This is a guide to help all plant gourds. Part of a Texas Traders, Inc. How-2-Do It tutorial and garden know how. See our other guides for more easy help. We are Pro Growers of Monster Gourds. (Only plant seeds you can trust)!
Before planting time nears, there are several steps to take, and numerous decisions to be made. The first step towards harvesting a fine crop of gourds is to select the varieties of gourd seed to plant. There are two major considerations when it comes to selecting the best type of seed to plant. First, and most importantly -What does the grower want? A close second is - What is realistic?
The length of the growing season in a given area must be taken into consideration before planting gourds. Many gourds will do just fine with the available season, wherever the location might be. However, many of the larger and thicker shelled gourds, such as Bushel Gourds, Kettle Gourds, and African Wine Kettles, require a longer growing season than is available in many areas. These gourds can still be grown, and with great success, by starting the seed indoors, or better yet, in a hothouse or cold frame.
It is important to determine just when planting time actually is and how long a growing season can be expected. Because gourd plants can't withstand a freeze, it is essential to plant after the final frost date in the region. There are many online resources for learning the frost dates for a specific area. Also, local universities, weather services, and county extension agents are sources of reliable information.
Be careful to obtain information specific to the planting area, because the final frost date can vary by more than a month in many states. Additionally, there is a caveat which applies to the phrases 'final frost date' and 'first frost date'. There is a generally accepted allowance of a 10% chance of frost AFTER the final frost date or BEFORE the first frost date.
Don't be dead set on planting on an exact date and be sure, for safety sake, to take a good look at the extended forecast before planting. When getting the last frost information, be sure to grab the first frost data at the same time. This will give an accurate expectation of the gourd growing season (number of days) in a specific area. As many gourds prefer or require a long growing season, one shouldn't dally in planting once it is safe to do so.
Indoor Start or Direct Planting?
Having a pretty good idea (within two or three weeks) of the ideal date for planting gourds, the next step is to decide whether to plant the gourd seed directly into the ground or to start indoors (or in a hothouse or cold frame). Where the season is sufficiently long, gourd seed can be planted directly into the ground without worry. Where the season is shorter, the variety of gourd selected becomes a factor. Smaller gourds, such as ornamental gourds, or smaller hard shells such as Cannonball Gourds or small Dipper Gourds, tend not to require the very long season that the large and thick shelled Bushel Gourds and Kettle Gourds need. Figure a 90-110 day growing season at a minimum, with the big boys requiring as much as 130-150 days. The decision to start gourd seed indoors should first be driven by the number of growing days required, set against the total number of growing days available.
Indoor or Hothouse Advantages
Ir is not necessary to start gourd seed indoors if the available number of growing days is sufficient. Indeed, it requires considerably more work and dedication, but, that said, there are a number of good reasons for starting gourd plants indoors even if the season is long enough for the varieties selected. The number one reason would be to gain a much greater degree of control over seed germination. When starting gourd seeds directly in the ground, much control over the germination process is lost, or at least hampered. Temperature and moisture can be easily and tightly controlled in a hothouse situation, resulting in average germination times of 3-5 days. Direct to ground planting can raise average germination times by a factor of 3 or 4. Also, the rate of germination, extremely important when dealing with scarce or expensive gourd seed, can be maximized when starting indoors or in a hothouse set-up.
Beginning indoors can result in a 30-45 day head start on the season. Another important benefit is the ability to tightly monitor and control the care and feeding of the tender gourd plants when they need it most. The ability to easily add small and controlled amounts of fertilizer at this early stage is an opportunity to get the young plants off to a roaring start.
When starting gourd seed in advance of the planting season, the availability of plenty of quality light is critical. In a hothouse situation, the quality and duration of light should not be a problem. However, if truly starting indoors, either quality lights must be provided or the plants must be ferried outside (for as long as possible), and back in, on every suitable day. Gourd plants will quickly become "leggy" searching for the light that they desperately need. It is also worth noting that giving gourds a head start also gives them a greater defense to early season predators, such as Cucumber Beetles and Rabbits. When the crop is only a few inches tall, either of these varmints can destroy it in just a few days.
Preparing the Ground
After settling on the selection of gourd seed, determining the best time to plant, and whether or not to start the gourds inside or directly in the ground, attention can be turned to preparing the planting area. The entire growing area should be well tilled, but not necessarily deeply tilled. Except in the immediate planting area ( 1-2 square feet), gourd roots will not be more than a few inches deep, often no more than 2 or 3 inches at the most.
A large root will set in the immediate planting area, perhaps as much as one foot down, but the lateral roots mmediately rise close to the surface as they begin to run. These lateral roots can run 30-50 feet long, each with sub-laterals, and each of those with sub-sub-laterals. The square footage taken over by the roots is roughly equivalent to the area taken up above ground by the vines themselves which, given the opportunity, will run rampantly.
Apply a general purpose fertilizer (10-10-10) to the entire growing area. Each planting spot should be well tilled and the addition of a mix of a good potting soil and manure will be welcomed by the plant. Two or three gallons of this enhanced soil mix would be ideal. If available, the addition of mulch will provide tremendous benefits to the gourd growing area. Generous mulching will prevent many weeds from ever getting a start, maintain higher moisture levels in the ground for longer periods of time, and ultimately, as it decays, return valuable nutrients back to the soil. The value of mulching cannot be overstated.
Planting Gourd Seed Directly in the Ground
Soak hard shell seeds in water for 24 hours before planting. Dump them in a bowl or just submerge the packet that they came in. This will prime the seeds for a quicker germination. The length of time is not critical. A few more hours of soaking won't hurt the hard shell varieties. The ornamental varieties should be soaked for less time, perhaps 12-15 hours. This prolonged and thorough soaking makes a substantial difference in germination time, whether starting inside or in the ground.
Plant the seed approximately 1/2 inch deep and try to keep the immediate area moist (not wet) at all times until germination occurs. Temperature and moisture are the two most important factors affecting the germination of gourd seed. Warmer temperatures result in quicker germination times, as well as higher levels of germination.
Holes of Hills?
Holes or Hills? It don't make no never mind, but holes are better. There are many differing opinions regarding how many seeds or plants to set in one hole or hill, and how to handle hole and row spacing. Here is another. Grow 1 or 2 plants per hole. It is reasonable to start with 3 plants or 5-6 seeds per hole and gradually thin down. This allows for a margin of safety should bad things happen to any of the plants.
Holes should be 10-15 feet apart as should rows. If space is a problem, tighten up the spacing. One reason that there are so many opinions is that so many combinations work. A 10 or 15 foot grid looks gigantic when the plants are 6 inches high for two weeks, but, quick as you blink, that ground will be totally covered in vines.
Giving Plants an Early Start.
Start by soaking the gourd seed as described above in "Planting Gourd Seed Directly into the Ground". When the seed is ready to go, plant the seed in a 6 inch pot. Starting containers need not be this large, but there is an advantage to giving the roots lots of room in which to grow. Transplanting from pot to garden will be less stressful on the plant when that time comes. Gourds don't like their roots to be disturbed. Because they are sensitive to transplanting, it is not unusual for the plants to show little growth for 10-14 days afterward. They need time to adjust to the move.
Two weeks before transplanting the developing gourd plants into the garden, they should be "hardened off". The hardening off process will contribute to a smoother transition in the growth of the plant after transplanting. Hardening off is a deliberate effort to toughen up the pampered plants before they are exposed to the harsh realities of the real world. The move from plush and comfy hot-house (or penthouse) to the cool nights are a real shock. On nights where there is no danger of a freeze, begin to leave the plants outside all night. This will acclimate them to chilly, but not destructive, night temperatures.
Following the steps above should get the gourds off to a great start, with every chance for a successful crop. The only risks that remain are too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, deer, disease, Cucumber Beetles, and bad luck.
This tutorial has been created by Texas Traders, Inc. Part of a 4 series gourd tutorial. All with step by step directions.