Full Sun (6+ hours)
90-120 days to harvest
My beautiful sister gifted me a packet of Luffa Gourd seeds one year for my birthday and I have been addicted to growing them ever since! They are an edible vegetable when young and tender on the vine, but when dried out, the fibers of the gourd are a wonderful eco-friendly and 100% compostable sponge! Most often they are used as a body sponge/exfoliator in the shower or in the kitchen as a dish sponge.
You may be wondering, why take the time to grow your own luffa sponge when they are readily available at the store?
Besides my usual answer of, “Why not?!?!,” I recommend it so you have more control. Control over the ability to grow organically and to not treat the sponge with chemicals after harvesting. Commercially grown and sold Luffa sponges are often treated with chemicals like bleach to make them whiter in appearance. Not only is this unnecessary, but it can make the sponges extremely rough to use on the body for sensitive skin types. Fortunately, homegrown and harvested luffa sponges do the same great job of exfoliating, but are soft enough to not irritate or hurt those of us that have sensitive skin!
I have to admit that my first attempt at growing this plant was a little rough. I was blessed with the surprisingly bright and beautiful male and female flowers daily, but the gourds never grew any larger than 5 inches before turning yellow and ultimately dying off. This could have been from a lack of pollination, not enough sun or the pot I planted them in didn't have the space for the roots to grow large enough to support a full grown Luffa. I came out of that growing season with no luffas, but instead a lot more knowledge on growing the plant.
Knowing they LOVE the sun, water, monthly feedings and can be hand pollinated to ensure the maturity of the gourd, the next growing season, I am proud to say was a success! I was able to harvest 4 large luffa gourds from the one vine that survived moving in the middle of its season. Yes, more lessons were learned, like how they do not take kindly to being transplanted or moved!
Third time's a charm right?!
Next growing season I hope to successfully grow multiple vines to get the chance to eat them as well as have enough left to dry out for sponges.
This little growing guide contains the things I learned along my growing journey and I hope that it helps you achieve a successful growing season and harvest!
Soak seeds in warm water for 24 hours prior to planting to help soften their hard outer coating and speed up the germination process.
Luffa seeds are best when sown ½ inch deep directly into soil in the Spring after the last dangers of frost. They do not take kindly to being transplanted, so if forced to start outside of a permanent growing spot, you can sprout seeds in a biodegradable pot that can be planted directly into permanent growing soil to avoid any shock to the roots.
For those who have a short growing season, you can sprout seeds in biodegradable pots indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost, using a seed heat pad to keep a warm temperature of 75-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Once weather permits, then go ahead and plant outdoors.
Growing in a pot:
-The pot should be at least 5 gallons. The bigger the better!
-Both the pot and soil need to have good drainage.
-Once the luffa vine is established on trellis, the pot cannot be moved and the vine should remain where it has attached.
Luffa vine growing up trellis in 35 gallon pot with marigolds
Growing in the ground:
-Make seed planting hills about a foot apart along a fence, trellis or other climbing structure.
- Plant one to three seeds per hill, when plants are 2 inches tall, thin down to just one plant per hill. When thinning, choose the strongest plant to keep. Don’t allow plants to grow too large before thinning to ensure their roots don’t strangle each other which can lead to stunted growth or death of the vines.
As the vine grows, keep an eye out for any fruits that may get tangled or “strangled” by the tendrils or trapped in holes of the growing structure. Make sure they are all free hanging.
If you notice that flowers are not being pollinated naturally, you can use a paint brush to hand pollinate by gathering pollen from the male flower's stamen with the bristles of the brush and then rubbing it onto the female flower's stigma.
Male Luffa Flower
Female Luffa flower a few days after being pollinated
Keep soil evenly moist but not saturated.
Feed once a month with organic matter. Worm castings are wonderful to use!
Harvest when tender and green before the luffa starts to turn yellow and dry out. They should be squishy when gently squeezed.
Peel skin off if preferred. Cook similarly to zucchini. Often cooked in soup.
Tender young Luffa picture behind Marigolds
For use as sponge/skin exfoliator:
Allow gourds to dry out completely on the vine.
*Luffa is not tolerant to frost, so be sure to cut the luffa gourd off of the vine before any frost gets to it, even if still green. You can dry out the rest of the way indoors.*
Dry Luffa Gourds
Once fully dry, Luffa will become feather light, brown in color and have a hard outer shell. You can shake it and hear the seeds come loose and bounce around.
*If gourd is black in color, that is mold and should be discarded*
Peel the outer shell off the inside fibers.
Shake seeds out and store them in a cool dry place to wait for the next Spring growing season.
Rinse the Luffa sponge with a jet stream setting to wash off sap and any matter that could cause rotting overtime.
Allow to dry out completely in the sun for at least 24 hours before using or storing.
Drying Luffa Sponges
Once dry, the sponges can be used as a body sponge in the shower or a dish sponge in the kitchen!
Luffa sponges that are waiting to be used can be stored for years if kept dry, sealed and away from dust!
Hope this was helpful for your adventure of growing your very own Luffa plant!