The Summer Gourd Patch



It's Summertime...your gourds are probably vining and blooming. Stop cultivation when your plants start vining; roots are shallow and cover a wide area so are easily injured. Mulch will help keep weeds down, preserve soil moisture, and protect developing gourds from soil borne fungus and bacteria. Use straw or leaves collected in the Fall; 6 inches thick isnıt too much. Use whatıs available; find out what gardeners in your area use. Seaweed is supposed to be great, if you have an ocean nearby. Once the gourd vines are well established, theyıll out-compete the weeds.

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You can encourage your vines to produce more gourds by pruning. The main vine produces only staminate (male, pollen producing) flowers. When the vine is about 10 feet long, cutting off the end will encourage growth of lateral branches which produce the pistillate (female, fruiting) flowers. You can prune these when theyıve produced a few sets of leaves. Then leave the sub-laterals alone, and turn your attention to hand pollination.

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If your gourds shrivel when they're small, they're probably not being completely pollinated. To get more gourds, and keep the seeds of those gourds true, try hand-pollinating. Natural pollination is carried out by insects who are attracted to the pollen in the male blossoms and then distribute that pollen to the female blossoms. Thatıs a fairly chancy process; youıll see a lot of female blossoms wither without pollination. Thatıs also how your dippers and your bottles get crossed. Female lagenaria (hard-shell) blossoms open in the evening, apparently for pollination by night feeding insects like moths. In the early evening, find a male blossom; peel back the petals to expose the anthers (pollen bearing organs); and gently dust them against the stigmas of a female blossom. If you want to avoid crossing up your seeds, use a rubber band to close up the female blossom when youıre done to keep any other pollinators out.

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Watering: gourd plants should get a thorough watering once a week during the growing season. If youıre not getting enough rain, water at the base of each plant enough to soak the ground. Avoid wetting the vines to discourage fungus diseases.

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Fertilizer: when your gourds are well established, additional fertilizer is probably not necessary, although you can side-dress or spray a water soluble low-nitrogen fertilizer like 5-10-5. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers because they will encourage leafy growth and actually delay fruit maturity.

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Pests: cucumber beetles are small (about 1/4 inch) yellow flying bugs; they come in striped and spotted flavors. Adults eat the leaves and the larvae bore into stems and roots. Squash bugs are about 1/2 inch long, gray, flat; their nymphs suck sap from leaves. Vine borers may never make an appearance, but if your vines are mysteriously wilting, they are probably responsible. Look for a white grub at the base of the plant; try mounding soil over the wounded area. The key for control of any pests is, the sooner the better. Try Sevin; organic treatments worth trying: rotenone or pyrethrum; soap &nicotine solution. Follow label precautions Be aware that insecticides may kill beneficial insects. If youıre not hand-pollinating, you need insect help. It seems pretty likely that the pesky cucumber beetle is also one of the principle pollinators of lagenaria. Fungus diseases like powdery mildew and anthracnose: pick and burn affected parts of the plants; avoid wetting the leaves when watering. Pest problems may be a sign of soil deficiencies...healthy plants resist pests. Rotating crops is a good long-term solution.

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This material was originally printed in The Gourd, a publication of the American Gourd Society
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©John J. McClintock 1996
Updated 8/3/97
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