ARBORS ANS TRELLISES: WHAT GOURDS GO ON

by Karen Hundt-Brown, with tips from Kathy Nevers & Michele Swan

A better question would be what do gourds not climb on? Everything that's near enough for a tendril to get a loop on is fair game. I would even warn anyone growing gourds not to hang a hammock near where their garden is or they may not be able to get up from their nap (think Gulliver's Travels).

Gourds are natural born climbers. They seek out anything they can reach to climb closer to the sun. They grow so quickly it can become a daily task to move the vines away from some places you don't want them to climb on. A once a tendril gets itself wound around a hold nothing short of breaking the tendril off the vine will get the little curlicue to let go. Not even the death of the vine will loosen their grip much.

This aggressive climbing habit is great for gardeners who have small spaces to grow a garden in. A space of 2' x 6' patch of soil can be enough room for 2 to 3 vines if they're given enough sun, water, fertilizer and climbing space.

Use stronger materials for large fruiting gourds (martin house, large bottle, large pear, etc.). Depending on what part of the country you live in, fences, 4' x 4' pasture fence, stock gates, bamboo poles, welded wire panels, and PVC pipes can be used as climbing structures for gourds in larger gardens. It's a good idea to use steel posts as supports for welded wire panels for larger gourd varieties.

Another type of trellis can be made when young saplings are cut down: teepee trellises. Collect 7 to 9 saplings that are 10 to 15 feet long. Remove the branches and 12 to 24 inches off the top. Gather the saplings and strap them into a bundle loosely near the top, about a foot and a half down. Stand the bundle up and spread the legs out to form the teepee. This step requires more than one person to help. A gourd plant could be grown on each leg, if the legs are not too close together, or on every other one for larger gourds.
 

Small fruiting gourds (eggs, baby bottle, Tennessee spinner) can be grown on less strong supports such as cords, nettings and plastic trellis as long as they are well anchored. Small gourds can also be grown in containers like half barrels or 5 gallon buckets or tubs. Wrap 4 x 4 fence wire or chicken wire around
the half barrel to give the gourd something to climb on and keep them from spreading into the surrounding lawn.

In garden boxes a PVC "roll bar" of sorts can be added across the back of the box. Use two stiff pve pipes for the uprights. Drill small holes every few inches through the PCV to run string through for the gourds to climb on. Attach the PCV pipes vertically to the garden box with half circle clamps which can be found at a hardware store in the plumbing section. Two clamps per leg should hold the bar upright throughout the growing year.

An arbor or trellis can be a fixed permanent structure in a garden or a temporary structure for a single growing season. With permanent structures, it's important to practice crop rotation so the soil continues to produce good plants year after year. Grow gourds in the trellised spot one year, then alternate
with pole beans or any legume another year. This will increase the nitrogen in the soil that has been used up by the heavy feeding gourds. Another method is to relocate the trellises each year so that gourd crops can be rotated with other crops.

Soil test kits used twice each year, once in spring and once in fall, will determine what the soil needs and how much of it. Keep in mind that optimal pH for gourds is 6.0 to 6.5. By testing the soil you will know exactly what it needs and how much of it.

For example, if your soil is low in phosphorus and adequate in nitrogen levels and a generic 12-12-12 chemical fertilizer is added, there will be way too much nitrogen in the soil. This will produce huge very dark green plants but very little fruit because the excessive amounts of nitrogen will boost the plant's growth and inhibit the production of fruit and veggies.

So rather than just guessing and may be causing more harm than good, it's worth getting a kit. One kit will do many tests and last a few years. A county extension agent can also do soil testing for but a small fee is charged.

Test the soil in different spots in the garden to see if the soil needs are the same all the way around. Testing in the fall can determine the need for compost and other nutrients the soil may need. Some nutrients may also need time to break down into the soil, such as rock phosphorus which dissolves slowly as it breaks down. Other nutrients break down quickly or wash away with a good rain below the level a plant's roots can reach.

Container grown gourds will need more water on a regular basis and probably more fertilizer as well because they're limited as to how far their roots can reach. With compost tea, you can water and fertilize regularly without damaging the plant. Compost tea is easily made by soaking or steeping compost in water.

In a dryer climate make sure to ditch around newly planted, trellised seedlings or use a drip system to ensure the gourds get plenty of water. Once the huge leaves cover the ground, watering becomes difficult. Gourd plants prefer not to be sprinkled, nor does sprinkled water reach the roots once the leaves have developed fully.

Using trellises and arbors contributes to the pleasures of gourd growing, as does working the soil to make it as rich and invigorating for the plants as possible. Healthy soil gets you healthy plants that can fight off almost any insect invasion. Wishing you all the best that Mother Nature can bring to your garden in the growing season ahead!

Tie-ups for trellising gourds:

  • Use soft cord, baling twine, heavy string
  • Repurpose drawstrings and ties from clothing or shoes
  • Buy a roll of green tie-up material at a gardening store
  • Cut nylons, knee-highs, or panty hose into strips
  • Ditto old towels, washcloths or t-shirts
  • Tie the vines loosely to the supports, allowing them to grow bigger around

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    Trellising varieties such as goose or swan gourds may not be advisable, since trellising will often pull the neck of the 'goose' into a vertical straight neck rather than the graceful characteristic curve we expect from that variety. On the other hand, a straight necked goose gourd can be lovely, it just won't
    look like a goose at all.

    Flat Bottoms or Round?

  • Repurpose plastic net bags (oranges, avocados, potatoes, etc. come in them) as hanging bags to support heavy gourds on a trellis
  • Use a flat piece of thin wood, heavy cardboard, foamboard or plastic in the bottom of the bag to help ensure a flat bottom on the growing gourd
  • Gourds on the ground can be positioned on similar materials as they grow.
  • Or use straw, hay or mulch to make a resting place so the
  • gourd can grow upright with a reasonably stable bottom.
  • Get creative and position gourds on their supports to create odd and asymmetrical shapes or tie soft string or cloth around the growing fruit to create new and interesting shapes.

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    Home gardener,  Nancy Ballantyne (Pennsylvania) grows gourds on homemade trellis' in raised beds, half barrels, and even an old galvanized pipe frame from a car port without it's cover. Gourd Farmer, Glenn Burkhalter (Alabama) is known for his extra-long handle dipper gourds. He has built large, permanent. 
    trellis' with large posts and 4x4 wire. The width of his trellis allows farm equipment to aid in soil preparation.