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Gourds: Multi-colored, lumpy, bumpy, spotted and striped

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Pumpkins, mums, and gourds, oh my! It's that time again, falling leaves, fall-decorating, and pumpkin and gourd hunting. Gourds are pretty cool because they're colorful, lumpy, bumpy, striped, dotted, as well as, available in tiny and huge sizes. They can also last a long time if kept in a cooler environment. The gourds most people are familiar with include pumpkins, melons, squash, watermelon, and cucumbers. These fabulous fruits are available in three main varieties: the cucurbita or ornamental gourd, the lagenaria or hardshell gourd, and the luffa gourd or vegetable sponge. Each variety comes in a different sizes, shapes, and colors.

Most of us are familiar with the cucurbita or ornamental gourd; it’s the bumpy and colorful gourd that we see in the garden centers, grocery stores, and that we use in our fall decorations. These thin and soft-skinned gourds are often multi-colored and found in orange, yellow, green, white and blue. They come in unpredictable shapes and are often covered in bumps and warts. The vines of these ornamental gourds boast beautiful and bold gold blooms, just like the cucumber and squash flower .You can find ornamental gourd names such as warties, pears, orange, crown of thorns, and spoon. This ornamental gourd chart will help you identify specific types of ornamental gourds.

The lagenaria or hardshell gourd, is a larger gourd that been grown and used for containers, crafts, and in the kitchen all over the world for centuries. The gourds are called hulu in China and eaten as a summer squash in many countries even today. The vines of a hardshell gourd produce white blossoms that bloom at night. The fruit starts out in different shades of green, sometimes with white markings; and then it turns to a hard and thick shell once dry. After they are dried and cured, they’ll turn tan or brown. Today many people use the dried Lagenaria gourd for crafting. Names of hardshell gourds are bottle, bushel, birdhouse, maranka, and dipper. This hardshell gourd chart will help you identify the types of hardshell gourds.

Luffas gourdsare used as sponges because once you remove the shell, they are rough and fibrous inside. The vines bloom yellow flowers during the day. Click here for more about the Luffas gourd.

Decorative gourds are as easy to grow as their relative the cucumber, it’s much to late to plant gourds in Philadelphia's zone six because they are a warm season crop that need the entire season to grow and mature. They should be planted outdoors after the frost is history. You can sow seeds indoors a month earlier in peat pots and then transplant outdoors. Gourds need full sun and well-drained neutral soil with a pH of about 6.5 - 6.8. You can plant them exactly how you plant cucumbers, pumpkins and squash. Either plant them on hills, spacing them 5 feet apart in different directions; or, plant them vertically by planting them near a fence, raising them off the ground, and tying them to the fence to give them support so that the fruit will hang. This will cause them to grow in perfect shape and without discoloration. Plant them about 5 feet apart along the fence. Spray fertilize on the foliage weekly with a low-nitrogen liquid fertilizer.

Once you harvest hardshell gourds, you need to dry and cure them. You can spread them out to cure on a rack in a dry, dark, airy place. They can take from 2 to 10 months to dry depending on the size. You know they’re dry when you hear the seeds rattle. Harvestingand drying ornamental gourds is a little tricky because they’re not left on the vine as long as the hardshell gourds. If you leave them on too long, the colors will fade; and if you harvest them early, they tend to rot. Gourds are susceptible to the same problems as other members of the Cucurbitaceae family; squash bug, aphids, striped cucumber beetle, powder post beetle, and squash vine borer.

Pick up a few gorgeous gourds for decorating this season; they’re very inexpensive. Decorate with them this year; and next spring, consider planting some of your own decorative gourds for decorating and crafts. They are low maintenance growing; and if you grow them vertically, you won’t need much space.

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