Gourds are also called pumpkin or squash, and they’re a kind of hard-shelled fruit that you grow on edible vines. Gourds fall into the Cucurbitaceae family, and this family includes various types of gourds, cucumbers, and watermelon. Gourds are one of the oldest grown plants that have served a huge range of purposes outside of eating them, including water bottles, utensils, dippers, and storage containers in ancient times. Today, gourds are popular for use in pie or soup recipes, and you can use ornamental gourds as Halloween decorations.
The Gourd family has hundreds of types of gourds and species of vines that have climbing, coiled tendrils, and they’re some of the most unusual fruits you can get. The species total may surpass 700, and there are at least 100 different genera all in the same family. Also called cucurbits, the fruits in this very diverse family come in a huge range of sizes and shape, from extremely small, marble-shaped Jumbie Pumpkins in the Caribbean Islands to the giant types of gourds that get over seven feet long. The world’s largest fruits fall into this family, and in 1993, a world record-breaking 700-pound squash and a 836-pound pumpkin were recorded. In 1994, the record was broken again in Port Elgin, Ontario with a 900-pound squash.
This record was broken again in 1996 in Clarence, New York at the World Pumpkin Confederation weigh-in by a pumpkin that weighed an impressive 1,061 pounds. According to the growers, they fed it 150 gallons of water each day with a custom fertilizer mix with over 60 ingredients in it.
Cucurbita vs Lagenaria Gourds: What’s the Difference?
The Cucurbitaceae family has over 700 gourd species and 100 genera, and the most common types of gourds split into two genera called Cucurbita and Lagenaria, known as bottle or calabash gourds.
- Cucurbita: These gourds are thick and multi-colored, and they may have prickly leaves, rigid shells, prickly stems, and yellow flowers. A few varieties of this type of gourd include pumpkins and edible squashes.
- Lagenaria: These thin-skinned, decorative gourds make great bird houses or containers. They have large, soft leaves and smooth stems, and they produce white flowers.
Best Types of Gourds to Grow
Now you know, that one a broad sense, there are two types of gourds or decorative squash. The hard-shelled varieties are great for craft projects. 20 of the best types of gourds to grow are:
If you somehow managed to combine an apple with a pumpkin, this is what the end result would be. It’s a striking deep green coloring with lighter green speckles, and it looks like a bigger version of the apple. This is a great option for arts and crafts if you’re looking to get a rounded bowl shape to experiment with. They will turn from a deep green to a brownish-yellow color as you dry them. It’s a vigorous grower, it’ll spread between 90 and 140 inches and be mature in 120 days. It requires bright, full sunlight to produce fruits that are four inches wide and six to eight inches high.
Better known as wax gourd, winter melon, and white pumpkin, this type of gourd grows on a vine and it’s cultivated all over South India. This cultivar is very low in carbs and calories while being rich in antioxidants and fiber. Also, applying it topically could help to reduce inflammation, and it’s a very popular edible gourd for various dishes.
Ash gourd is a warm-weather type of gourd that thrives very well planted in tropical regions with temperatures that range between 77°F and 85°F. It loves well-drained, loamy soil and consistent moisture. You can add this gourd to stir-fries, hearty dishes, and pickles to help enhance the flavor. Also, both the pulp and flesh is edible.
Sometimes this type of gourd is referred to as the bushel basket gourd, and it’s a huge cultivar. If you trim your vine to produce a single fruit, it can get bigger than a bushel basket that you use to harvest fruit from trees. These gourds usually have a sphere shape, but they can also be slightly flattened. The tough green outer shells age to gray or tan, and they make excellent storage containers one you wash, dry, and wax them.
This gourd has an oblong shape to it, and it has tapering ends with a very thin flesh layer and flat seeds. You should harvest this type of gourd when it’s green, the flesh is crunchy, and the texture is very watery. The vine will start to bear fruit within three to four months after you plant it. This vine does very well in humid, hot planting zones, and you can grow them on your patios, balconies, and out on the terrace. As you may have gotten from the name, this gourd has a bitter taste to it, but the huge nutritious value makes it really stand out. After you peel it, you can toss it in a stir-fry with some herbs and spices.
Bottle gourds are types of gourds that have a hard shell. This hard exterior allows you to carve it to create musical instruments or tools. You can also turn them into a drinking glass, as you may have gotten by the name. This is a very long-lasting gourd that is edible before it’s mature. Before you work with or carve this gourd, you have to dry it, and this process can take up to six months. A nice project to consider is hollowing out this gourd to form a bowl or bird feeder.
This open-pollinated, pretty type of gourd that produces a unique pattern when you look at it from above. You’ll see a flower pattern on the stem end of the fruit. High-yielding and colorful, it produces fruits in various hues of orange, green, and yellow. These cute little gourds get up to two inches by three inches, and they produce on trailing, long vines that you can train to grow up a trellis or over an arbor. This type of gourd matures in 98 days.
Dipper types of gourds have a long neck in a solid coloring. Some come with extra-long “handles” on them, especially if you decide to leave them on the vine longer. Let the vines creep along the ground as they grow and the handle will start to curve. The shape, the bulbous end with the long neck, can easily allow you to carve this gourd into a ladle. The size of the handle you end up with on this gourd will vary. If you grow your own, they mature in roughly 110 days.
8. Extra Long Handle Dipper
This is an ornamental, heirloom type of gourd that is a very uncommon and unusual cultivar. As the name implies, it grows a curved, long “handle” with a bigger end. They’ll have curved handles if you grow them along the ground. You can also train them to grow up a trellis so the handles grow straight. They’re very useful when it comes to making winter or fall decorations, and this is an inedible gourd that makes fruit that are two to three feet in size. It grows best in full sun, and it matures within 110 to 130 days.
Commonly called the scarlet gourd, you grow this one in tropical climates. It has a dark green, smooth skin that has seeds and a bright white flesh. Ivy gourd is useful as it can potentially help to treat various health issues like obesity and diabetes. It prefers to be in a rich, well-draining soil that you water regularly to keep moist. It’s a very versatile type of gourd that makes a great ingredient for curries, stews, and salads. You can slice it, chop it, or cut rings out of it to cook it.
Loofah plants produce fruit that can get up to two feet long, and they also have bright yellow blossoms that attract pollinators like bees. You can eat the young fruit, and it tastes a lot like okra. When you dry it, the insides of this type of gourd makes a nice sponge. The stored loofah fibers can last for years, so it’s possible to build up a stockpile when you grow them as a long-season plant. It does take between 150 and 200 warm days for it to mature.
11. Mixed Varieties
If you can’t decide which type of gourds to grow, why not go for a seed mix. There are two many options:
This seed mixture features several larger gourds, and they produce a host of wonderful shapes, colors, and sizes that can brighten up your fall garden. With the sprawling vines it produces, this cultivar requires space to spread out, so you want to plant the rows two to three feet apart. You’ll get both coarse and smooth textures, and it’s great to use for arts and crafts projects. Most of them are ready to harvest within 120 days.
Fun and eye-catching, these types of gourds make the best winter or fall decorations that you can’t help but like. They mature in roughly 120 days, and you’ll get a very colorful mix of green, orange, yellow, white, or multi-colored fruit that comes in various sizes, textures, and shapes, including both warted and smooth.
Best grown on a trellis, this is one of the most popular types of gourds to grow in India. It’s a perennial vine that gives you green fruits in a solid color or with white striping, and they’re a great source of vitamins and fiber. It’s a very mild flavor, and the crunchy seeds get wrapped under a mushy flesh. Sandy loam will keep it happy, and put it in a spot that gets a lot of sun and is warm. You can add this green vegetable to stir-fries, soups, or stews.
These types of gourds are more squat than dipper or speckled swan gourds, and they have a much slimmer profile overall. They’re also called penguin gourds because they mimic the look of these roly-poly birds. The fruits this plant produces reach 10 to 16 inches high, and they’re an easy vessel to turn into a bird house or use for winter decorations.
Also called Turai or Turiya, this type of gourd is dark green and rigid. It can help improve your digestion, promote weight loss, and more. It falls into the cucumber family, and it has a high amount of dietary fiber. Overwatering or underwatering can kill this gourd, so water very carefully. For manure, homemade compost works very well to inject nutrients into the soil. There are a few culinary uses with this type of gourd, and you can easily make a healthy curry by frying cubes of this gourd with tomatoes, onions, garlic, chili powder, and salt.
The snake type of gourd is a very rapidly growing cultivar that is packed with essential vitamins and minerals. It has a slender, long shape to it, and it requires a tropical planting zone to grow. The shoots and leaves are also edible, and you want to space these gourds 8 to 10 feet apart to prevent them from excessively spreading. The soil should be well-drained, warm, and slightly acidic. It’s a very popular curry vegetable in India, and you can use it to make pickles or stews.
16. Speckled Swan
Speckled Swan is an open pollinated cultivar with creamy white speckles on a light green skin. It’s a larger fruit that gets up to eight inches across, and it usually has a flat base. It gets the name because it grows a large 12 to 16-inch neck that curves very elegantly downwards. You’ll get a nice contrast with the green skin and white flecks, and it contrasts nicely with a backdrop of red flowers. It’s used for decorations and crafts, but the flesh isn’t edible. It also retains the color when you dry it out to use it. It matures in 115 to 125 days, and it enjoys going in full sun.
17. Sponge Gourds
As the name suggests, you use this type of gourd to make bath sponges. They’re cylindrical, slim gourds with a fibrous interior that is a great scrubbing sponge for exfoliating. The fruit is edible when it’s immature and less than seven inches high. They grow in a vining fashion similar to cucumbers, and they require trellises for support. When the seeds rattle inside, it’s ready to use to make sponges. Before you cut it into sponges, you want to remove the hard shell by soaking it and scraping it off.
18. Tennessee Spinning
This striped ornamental type of gourd looks like a misshapen watermelon, and it’s perfect to use for jewelry or crafts. Better known as Tennessee Dancing Gourd, this is a heirloom cultivar that is from Tennessee in Hickman County. It matures in 90 to 100 days, and it needs bright, full sun to produce the two to three-inch fruits and thrive.
19. Turk’s Turban
This heirloom type of ground is very unique, and it’s made up of two halves. The bottom one is a solid color and the “turban” or “hat” portion is beige with reddish orange streaks and green. It was cultivated in the 1820s, and it’s popular both for the looks and taste. It works well as an edible or ornamental gourd, and you can use it in your favorite squash recipes, including steaming, baking, or in soups. The big variety can reach seven pounds at maturity, and you can use it as a decoration when it dries. It matures in 95 days.
This thick-skinned, small gourd has irregular winged surfaces, and it can be smooth or warty. Some winged gourds are one solid color in shades of orange, yellow, white or green, or you can get multicolored ones that come with pretty patterns. These types of gourds, with their odd shapes and bold colors, make a great addition to your fall table decor.
How to Plant Gourds in Your Garden
Certain types of gourds will get harvested in the summer and others will get harvested in the winter, and the care instructions vary a little. You should research your specific planting instructions, depending on whether you grow summer or winter gourds. However, a few key points include:
- Plant your gourds in nutrient-rich soil. They need a very nutrient-dense soil that is well-balanced when it comes to magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. Use organic fertilizer or compost.
- Pick a spot that has direct sunlight as they all need full sun for a minimum of six hours each day.
- Space out the seeds in your garden. Plant them one to two inches deep in groups of four, and space each group five feet apart in rows that are eight feet apart. The seeds will germinate in a week or two, and then you can thin the plants to two or three per group.
- Water your seeds every few days. Water the seeds when you first plant them and then cut back to once every two or three days or the first week. Once the plant roots, give it an inch of water every week.
Growing and Harvesting Gourds
Grounds usually need a hot, long season to mature between 95 and 130 days. So, unless you live in a planting zone with a long summer, you may want to sow your seeds indoors to give them a head start. Give them plenty of sun, a trellis to climb, and plenty of room.
Except for the luffa gourd that you harvest before the skin is 100% hard, let your gourds mature completely on the vine. Harvest them when the stem starts to dry and turn brown, and use garden snips or a sharp knife to sever them. Leave a short stem attached to your gourd. Handle the fruit carefully so you don’t bruise it, and remove the dirt by washing them with soapy water. Then, wipe down your gourds using a soft cloth soaked in a household disinfectant and allow them to air dry.
Cure your type of gourd in a well-ventilated shed or garage, spreading them out in a single layer on shelves or newspaper on the ground. They shouldn’t be touching. Turn each gourd once every few days and take out any that look like they’re rotting. The curing process will take several weeks, and you’ll know they’re 100% dry when you shake them and you can hear the seeds rattle. You can shellac, wax, or paint your dried gourds to use as decorations, or you can cut them and use them for crafts.
How To Dry Different Types Of Gourds
Preserving any inedible types of gourds you grow is very easy, but it is a lengthy process you have to give yourself time for. You start by harvesting your gourds when they’re 100% mature and the stem is completely dry. Cut them off the stem and leave two inches of stem attached to the gourd. Wash and dry them before wiping them down with a very mild alcohol or disinfectant.
Pick out a warm, dark spot that has good air circulation. Put your gourds on a few sheets of paper and allow them to slowly dry. Check them regularly and swap out the paper as it gets damp. The gourds are ready to use when you shake them and hear the seeds shaking.
Gourd Care Tips
Even though every type of gourd gives you robust fruits, they are low-maintenance plants that require very little care once you plant them. A few tips to help you care for these plants include:
- Add a Trellis – Gourds are sprawling plants by nature, and they need a lot of room to grow. To prevent them from taking over the space, give them a solid trellis to climb. The vines can easily top out at 20 to 30 feet long.
- Cut the Vines Back – To encourage side growth, cut your vines back when they hit 10 feet long.
- Fertilize the Flowers – Gourds produce female and male flowers, and this means that you have to have pollen transfer to grow fruit. If there aren’t enough pollinators like bees where you like, you can fertilize the female flowers by hand. These are the flowers that have the small, ball-shaped growth under the flower.
- Harvest According to Season and Size – Harvest your small types of gourds when they get their full coloring and the exterior feels hard. Small gourds can get eaten, cured, dried, or preserved to use as decorations. Harvest your large types of gourds at frost time. A good rule is to harvest the gourds when the tendrils and stems start to turn brown.
Gourds fall into the Cucurbita family, and they can be 100% ornamental or edible. The shape, color, and texture are fascinating, and they’re a great beginner plant because they’re so low-maintenance. Before you decide which one to plant, do a little research on the specific type of gourd so you understand how to use them. The hard-shelled ones like bottle gourd make great decorations, and edible gourds are a great way to enhance your cooking.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.