October 29, 2020

Good Gourd! Growing Ornamental Squash in Florida

by Amanda Rose Newton

Nothing says fall quite like a decorative gourd! These fruits (yes, fruits) are members of the Curcurbitaceae family, which also includes zucchini, cucumbers, and summer squash.

While most are used primarily for decorative purposes, we will also highlight a few edible varieties as well that have a good track record in Brevard.

The Best Gourds to grow in Florida

The number of species of gourds and pumpkins out there is staggering, so to help you narrow down your choices, we have compiled a list of gourds that do well in our area.

See what gourd seeds we have in stock here.

Growing Ornamental Gourds

Pear gourds: These pear-shaped gourds come in a wide range in color and markings. It is also not unusual for them to have bands, stripes, or bumps. You never quite know what you will get when you plant these!

Flat fancy gourds: These tiny pumpkin-shaped gourds are at most 3 inches in diameter and usually exhibit an orange hue.

Warty-skinned fancy gourds: Similar to the flat fancy, these have the added dimension of bumpy “warty” skin.

Club gourds: These long gourds resemble bowling pins and look great on display with smaller and round gourds.

Birdhouse gourds: These jug-shaped gourds are often made into birdhouses and need to be planted after the last possible frost.

Bottle gourds: Unique in appearance, these have a broad round base, and a bottle-like neck. These can be used as bottles with many being able to hold up to 2 gallons of liquid!

Growing Edible Gourds

Turk’s cap: Clocking in at up to 10 pounds, this squash is also edible. It has a round orange bottom with a protruding cream-colored “cap” on top. Due to this unique feature, it also makes it excellent for ornamental display.

Luffa gourds: If you are new to gourds, this is a great one to start with! Also, edible, Luffas are from 1 to 2 feet long, and are ready to eat when they reach 1 to 2 inches in diameter. When the interior pulp is dry, it is similar in consistency to the sponge it shares a name with. It also doubles as an interesting ornamental for displays and can also be used to scrub down floors after the holiday celebrations have concluded.

How to Plant Gourds

Gourd seeds can be planted directly into the soil as soon as the cold months of January and February are past us.

Gourd plants have a vining tendency and do best when offered a trellis to grow on. This also allows you to grow them no matter the size of your yard.

If using a trellis, gourd seeds should be spaced 1 to 2 feet apart from the trellis base. Those who wish to plant them in a garden bed should allow 4 feet between each in order to give the vines enough room to stretch out. Seeds, in either case, should be planted 1-2 inches deep and watered well.

Gourds are susceptible to the same pest and fungi issues as most squash, including powdery mildew and squash borers.

Be sure to walk through your garden regularly to observe any changes such as holes in leaves or spotting on stems. You can treat caterpillar pests with Bt (Thuricide) and garden-friendly fungicide is a safe choice for mildew and black spot. Starting with well-amended soil, planting in full sun, and practicing good sanitation in the garden are all ways to ensure success.

How to dry Gourds

If using gourds for ornamental purposes, you can let it mature and dry out right on the vine. Once you hear seeds rattling inside, you can remove the fruit – make sure to leave a few inches of the stem intact.

*It’s important not to twist the stem and separate them from the vine. Use a freshly sharpened pair of garden shears to get the look you want.

The gourds can be washed in soapy water and then set out to dry a bit longer, usually a month or two will do the job.

This “curing” process aids in ensuring the pulp has completely dried out and leaves your gourd less susceptible to rots. For colored gourds, be sure to keep them out of the sunlight during this curing process to avoid bleaching. If mold appears during the drying process, feel free to scrape it off once the outer rind is completely dry.

Finishing Touches

Once your gourd is past the curing process, the decoration can begin! Gourds can be sanded, kept as is, or painted to reflect the theme of your home.

In addition to making great birdhouses, gourds can also be styled and used as hanging baskets for plants, vases, bowls, pipes, and even toys!

Start a few gourd seeds this winter and by next holiday, you will have something for everyone on your holiday gift list.