Luffa, also known as Chinese okra, loofah, sponge gourd, and ridged gourd, is a fantastic addition to your home garden if you’re be thinking of growing one.
Gardening has never been so satisfying, especially when you see your hard work bears fruits.
Our expert gardeners took a deep dive on Loofah (or Luffa as others would spell it) to show you how easy it is to grow this tropical plant.
What Is Luffa? Is It A Dishcloth Or A Vegetable?
Luffa is a vine from the cucumber family. In Latin, its name is Luffa acutangula. It has other names, too, such as dishcloth gourd and silk squash. Here are some exciting facts on loofa, including how to grow it or pick a fine one in the store.
The vine is a tropical plant hailing from Asia, but the name also often refers to its fruit. Loofah has dark green skin and ridges that run down the length of it. Inside a loofah, you will find bright white flesh and a spongy texture that can soak up liquids.
Luffas average 10 inches in length and 3 inches in width but can grow gigantic if the weather allows.
Where Do Loofahs Come From: Place Of Origin
Earlier, we said Loofahs hail from the exotic regions of Asia. But to be more accurate, we found out that Loofahs come from India, particularly in sub-tropical areas below 500 meters altitude.
Other sources—going deeper into the matter—say that the plant’s genetic makeup shows their native continent is most likely Africa.
When To Plant Luffa: The Best Time, Month, & Season
Now comes the next big question. What’s the perfect time, month, or season of the year to plant luffas? Our experts suggest starting them indoors between April and May and then transplant outside when there’s no more chance of frost.
The growing season of luffas is long, and the plants must have the warmth to thrive. Wait for the soil to be at least 60 °F before planting. They can grow year-round, but especially in the summer, they can grow up to 2 feet long.
How To Plant Luffa Seeds: Some Tips To Get You Going
A raised garden bed is the right planting spot. The ideal luffa seeds are firm and dark; pale and soft seeds are not good enough and will not germinate. Make a 1-inch hole for seeds and space them out. Vines should not overlap, overshadow or compete for nutrients.
When planting seeds, notice they have two ends: a tapered one and a rounded end. Plant the seeds, so their tapered end is pointing up. When the seed germinates, the plant will use the tapered end as a drill to break through the soil, which can help it grow.
You can soak the seeds in the water overnight to help them germinate. Even then, expect some seeds to fail to germinate for no apparent reason. That’s why we recommend that you put up to 3 seeds per one planting spot. Once they start growing, prune back all but one of the vines from each spot.
How To Grow Luffa: Location, Location, Location
Luffa prefers locations with drained soil, in full sun, and sheltered from wind and frost. Give it an alkaline soil with a 6–6.5 pH value.
The vines can grow 20–30 feet long, which all but requires you to make a trellis or use other support. They can grow in USDA zones 7 and above.
As soon you notice the luffa vines spreading out, move them towards the support or drape them over it. You can tie the vines with pieces of string. They will reach for the sun on their own, and the more sunlight they have, the faster they mature. Leaving the vines on the ground will warp the luffas and might cause them to rot.
During this early growth stage, mulch the soil to curb weeds and ensure all soil nutrients go to luffa. You can also add aged manure and/or rich compost. Keep the soil damp but not soggy until the seedlings show vigorous growth. In ideal conditions, luffa grows about an inch a day, up to about a foot in length.
How To Water Luffa: The Right Way To Taking Care Of It
Rain should provide enough water, but if not, give the vines 1 inch of water a week. If there’s a dried patch of soil, use a watering wand to dampen it. Avoid aiming straight at the roots or the leaves.
It would help if you never water the vines since that invites fungi that will rot them. Don’t let the water splash hit them either. Steady drip irrigation is the best option, with the top three inches of the soil always being damp. Water them early in the morning so that they can dry out before nightfall.
Ensure that your luffa vines always have enough water, or they will start wilting. They can survive a drought only for a short while. The more water, nutrients and sunshine you can give to a luffa, the bigger it will get.
How To Grow Luffa In A Pot: Simple Steps, Big Results
Use a pot that’s at least 10 gallons to start growing luffa. The pot should have plenty of drainage holes; if not, drill them on your own. The pot should be squeaky clean to avoid infection but if it isn’t, clean it with a 10% bleach solution.
Fill the pot with:
- 33% peat moss
- 33% perlite
- 33% vermiculite
- 1% compost
but leave one inch of space on top. Put a trellis right away, so you don’t disturb the vine, and it adjusts fine. Give the vine fertilizer every 15 days or more often but don’t use too much nitrogen.
Transplant the seedling to a larger pot once it starts developing leaf knuckles. Take care not to disturb their roots, which can kill the seedling in question. An ideal pot for growing luffa is 30 gallons in volume for each vine. You will still need to give the vine support once it extends beyond 15 feet, with one option being to guide it to a fence.
Pruning The Vines To Direct Luffa Growth
Prune your luffa vines to direct their growth but also to force them to start flowering.
Please wait until the vines are long enough that they are over the trellis. Use clean shears and trim the very tip of the vine but also side branches.
Leave 10–12 leaf knuckles on each side branch, which will trigger the vine to flower. That number of leaf knuckles produces the best ratio of male to female flowers.
Don’t prune more than 20% of any given luffa vine since that is a big shock for the plant.
When To Harvest Luffa? Counting The Days
Luffa plant takes on average 100 days to mature, and you best pick it for food within that time. Once that passes, you can leave it on the vine for another 60 days so it can dry out and turn fibrous. If there’s frost at all during those 160 days, give or take, the vine will not survive. When the first frost hits, you have to take the luffa off its vine. Or it will rot.
The best indicator of luffa’s maturity is its color. When the color starts changing from green to yellow, the luffa is drying out with a brown tinge. If you wait for the luffa to turn completely brown, it will have already gotten moldy and rotten inside. They shouldn’t go hard on the vine but should yield a little when you squeeze them.
To figure out the right timing for your luffa, pick off one each day and taste it. As the luffa fruit stays on the vine, it will start losing moisture, becoming inedible. Touch it, and you’ll feel it’s becoming lightweight while the skin fades and yellows.
How To Harvest Luffa: Here Are Tested Methods
Peel it right after harvesting since you will have little trouble doing it. You can even peel it while it’s still hanging on the vine, though some fibers might stick on green parts. If you have trouble peeling a luffa, soak it in a tub of water for 3–4 minutes. Smack it a couple of times to dislodge the seeds and shake the loofa a few times. When it starts rattling inside, you are ready to cut it open.
Cut the lower end of the luffa, which is the one that wasn’t on the vine. The seeds should fall right out on their own. Rinse off all the sap and dirt, even using a garden hose with a sprayer if you must. You will need high pressure to get the slimy gunk off.
Air Circulation: The Secret To Keep Your Loofah Dry
Air circulation is the key. Layout some cardboard or kitchen towels on a counter or table. Put inedible, washed luffas on top of them, and pat them dry with a towel. You can also put luffas on a baking rack for the same effect.
Every once in a while, flip them over and give them a gentle squeeze. When you can no longer see or feel moisture, they’re dry but drying fresh luffas is a bit trickier. They are full of sap and moisture, so add in a fan and let it circulate the air 24/7. If you’re living in a sunny area, you can also leave a luffa gourd in the sun to dry out.
How To pollinate: What To Expect
Soon after germinating, you will notice yellow blooms on your loofah plant. When that happens, use a balanced fertilizer once every 7–10 days. Flowers will soon be ready for pollination, which should occur through insects. If not, you can guide the pollination by hand by using a small paintbrush.
Notice two types of flowers: female, with a bulge, and male without it. Dab the paintbrush into the male flower and pick up pollen, a yellow powder that makes the flower glossy. Dab the pollinated paintbrush into the female flower, and that’s it. Don’t worry if the male flowers drop off soon after opening; they spread their pollen and did their job.
Different vines from the cucumber family can cross-pollinate. That can lead to some exciting hybrids that have properties of both parents. The nice bonus is that extra flower diversity attracts even more pollinators.
Pests And Diseases: How To Protect Your Luffa Plant
The cucumber beetle (Diabrotica) is the most common and the most devastating pest of luffa. When they descend on a bed of luffas, they can nibble on vines and melons but also spread diseases. The most dangerous disease spread by the cucumber beetle is bacterial wilt. You can’t do anything to cure it, but the bacteria can’t live in dead plants or the soil, so you need no extra work on removal.
Pyrethrin-based insecticides work well against the cucumber beetle. Spray it on your luffa vines during the night, so it can waft off before sunrise and not kill bees. The beetles will winter in the soil, so till the earth to kill them. If you plant at a different time each year and rotate crops, you have a good chance of repelling the beetle.
Fruit flies, the minute dots you see hovering around rotten fruit, are another luffa pest. It’s no coincidence the two are often found together because fruit flies can spread fruit rot.
To protect your luffas, cover them with paper bags and use string, twine, or rubber band to secure them. The melons will be away from the sun, but that doesn’t matter; as long as the vines get enough sun, the melons will grow.
How To Make A Luffa Sponge
To make a loofah sponge:
- Harvest the towel gourd
- Dry the luffa sponge
- Put luffas in a bucket of water
- Peel the sponge cucumber
- Cut them in half
- Remove the seeds
- Slice those halves once more into quarters
- Throw away any quarters that show signs of mold
- Use good quarters as sponges
What Does Chinese Okra Taste Like?
Chinese okra is soft and spongy, with a subtly sweet, silky flavor in recipes. The taste might remind you of summer squash.
Is There Any Difference Between Luffa And Loofah?
Both terms refer to the same thing, but luffa refers to it fresh and loofah to it dried and ready for use as a sponge. You can use both names to refer to the fresh fruit or the vine.
In this article, you’ve learned that:
- Loofahs hail from tropical regions in India
- The inside of a loofah is one giant sponge
- Luffa needs constant watering but rots from water splash
- A loofah vine can also be grown in a 30-gallon pot
- Pruning a luffa vine makes it flower much faster
- Luffa gourds will dry out on the vine but can also rot fast
Loofa is a demanding but also rewarding vine. When you do everything right, it grows like something out of a fairy tale. You’ll watch it grow to enormous sizes, and it will seem like a dream come true.