Harvesting & Curing Gourds

Karen Russ
Home & Garden Information Center

A variety of different gourd types can be grown in South Carolina. Small ornamental gourds, large Lagenaria species gourds (often used as birdhouses, dippers and bowls); and luffa sponge gourds are the most common kinds. Processing luffa sponge gourds is discussed briefly in the November 2007 Test Your Knowledge, Luffa Sponge.

Image depicts a variety of decorative gourds.
Creative Commons license, CarbonNYC, flickr
A variety of decorative gourds, showing a sampling of the assorted colors, shapes and textures of this group.

Image depicts Lagenaria gourds.
Creative Commons license, Taz etc., flickr
Lagenaria gourds include large tough rinded gourds used for birdhouses, bottles, dippers, baskets and many other uses.

Gourds must be ripened, harvested and cured properly before use. Wait until the stem at the top of the gourd withers and turns brown. At this time, the rind of the gourd should be hard enough that it cannot be easily pierced with a thumbnail. The small ornamental gourds must be harvested before the first frost. Frost will damage the rind, and frosted gourds will usually rot. The large, tough-rinded Lagenaria gourds often withstand light frost, but the cautious approach is to harvest before frost.

Image depicts birdhouse gourds growing in  field.
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension
Birdhouse gourds in a field at the end of the season.

Cut gourds from the vines, leaving a couple of inches of stem attached. Gourds without attached stem are more likely to spoil. Be careful when handling the fruit so as not to damage or bruise it as this can also lead to rotting. Discard damage, bruised or immature fruit.

Image depicts a birdhouse gourd.
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension
A mature birdhouse gourd ready for cleaning and drying.

Clean the gourds with soap and water to remove surface dirt, then allow the surface to dry. Immerse the gourds in a 10% bleach solution to kill bacteria and fungi. Very large gourds can be wiped thoroughly with a cloth saturated in the same bleach solution. Then, move the gourds to a warm, dry, well ventilated and shaded location, such as a garage or shed. Make sure that the surface on which they are placed is clean and dry. You can cover the surface with clean newspaper or cardboard. Space gourds so that they do not touch. Alternatively, place the gourds on racks or hang them in nets to allow for best air circulation. If the area is not naturally ventilated, a fan can be used.

Complete drying of gourds may take 1 to 6 months depending on size and type. Check and turn the gourds frequently during this time. Discard any that become soft and begin to spoil. Some surface discoloration or dry mold is normal. Rind drying may only take a few weeks, but gourds are not fully dry internally until seeds can be heard to rattle when the gourd is shaken.

When gourds are completely dry, the outer skin of Lagenaria gourds can be removed to reveal the smooth inner shell. Soak the gourd for 10 minutes in a large bucket of warm water. Then scrub off the outer skin with a scouring pad or wire brush. After the outer skin is gone, dip the gourd into a 10% bleach solution, and allow to air dry.

The outer rind of small decorative type gourds should not be removed.

After the gourd surface is dry, it may be smoothed with fine sandpaper or steel wool as needed. Inner surfaces of large gourds may need to be soaked for 20 minutes before smoothing, and may need coarser implements such as wire brushes or even chisels for initial smoothing. All the gourds should be wiped with rubbing alcohol and gently dried. They can then be cut or carved as desired, and shellacked, waxed, painted or stained.

Image depicts martin houses made from gourds.
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension
Finished Gourds Used for Birdhouses

Image depicts a Lagenaria gourd that has been carved.
Creative Commons license, Sin Aqua, flickr
Artistically Finished Gourd

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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.