also known as Luffa acutangula in Latin, is a superb plant to grow at home.
It takes a bit of effort, but it’s well worth it! Not only does it look great with the right support structure, but it also produces both tasty fruits and handy, natural sponges.
Our expert gardeners explain precisely what you need to do to ensure a bountiful harvest in this angled luffa growing guide.
What is angled luffa?
Angled luffa — pronounced angled loofah — is a vining plant belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family, and it’s closely related to other vegetables such as courgettes, pumpkins, and other gourds.
It is a popular crop around eastern and southern Asia, commonly grown for its fruit, either cooked or used as sponges when mature.
The main difference between the angled luffa and the smooth luffa (Luffa cylindrica) is the fruit, which has small ridges along the skin’s length — hence the name. The fruit is slightly similar in appearance to okra, so another common name for the plant is Chinese okra. The taste, however, is very different.
Native to India, angled luffa is a tropical and subtropical plant that can also be grown in gardens worldwide. With the right care guide, you can enjoy a plentiful harvest throughout summer and early autumn.
How to grow angled luffa
Angled luffa is an easy vegetable to grow in your garden if you keep these three tips in mind:
- This plant grows best when provided with plenty of sun, warmth, and moisture;
- Building a support system, such as a trellis, is ideal for healthy growth;
- Flowers will need manual pollination to produce fruit, and they are often day-length-sensitive.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Germinating angled luffa seeds
Angled luffa seeds look very similar to pumpkin seeds, with the same type of hard shell protecting the seed’s interior. As a result, germinating them can take some time. Luckily, there are two methods to make germination happen faster.
– Cracking angled luffa seeds
The first method is to crack the seed. Use a pair of nail clippers and make a small crack at the seed’s rounded end, just enough to slightly open the shell. Do not snip off the seed.
Also, avoid snapping the seed’s pointy end, as this will damage the embryo, and your seeds will not germinate.
– Soaking angled luffa seeds
Another method is to spread them out between two small cloth towels if you’re not feeling comfortable using nail clippers to crack the seeds. Using a spray pump, soak the towels and keep them in a warm room for at least 24 hours. Make sure to keep the towels damp during this time by occasionally misting them with more water.
– Germinating angled luffa seeds indoors
We recommend starting them off indoors for both the cracked seeds and the towel-soaked ones in compostable seed pots. Pick a small pot, around 2 inches (5 cm) tall, fill with potting mix, and place one seed in each pot in a small dip in the soil. Cover the seed, then water with a spray pump and keep it in a warm, sunny room.
The seeds should take about 7 days to germinate and are ready to plant outdoors when each plant has at least 2 pairs of leaves.
2. Growing angled luffa outdoors
Angled luffa is a warm-season crop, and it needs plenty of light, warmth and moisture to grow properly. Although it can be cultivated in temperatures as low as 60 °F (16 °C), the growth will be much slower, and the fruit yield will also suffer. The ideal temperature range is between 77 °F and 95 °F (25 °C to 35 °C).
Providing your angled luffa with a support system is a must. This is a vigorous climber, reaching up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) in height, and needs plenty of vertical space for the vines and fruit to develop. Set up a trellis before planting your seedlings outdoors, as the young plants will shoot up very fast.
– Location and soil
Pick a part of your garden where the plants will receive plenty of light. Angled luffa needs a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight per day and will grow best in full sun. The plant is not too picky about the soil it’s grown in, as long as it’s a nutrient-rich, well-draining soil, with a pH ranging from 6.5 to7.5. Plant each seedling at least 2 feet (60 cm) apart, in rows that are also 2 feet apart.
– Watering and fertilizing
Angled luffa grows best in moist but not soggy soils. Our recommendation is to water it once every 2-3 days, especially during very hot and dry periods. Adding a layer of mulch to the base of the plant will also help retain soil moisture. After the plants have started flowering, you can apply a liquid fertilizer solution once a month. A 10-10-10 ratio works best for these plants.
Angled luffa is a pretty sturdy crop and has very few pests and diseases. The most common problems are fungal infections such as mildew, but they are easy to keep on top of by spraying the plant with a water and baking soda solution.
The key to a healthy angled luffa plant is regular pruning. This will encourage lateral growth and prompt the plant to produce more flowering vines instead of too many leaves. A couple of weeks after transplanting to the garden, you can use a pair of gardening scissors to cut the main vines’ tips.
Repeat the process with the other vines as they grow. The rule of thumb is to trim the vines when you have about 3 leaves on each vine. This way, your luffa will spread sideways, making it easy to maintain, reducing the number of fungal pests by keeping the plant well aired, as well as making it easier to harvest the fruit.
3. Pollinating angled luffa
Like all gourds, angled luffa relies on pollination to produce fruit. It blooms separate male and female flowers, which are easy to tell apart because the female flowers have an elongated lump on the stem. The flowers typically open late in the afternoon or the early evening when fewer pollinators are around. As a result, it’s good practice is to take care of the pollination yourself.
Manually pollinating angled luffa is easy. Snip the male flowers from the vines and gently rub them on the female flowers. This will transfer the pollen between the two. It’s best to do this late in the afternoon when the flowers are open wide. If pollination is successful, the female flowers will wilt and fall off, while the small lump on the stem will start to grow into a fully-fledged luffa.
4. Why is my angled luffa not flowering?
Sometimes, when growing angled luffa in your garden, you may notice that it does not produce any flowers, even though the plant is healthy otherwise. The main reason for this could be the type of seeds you have grown it from.
Angled luffa is typically sensitive to day length and will typically start producing flowers when there are extended periods of darkness. This can be tricky if you’re growing it in late spring, as by the time the flowering season starts, the plants may be getting as much as 12 hours of light each day.
There are three ways to work around this:
- Buy Luffa acutangula seeds belonging to hybrids that are not daylight sensitive;
- Plant your angled luffa as a late summer crop during a shorter daytime season;
- Try using a piece of dark cloth to cover the plants, ‘tricking’ them into feeling that the days are shorter.
5. When to harvest angled luffa
On average, angled luffa can take between 65 and 90 days from sowing before it reaches maturity. The best time to harvest it is when the fruits are still young, usually 1 or 2 weeks since the flowers fall off after the pollination. Depending on the cultivar, the angled luffa’s fruit can be as small as 2 inches (5 cm) or as long as 30 inches (75 cm).
To harvest it, use a pair of gardening scissors to cut the fruit from the vine. Do not pull the fruit, as this can cause them to snap or even tear the vines. Avoid leaving your luffa on the vine for too long, as it will develop a spongy texture and become inedible.
6. Is luffa an annual or perennial plant?
All luffas are native to tropical and subtropical climates and do not tolerate frost. If you’re planting them in regions where temperatures drop below 50 °F (10 °C) during the day, you can only grow them as annual plants. Our recommendation is to cut down the vines when the fruiting season is over and start again next spring.
Growing luffa from seeds can be very easy, and these plants are very productive. So even if you can’t have angled luffa in your garden as a perennial, planting and growing it again the following year is simple.
Uses for angled luffa
Angled luffa is a very versatile plant, and its fruit can be used in cooking and turned into sponges. On top of that, it has plenty of health benefits, being rich in vitamins A, B and C, antioxidants, and minerals such as potassium and magnesium.
Let’s take a closer look.
Cooking with angled luffa
A tasty way to enjoy angled luffa is to combine it with garlic, ginger and chillies, stir-fried with either meat or cooked in an omelette. The flowers are also edible, and you can fry them in batter, the same way you would with courgette flowers.
How to make a sponge from angled luffa fruit
Here’s how you can make your luffa sponge in 6 easy steps:
- Allow the luffa fruit to fully mature on the vine until the skin is brown, dry, and starts to crack;
- Peel off the tough skin; it should pull apart in slices that are easy to remove;
- Shake out the seeds and either discard them or keep them for next year’s crop;
- Wash the spongy pulp with a bit of soapy water to remove the sap;
- Dry the sponge in a warm, dry room, turning it regularly so that it dries evenly;
- Cut the sponge into small pieces, or use whole.
Enjoy your homemade luffa!
Angled luffa is an amazingly versatile plant that can look incredible in any garden while adding a tasty addition to your favorite stir-fry recipes.
It’s relatively easy to grow, but let’s recap the basics.
- Angled luffa loves sunshine, warmth and moisture, and will need to be supported as it grows.
- You’ll probably have to manually pollinate your angled luffa plant to produce a healthy harvest.
- It requires long periods of darkness to encourage the flowers to grow, so avoid growing through the height of summer if possible.
- It tastes similar to courgette and can be cooked in much the same way.
- You can also make your own homemade luffa sponge by allowing the fruit to fully mature on the vine.
So, follow this Angled luffa growing guide and you’ll be sure to have a bountiful supply of this tasty, versatile fruit.