Loofah’s (or luffa): Blooming and Growing

Uff da, it’s a luffa!

This is my first time growing loofah’s. They are also known as smooth loofah, smooth loofah, loofah sponge, loofa, luffa, loufa, luffa, loufah, sponge gourd, Chinese okra, elephant okra and dishrag gourd.

Loofah - 5 June 2011

It was so exciting back in May to see the loofah vines pop up and start to climb the fence. They really took off. The germination of your seeds may take up to 24 days, but most likely they will sprout in about a week. I have read that they need the soil to be around 70F or warmer to germinate and even then they may take their own sweet time. I decided to soak my seeds in water for a few hours before I planted them and I didn’t have any problems.

Loofah's are blooming - 19 June 2011

The flowers are so beautiful. When I look over at the fence and see the vines covered with clusters of yellow flowers, they look very tropical to me. Like big hibiscus flowers.

I have recently learned the loofah originated in India and are considered a sub-tropical plant. While we are quite a hot climate in South Texas we don’t have nearly enough water for the loofah to grow on its own here, so I must water them. In fact a day without water here in our high 90F heat means the vines start to wilt. In terms of maturity, one source claims the loofah needs approximately 160 day to reach maturity, but there is another source stating it could be 130-220 days. I know I have plenty of time for them to reach maturity here before we freeze (late Nov). We remain quite hot here through September and into October and my neighbor successfully grew them last summer even though she planted them quite late in the spring.

Loofah - 30 June 2011

In mid-June I was so excited to see the loufah’s start to form. It is amazing how fast they are growing. In just a few days to a week they can grow in length a few inches.

I knew I was going to plant my seeds along the metal fence that is between our back yard and our neighbors property. I also planted my banana gourd seeds along that same fence. After doing some reading (after the fact – which isn’t always the best thing) I learned that the loofah’s need something sturdy to climb, so I made a good choice after all. I know the banana gourds I have on the fence would normally vine along the ground and their large dense leaves shade the gourds as they are growing and developing. On the fence I was a bit worried because all the baby banana gourds that were developing all shriveled up. I knew they would grow well in full sun, but on the fence the gourd itself is much more exposed to that full sun. I thought I made a huge mistake, but the banana gourds are finally developing and growing too (post on those later). So far, they also don’t look anything like the gourd I cut open to get the seeds from. I will be patient and wait and watch them grow along side the loofah’s.

Loofah Growing - 5 July 2011

Right now there are six nice sized loofah’s growing. The vines continue to flower and I have spotted a few more baby loofah’s already growing and I imagine there are more yet to come.

The main reason I wanted to grow loofah’s is to use them in my soap making. Of course they are just plain fun too.  They will also be nice to use as a scrubber at the kitchen sink for washing dishes.

The loofah is part of the cucurbit family (includes gourds, cucumbers and pumpkins) and if you pick them at a young age they are edible (tastes likes something a combination of cucumber and zucchini – so I have heard!), but they can also be quite bitter. Maybe next year I will eat some of them, but for this year, I am just going to enjoy watching them grow and mature so I can dry them and use them in other ways.

Loofah 9 July 2011

With all the other mishaps in the garden this year, I am certainly happy to see these loofah’s growing.

Have you have any experiences growing loofah?

Sincerely, Emily

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19 Responses to Loofah’s (or luffa): Blooming and Growing

  1. Stephanie says:

    They are so much fun! My tip is, leave them on the vine as long as possible, all the way until the leaves have been hit by frost and are dead. This way, there’s less chance of a fugus growing inside the luffa. I learned that by the end of August, its a good idea to dust off the plants and surrounding ground with sulfer. When you pick them, peel off the outer covering, slice into the size sponges you want, and soak them in warm water with a little bleach added. Then, I found out a GREAT tip: there are still seeds inside, and they can be tough to get out. I put the sponges inside of an old pillow case, tie it closed, and toss it in the dryer! The seeds get shook out, your sponge is now dry, and there’s no mess.

  2. Zonnah says:

    I wish I could grow them here but I have a feeling our growing season is not long enough 😦

  3. Jill says:

    My loofah vines are robust, and quite frankly, nearly taking over my yard, but I have yet to see even one bloom. Any ideas???? We are in GA and it’s been plenty hot, but with the vines green, healthy and almost 20 feet long in areas, I’m wondering if they will ever bloom, or if I should just cut them all back and compost before they smother out other life forms in the garden.

    • Hi Jill, Thanks for stopping by. When did you plant your loofah’s? I planted mine in April & I just picked my first fully dried loofah 1 week ago. My vines seem to be as long as yours are. I am not sure why yours are not flowering. I am out of town right now and don’t have a lot of computer time. Have you tried searching for some loofah info on line. I don’t know of any sites to even recommend.

  4. ana says:

    Hi, my vines grew about four months and just now had two flowers. Now, there are many more forming along the vine, but it may be too late! Altogether the vines are probably 30 feet easily. In fact, giving up, I tugged some vines off a fence and tossed them aside, since they have gone wild— then it flowered, lol! There are many, many forming flowers now, but it seems so slow. Think maybe had too much nitrogen in the soil, and it’s in a big container, lol, not the ground, so it’s been an odd plant. Once a flower pollinates, how long until you have a gourd that can be used as a sponge? Maybe it will make it. Also, has anyone tried building a pvc hoop house over it, just to extend the fruiting another month?

    • Hi Ana – thanks for stopping by. Wow – 4 months and you are just getting flowers – that seems odd and slow (compared to mine). Do they get full sun during the day? Mine are in full sun throughout the day. I planted mine in mid-April, they started flowering mid-June, loofah’s forming end of June and were good sized (10″) by beginning of July. I started harvesting them in the first week in August.They dried out on the vine and were ready to peel. This is my first year growing them. My vines are too tall and long for me to consider covering them with a hoop house. All my loofah’s will be harvest in the next few weeks long before we see a frost in South Texas. I would certainly try covering them to see if you can extend their growing time and see if you can get something. Next year try germinating them inside about 4 weeks before you can plant them outside and see if that might help speed your process next year. I have such a long growing season that I don’t need to do that.

  5. ana says:

    Thanks for answering! I’m in the south, too, in North Carolina, so the projected frost date is Oct 28. That means 48 days until projected frost. Easily, there could be a couple weeks after that which will be nice, too. I was just sort of fooling around, since I saw some seeds, and said what the heck!— now I’d really like to see these plants through! Only one is flowering though (grew them in pots, long story, and maybe over fertilized nitrogen-heavy soil which could have made hyper-foliage and belated fruit.

    It sounds like, from pollination, you had decent sized fruits in just six weeks. Right? That was my hope, since I thought it might grow fast once pollinated, like cucumbers. The female flowers are very noticeable (only males are flowering now), but figure it’s only a couple days until I get pollinated fruit.

    It is large, but it grew out of a container, believe it or not (like I said, was just trying it to see), and then I put mason ladders (highly bendable ladder-like thingies used in construction) there when needed as a trellis, so the one plant I’m most concerned with has endless arches of trellis, just made a line of side by side arches, then arches going crossways over those. It’s very pretty, huge leaves. Am thinking of making a series of pvc pipes (using those over my raised beds), then plastic over that, and heavy mulch underneath, and a blanket around the growing pot. Just enough that if 48 days doesn’t cut it, or we get a freak frost, it’ll make it, and just a couple weeks past the frost, would mean 2 more growing months.

    but it could be that the 6 weeks to frost might make it— if, after pollination, a full loufa can grow.

    again, thanks for answering. just planted this on a lark, thought it might be neat, but without researching, just figured I’d see what happened, lol. It’s a cool plant and I’ll do it again, with more thought next year!

    Yours look great!

    • Hi Ana, according to my growing, yes, it was about 6 weeks to see a decent green loofah growing out there. Another 2+ weeks to see them mature and start drying. As I look at my photo dates, that seems so short of a time, but it doesn’t take into account the 60 days it took before I saw flowers at all. So for me, it was about 4 months/ 120 days from seed germination to harvest for me (planted mid April – harvest mid-Aug for me). My vines tended to grow up the fence at a 45 degree angle, never growing straight up anywhere. I know I was super excited to grow these and it sounds like you have that same excitement now that you see them flowering. if you have the supplies and time it might be a fun experiment to see if you can protect them and see if you can get some loofah’s growing. I do know they are a warm/hot weather plant, so I don’t know how they will hand the chill in the air, even when covered. The advise I received from another blogger that made a comment was the best way to dry them is on the vine to avoid mold. Mine have dried beautifully that way with hardly any mentionable mold on the inside sponge. We haven’t seen rain if many many months here, so that helped a lot I think. If covering them doesn’t work, just try planting them a lot earlier next year and even think about starting them inside early. From the information I read online, it sounds like they do well in all types of soil too.

  6. ana says:

    Thanks! And about how many gourds did you get per plant/vine?? This one is covered with flowers getting ready to bloom, but I’ve had the experience with related plants (like squash) that once a few pollinate, the plant concentrates on those, and other blooms just drop or abort.

    I just had my first female blooms. Was tempted to hand pollinate, but there were a lot of bugs, so I didn’t. The flowers only seem to last a day! both fell off now, and can’t tell, but am pretty sure one is pollinated. There are about 15 female flowers getting ready to flower or grow along the vine, also.

    Your photos are incredible. It really looks like from pollination to maturity is about 2 weeks?? It is related to cucumber, and they are that way. Once pollinated, you’re eating a cuke in a week. Still, the loufa is so big! But if these two pollinated, I’ll definitely have those— unless the deer eat them! It’s getting to be deer season and read they like them! sprayed around it with liquid fence and banked it with wheelbarrows, lol.

    Glad to find there’s a loufa source, lol. I kept asking people if they knew anything, and they didn’t. Most have never even seen it. Did talk to someone who grew up growing tobacco, and they used to use them to scrub with in the field. Like I said, got seeds on a lark, and put in a pot (the container was really too small, which might be why they are late blooming; also put in miracle grow, so it might have been too nitrogen heavy, making too many leaves, no fruits) Idk.

    Anyway, thanks. I should know in a couple days if the two female flowers have pollinated. Will let you know! More females are getting ready now, also.

    • LISA KETTERING says:

      I AM LOVING MINE. THEY STARTED OUT A LITTLE SLOW, BUT KNOW THEY ARE DOING GREAT. THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I HAVE TRIED, MY VINES ARE LOADED WITH THEM AND TONS OF BLOOMS. I ALSO PLANTED THE BIRDHOUSE VARIETY, AND NOT EVEN ONE CAME UP. DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THEM?

      • Hi Lisa, I am glad you have loofah’s growing. It is so fun to watch them. I had terrible luck getting mine started this year and ended up with no vines at all. I did not keep a close eye on the vines when they came up and we had a ton of pill bugs that munched everything down to nothing. The same thing happened with my other gourd seedlings this year too. I know I read everywhere they they don’t transplant well, but I did start some in pots and gave them to friends who all grew them successfully this year. That may be the trick for me to get them started. Some of mine in the ground sprout fast and other take several weeks.When I would dig to see what my seeds were doing, I would find them chewed on my bugs. Other times they sprouted and the bugs ate the tender seedlings. Those could be a few factors that you are also up against, I don’t know. Then again, I had some seeds that were intact under the soil and never sprouted. Old seeds? not sure? Maybe try them in post next year and transplant. I know that is what I will be doing! Good Luck! Are you starting to see some of your loofah’s develop yet? I hope so!

  7. jamie says:

    Started some loofah first time ever this year. In pots and they shot up about 4 feet with baby blooms beginning (been hot and humid here in NE Florida) yet NOW the whole plants are turning chartreuse soon to be yellow? We have had a lot of rain lately could that be it? Do I need to fertilize and if so with what – miracle grow? Thanks in advance for any help!

    • Hi Jamie – thanks for stopping by. I grew my loofah in the ground. My soil is heavy clay and it was not amended in any way, I just planted them and it worked. Mine grew in full South Texas sun from about 10am until sunset. They needed water because we just didn’t have any rain to speak of that year. I did not fertilize them at all, but I imagine they would be happy with a little help. I know you are growing yours in pots…. they just might not have enough room for their roots and are stifled – but I just don’t know, since I have not grown them in pots. It also could be they are just too wet, again, I didn’t have that issue, so I am not sure. I know they enjoy moisture, but wet is another thing all together. I would let the pots dry out a bit. I imagine they would thank you for the additional help of fertilizer. I can’t comment on using Miracle Grow, but I don’t use that. I use things like fish emulsion and sea weed tea and compost.Loofah enjoys hot and humid, so your Florida weather should be great for them. I hope they do well for you!

  8. jamie says:

    I have been sprinkling some miracle grow (for flowers) on my yellow loofa leaves about every 4 days and they have greened up nicely and grown at least another foot! Yea! Guess next year I will amend the soil and fertilize from the get-go! Thanks.

    • Hi Jamie, I am so happy to hear they have greened up for you. Have the started to flower for you yet? I didn’t plan loofah again this year. I am excited to hear about yours. I need to add it to my list of things to do next spring. They were so much fun to grow!!

  9. Marie M says:

    Hi….I’m doing Luffa for the first time is San Antonio, Tx. I started them indoors in April. By June 1 the were in the ground and growing nicely. I have a big 20 ” PVC dome trellis and the vine is about to touch the other end. I gave it a little Blood Meal in the beginning, and then some veggie fertilizer a few weeks later. No sign of blooms anywhere on the Luffa. I’m am also growing some Bottleneck, Big Dipper, a Apple Gourds close by. They are blooming a little daily, and I have some gourds growing but no Luffa. So….now twice I have used Super Bloom to see if it might help the Luffa to bloom. No luck yet??? I have an ant problem that I’m trying to keep under control, but I’m seeing ants gathering in the petiole. There is a leaf and a tendril on the vine but no sign of a flower. Any ideas??? I have 3 vines growing and they are full with leaves…..where are the flowers? It’s 10 weeks in the ground. Please share any thoughts!

  10. Rosalina says:

    I live in South Texas too. Decided to
    Plant gourd seeds this past Spring,
    first time ever. My mother
    Successfully raised gourds years ago but mine aren’t doing well.
    The vine is nice but the flowers keep
    Withering and dying. Any suggestions
    As to how to improve this? Not enough
    water or too much or what? They are planted next to a cedar fence.
    Thank you for any suggestions. Rosalina

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