Gardening With Gourds

A collection of gourds in different shapes and fall colors.

Gourds are a timeless decoration for fall. They come in an endless variety of shapes, sizes, and colors that all seem to go well with autumnal celebrations. Even better—you can grow them yourself either on the ground or let their vines grow up a trellis.

There are two main kinds of gourds: hard shell and and ornamental. Hard shell gourds produce white on their vines. They are often used for either crafting or practical purposes. Ornamental gourds are cousins to pumpkins and grow yellow blooms alongside their produce. Ornamental gourds are the type you typically see around Thanksgiving time. Below are more details on each variety.

Hard Shell Gourds

There are four main varieties of hard shell gourds: basket, bottle, dipper, and snake. Their names describe their typical shape. Hard shell gourds are green on the vine and sometimes have stripes. When they are dried, they develop into a brown or tan color. They preserve well and can last years if properly dried.

You can start hard shell gourds from a seed or in your garden. With 120-140 days in a hard shell gourd’s life, they take quite a while to develop. So, just make sure you have plenty of time before it gets frosty outside. When the vines on the ground grow to about 10 feet, cut off the tip so they will grow side shoots. Most hard shell gourds grow nicely on a trellis. Heaver, hard shell gourds can be supported with a sling of some kind. Signs of a harvest-ready hard shell include a brown stem and tendril as well as an ivory colored skin.

Types of hard shell gourds include:

Basketball - Large and round in shape, very similar to the ball it's named for

A large round gourd in a garden

Dipper Gourds - Long upper bodies with a rounded bottom, almost like an elongated teardrop

Indonesian Bottle - If you think of a soft drink bottle, it has a round bottom, skinny middle, and smaller top; an Indonesian bottle just has more rounded ends

An Indonesian bottle gourd hanging from a trellis

Trumpet - Pale, green, and skinny with one end that's slightly larger

A green gourd hanging from a trellis

Zucca - A lumpy cucumber or eggplant shape that can grow to be enormous

Ornamental Gourds

Ornamental gourds are decorative and unique. Each almost seems as if it has its own personality. They come in a variety of shapes and can be almost any color including green, cream, orange, and multi-colored. Ornamental gourds can be used in your home decor, but you probably would not want to eat most of them. They don't have much flesh, but the flesh they do have is either bitter or tasteless. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule (Cushaw Squash, Festival Squash, Balsam Apple Gourds, Chinese Okra).

Ornamental gourds have a very long growing season. It usually takes 100-180 days for them to fully mature. You will be able to tell when they’re ready to pick by looking for the stem to turn brown and dry. When they are done ripening, cut them off with sharpened shears, but leave a few inches on the stem. Harvest them before first frost to avoid losing these more delicate gourds. If first frost comes early, you may be able to save them by covering them with a cloth.

Some varieties of ornamental gourds include:

Crown of Thorns - A rounded gourd with tiny points or raised bumps that resemble a starfruit

A green gourd against a black background

10 Commandments - The size of a softball with 10 points on the side

Daisy - Resembles flowers with their raised bumps in daisy shapes

Turks Turban - Each has a unique look and coloring, as if a smaller squash is melted into a pumpkin

A small gourd growing in a garden

Bule - Rare and shaped like an apple, these gourds tend to have many warts

Blister - Also shaped like an apple, but larger and with more warts than the Bule