- Winged Bean Care: Growing Them in Your Garden Perfectly - February 28, 2024
- Philodendron Jose Buono Care: Grow the Rare Variegated Plant - February 28, 2024
- Hoya Australis Care: Everything That You Need To Know - February 28, 2024
Bottle gourd of the Cucurbitaceae family, also known as calabash gourd and white-flowered gourd, is pretty versatile. You can grow it in many ways, as long as you give it a bit of care.
Once this Lagenaria genus plant is grown, you can use the sturdy bottle gourd fruit in many fun and practical ways.
Read on to find out how to grow and care for the bottle gourd.
JUMP TO TOPIC
Taking Care of the Bottle Gourd
A bottle gourd prefers USDA 10–12 zones and needs these conditions:
- plenty of sun
- rich soil of any type
- warm season without frost
You can grow gourds in cold climates too but you will need plenty of preparation and care. These gourds will also not be as big or as thick-skinned as their cousins grown in warmer areas. A greenhouse is a must if there’s a chance of sudden freezing.
If you give a bottle gourd tree ideal growing conditions, it will spread its vines that can grow as high as you let it. The planting spot should have enough vertical space for the vines but also be manageable.
Without access, you won’t be able to check up on and prune the vines or hand pollinate the flowers. Keeping vine growth under control makes the plant go to the sides, flower more, and yield more fruit.
Start at least four weeks before the date when the last frost was last year. Take a paper towel, moisten and wring it so it’s soaked but not dripping. Fold and place the towel in a clear ziplock bag and put the seeds on top of the towel, giving each seed an inch of space. Lining them in rows gives the plants the most space and helps you avoid their roots tangling.
The next step is giving those seeds enough warmth throughout the day so they germinate. One neat trick is to place them on top of a monitor or TV set, since they often stay on the whole day. You can expect the seeds to germinate within 1–3 days but it’s normal if it takes up to 10 days; peek into the bag on occasion. Plant the seeds in a container as soon as they germinate or they will tangle up with other plants.
Once the seeds germinate, plant them in the ground with the pointy side up to help the plant break the soil. The bottle gourd seedling will use the pointy side of the seed to emerge faster and take in more sun. You should plant the seeds so they’re covered with soil only a little bit — not too deep and not too shallow.
Start at least four weeks before the date when the last frost was last year. Wait for the soil temperature to be at least 65 °F before planting, which will help them grow faster. Each plant should have at least 10 feet of space from other plants or the dense foliage might make them all sick.
The best strategy for planting a bottle gourd is making a small hill and planting at least 6–7 seeds per hill. When they get established, thin all but the 2–3 healthiest and strongest vines. In this way, you guarantee 2–3 healthy vines and hedge against problems and pests that can stunt growth. Be patient and don’t fiddle with the hill, as it can take anywhere from 5 days to 5 weeks before the seedlings emerge.
Be careful of disturbing the root ball when moving the plant from bag to container or to the ground. Gourd squash plants can’t grow if their root system gets damaged too much. That most often happens if you germinate the seeds for too long and their roots grow to the point of entangling. Trying to pick them apart at that point hurts the bottle squash plants’ chances of growing.
Gourds need a bit acidic soil that you’ve enriched and drained well. If the soil is warm, it will help the vines spread out quickly and start making gourds. After removing weeds and grasses, enrich the soil with compost and spread a light fabric to keep it warm. You can plant the gourd seeds into holes you cut in the fabric, which helps keep weeds down.
If you want to grow Chinese gourds (Luffa acutangula), give them their own corner of the garden to grow. The Chinese bottle gourd is also known as loofa or luffa. In ideal conditions, the bottle gourd plant you chose will produce flowers within 75 days.
Bottle gourd is an annual plant, which means you will have to go through this same script to grow a new plant each year.
You should test the soil before planting the bottle gourd to see if it has all the needed nutrients. Use a balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10 at planting and when the vines start running. If you’re growing organic gourds, use composted mulch and animal manure instead. Grass clippings and even fish emulsion sprayed on the gourd plant work as fertilizer.
If the soil lacks phosphorus, the bottle gourd won’t fruit as well as it should. Use rock phosphate or bone meal and add about 1 pound of phosphorus per 1,000 square feet of soil. That comes out to 1–2 tablespoons of either of those two organic fertilizers per hill.
If the soil lacks potassium, the bottle gourd plant won’t make as many gourds as it could have. Aim to add 2 pounds of potassium per 1,000 square feet of soil. You can use potash, potassium nitrate or potassium magnesium sulfate. Lack of nitrogen and magnesium in the soil is most often not a problem; if it is, contact your vendor for help.
How To Grow Indoors
Use a wide and deep container with at least a 20-inch diameter to grow a bottle gourd indoors. Place it out of shade and where the plant gets at least 8 hours of sunlight each day. You can put up a trellis for the vine or let it climb to the roof. If grown on a terrace, let the vine wrap around the fence.
Extra Care Tips
Past germination, bottle squash plants don’t need much care and we could say they even thrive on the lack of it. As long as they have sun, water and open space, they will produce plenty of bottle gourds for you and your family. Roots of a sweet gourd will spread as much as the vines, so don’t dig around and instead do some light hoeing. If the hoe still isn’t enough to fight off the weeds and grasses, use tiny amounts of herbicides.
You can have a chain link fence, arbor or a trellis nearby for a bottle gourd plant and that should do it. You can also walk past the gourds once or twice a season and set them upright to give their necks a nice bend. In this way, they will maintain their shape without too much effort but you could go further in molding them. For example, if you let a gourd hang from the vine, you will get what’s known as a “bottleneck gourd”.
Prune the main vine until it’s got 15–20 leaf knuckles but prune the side shoots only when they have 6. When you prune the main vine, the plant thinks it’s in danger and speeds up the reproduction aka. flowering. You will notice side shoots (laterals) make female flowers while the main vine grows male ones. Laterals will in general make at least one female flower on each of the four leaf knuckles on them.
Past four leaf knuckles, the laterals will again start making male flowers so leave at least two more. As you prune the laterals, the bottle squash will branch out even more, creating more laterals. You can use the same principle to prune the laterals and they too will help you keep the male-female ratio. Pruning too much can make your bottle gourd vine produce too many female flowers and no pollen for them.
You should also prune the first bottle gourd fruits that grow on each knuckle to foster more fruits. In Japan, some bottle gourd growers can produce up to 1,000 fruits on one vine using that trick.
To cure a bottle squash, you will need two weeks of time, a bucket, and some water. Cut the hole in the top, measuring some 2–3 inches in diameter, and remove as much pulp and seeds as you can. Put the gourd in the bucket of tap water so it is completely under the water and let it sit in the sun for two or three days. Remove whatever softened pulp you can, put the gourd back in the bucket and again submerge it.
After two weeks of this method, you will be able to pull out almost all pulp and the skin will come off too. The gourd itself will have no noticeable odor. Put the gourd in a south-facing window for a few days or use our other drying ideas and it will become completely dry. Don’t throw away the lid from the hole you cut at the start, since it will still fit the gourd.
Don’t wash a bottle gourd as it’s curing, since that invites fungi of all sorts that won’t die to anything, not even bleach. Pat down wet spots dry with a towel because gourds that haven’t dried out completely will always rot. There is no way to cure an unripe bottle gourd, since they haven’t dried out completely. If the gourd’s skin is green, it is unripe and will last only as much as a pumpkin due to moisture, a few weeks at most.
How To Protect From Frost
Frost is deadly to gourds but you can keep it at bay using:
- grass clippings
- flower pots
If the frost does hit your gourds when you don’t expect it, pile up straw and grass clippings around them. That will be enough to bury and warm the plant but not crush or weigh it down. You can still expect the frost to claim its toll but most of your gourd plants will survive. If you have no straw or grass clipping, cover the gourds with buckets or flower pots to help them dodge the frost.
Put a sprinkler on a timer when you expect frost and let it spray the vines, leaves, and gourds all night. This will insulate the plant from the frost. Use a double layer of blankets over the gourds when the air temperature is lower than 50 degrees. The air between the blankets will insulate the plant as well as the sprinkler or bucket method.
Pests and Diseases
The bottle squash is a target of attack of several animals, with steady care being the best defense. The cucumber beetle, an orange and black beetle, is the most notorious gourd insect pest. It can overwinter in the soil and emerge to decimate gourd seedlings overnight; till to kill it. Stinkbugs, aphids, and corn earworms are also notorious for attacking squashes and gourds.
Mice, squirrels, and chipmunks love attacking gourds and digging into them for seeds. Deer will nibble on the vines and might go for a bite of the gourd too, which isn’t a problem if on occasion. Finally, a single groundhog can eat as much as 14 pounds of gourd vines and leaves a day, stunting the plants’ growth. A weak bleach solution sprayed on gourds can keep the nibblers at bay but it’s only a temporary solution.
Gourds are prone to diseases during cool, wet weather when water gathers on bunched up leaves. Once they appear, these diseases are nigh impossible to cure but do ask the vendor for guidance and help. The best option is prevention by spacing out the gourd plants to let the air move through the plants. A trellis or arbor is the best option for keeping a gourd plant dry and healthy.
Proper Pollination Method
You have to find a male bottle gourd flower and transfer pollen from it to a female bottle gourd flower. Male flowers will have slender bulbs while female flowers will have bulky, big bulbs. Male flowers will also be satin-like and yellowish while female flowers are glossy. If you do the pollination right, the female flower will get yellowish and satin-like too.
Between 12–3 p.m., find a male and a female bottle squash flower that are about to bloom and gently tie them. Tying will prevent them from getting spoiled by insects or the pollen from wasting due to wind. Pick off the male flower and untie it, peeling the petals to reveal the pollen holder (stamen). Insert the peeled flower into the female bottle calabash flower as far as it goes.
Give light jolts to the male flower to shake off as much pollen as you can into the pollen receiver (stigma). Again tie up the female flower and cover it with nylon or some other clear cover for two days to save it from bugs. Mark the female flower with red tape on which you will write the date and type of pollination. You can also use a paintbrush to take up the pollen from the stamen and transfer it to the stigma.
Water your gourd seeds at planting time to increase their chances of surviving. Give your bottle calabash plants a constant water supply and water the soil deeply 4–5 times a month. The soil should be damp at all times since that will help the gourds grow faster. Water your gourds early in the morning, so they can dry completely by nightfall.
Drip irrigation is the best way to water gourds; avoid any watering systems that spray or splash. Any way of watering that splashes or sprays the vine and the leaves with water invites fungus and mildew. Use a watering wand if you notice a dry patch of soil and direct the water to the roots. Rain works too — in Asia, bottle gourds thrive when planted before the start of the monsoon season.
Taking Care While Harvesting
You can harvest a bottle gourd after the stem turns brown and before the first frost comes around. If gourds remain on the stem when the frost hits, they might rot and then spread the rot to other gourds. Still, harvesting them too soon will keep too much moisture and may lead to them rotting in storage. Tap a gourd skin with your fingernail and when it sounds like tapping rock or glass is when it’s perfect.
Use sharp gardening shears that you’ve disinfected with rubbing alcohol to harvest gourds. Leave a few inches of the stem intact, since that will make the gourd dry instead of rot. Wash harvested gourds with soapy water, let them dry and wipe the skin with rubbing alcohol.
Remember the snake shape gourd we mentioned at the very start? You can make it yourself by using rope or rope, which can also give gourds ridges and quirks. Expect a few gourds to break or die because of your experiments but keep at it and you’ll learn the nuances.