In 2019, Epic Gardening launched the Luffa Challenge and achieved amazing results from our followers around the world! So many people have grown this fascinating plant with great success that we thought we'd share a few tips and tricks with gardeners everywhere. So, if you haven't grown one yet, let's try growing loofah, the homemade shower sponge!
Many people think that all shower sponges are from the ocean, but most of the commercially made sponges are actually dried fruit. The loofah plant is a climbing plant that produces cucumber-like pumpkins. As the pumpkins ripen, their endocarp turns into a network of fibers, mainly made of cellulose. This network forms the soft and absorbent peeling that we all know.
Although most commonly used in the shower, loofah sponges are great for scrubbing pots, cleaning shoes, making mats, and painting textures. They are even used as shock absorbers, silencers, and water filtering. There isn't much that this vegetable cannot be used for!
The same applies to unripe fruits. When green, loofah pumpkins taste just as good as the sponges. They can be eaten raw or cooked. They are very similar to cucumbers, zucchini and winter squash and are often cooked the same way.
Whether you want to try a new vegetable on your plate or a sponge in your shower, loofah is an excellent choice for your garden. This plant is a little tricky to grow, so we'll go into great detail on how to succeed with this nifty plant.
Good products on Amazon for growing loofah:
Brief instructions for care
|Common name (s)||Loofah, loofah, sponge gourd, dishcloth gourd, Egyptian cucumber, Chinese okra|
|Scientific name||Luffa cylindrica, Luffa aegyptiaca, Luffa acutangula|
|Days to harvest||2-6 months|
|floor||Well drained, fertile|
|fertilizer||Diluted nitrogen fertilizer|
|Pests||Pumpkin flies, cucumber beetles, pumpkin bugs|
|Diseases||Powdery mildew, downy mildew|
Everything about loofah
Many fruits can be produced from a single, happily growing loofah plant. Source: wallygrom
Luffa plants belong to the cucurbit family, also called cucurbits, which include cucumbers, squash, gourds, and melons. There are over 900 species in this family, but only seven of them belong to the Luffa genus. We focus on the cultivated species, particularly Luffa cylindrica (also known as Luffa aegyptiaca). Another common species is Luffa acutangula, which you may recognize as Chinese okra. In contrast to the smooth cylindrica, its sides are fluted, which has earned it the nickname "Winkelluffa".
Although loofah is the correct spelling of the genus, "loofah" is a widely accepted common name. You can hear this plant from loofah sponge, plate gourd, or vegetable sponge. It is also called the Egyptian cucumber, but its specific origin is unknown. Luffa is said to have originated somewhere in Southeast Asia. In fact, it grows wild and has escaped cultivation in Asia and Africa. In the US, loofah is not common for commercial cultivation as we import most of our loofah sponges from Japan. However, loofah plants are a great addition to home gardens in zones 5-11.
Luffa plants are climbers. They grow vines that can grow up to 15 meters high in just one growing season, like hops. The tendrils adorn large, star-shaped leaves with a somewhat fuzzy texture. There are also cheerful, bright yellow flowers. Luffa is a monoecious plant, which means that it has separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The male flowers are larger and in clusters. Female flowers, on the other hand, are smaller and stand solitary.
Since these are annuals, you'll get a fresh start in growing loofah pumpkins every year. After planting in the spring, it takes the loofah vines 2-3 months to bear fruit and a month or two to ripen into sponges. As the cucumber-like fruit continues to ripen, the smooth surface becomes corrugated, suggesting that a network of fibers is hardening inside the pumpkin. On the outside, the skin becomes loose and paper-like. When you shake it, you can hear the seeds rattle inside.
Plants in the cucurbit family contain cucurbitacin, a group of biochemical compounds that plants use to deter predators. These plants usually contain only a small amount of cucurbitacin, so they are not harmful to humans. However, in large quantities, cucurbitacin can cause food poisoning in humans and animals. This chemical gives off a bitter taste, so don't eat loofah squash (or any other vegetable) that has a strong, bitter taste.
Because of the cucurbitacin content, you must use a trusted brand of seeds to grow loofah, whether it is your local nursery or an online store. Home grown or hybrid seeds have a much higher potential to produce large amounts of cucurbitacin, which can be dangerous and a waste of time. If you are only growing loofah for the washer-extractor and not eating it, you can be more lenient with your seed choices.
Immature Luffa acutangula peeking out from under a leaf. Source: Dinesh Valke
If you've already grown cucumbers, loofah will be very familiar. The planting and growing requirements are basically the same, with just a few adjustments.
When to plant
Since these are tropical plants, loofah sponges need a long, warm growing season. In fact, you will only have enough growing time if you live in zone 7 or higher. Start sowing indoors in zones 5 and 6 so that the fruit can be harvested before the first frost. The soil must have a temperature of at least 70 ° C when planting, so you need to start sowing about 4-6 weeks beforehand.
Where to plant
The loofah sponge does not transplant well, so its place in the ground will be permanent for the rest of the year. The most important thing is that you choose a place where you can set up a trellis. You will need plenty of vertical space, as well as 3-4 feet of space between plants.
Do not plant your loofah seeds where other Cucurbitaceae plants were previously grown. There are pests and diseases that feed on the entire cucumber family that would be more likely to hang around in the ground.
You can grow individual plants in containers or an elevated garden as long as they have enough space. Containers should be about a foot and a half deep and sturdy enough to hold a trellis as well. To make watering easier, line the container with a cloth bag intended for waxing and fill the bottom of the container with a reservoir of water.
How to Plant
Soak your loofah seeds for 24 hours. This will soften the seed coat and significantly increase the chances of germination. After you're done soaking, sow the seeds immediately either in a seed tray or in their permanent home (depending on the climate).
Plant the loofah pumpkin seeds ½ inch deep in well-drained soil. For outdoor sowing, make mounds 6-inch-high and plant a few seeds in each one. It takes about 1-2 weeks for the loofah seeds to germinate. After they sprout, thin the loofah seedlings one per mound.
Loofah seeds starting in a bowl will require a heating mat set at 70-85 ° F. After the seeds germinate, remove the heating mat. When the weather outside is warm enough, carefully transplant each loofah seedling into the ground.
Whether you planted directly in the ground or transplanted, cover the soil with a layer of mulch. It retains heat and moisture, and also provides nutrients as it decomposes in the soil.
After drying, without skin or seeds, the loofah sponge is ready to use. Source: Finca la Casilla
The basic care requirements for loofah pumpkins are pretty simple. However, you need to be careful when fertilizing and pruning.
Sun and temperature
Loofah pumpkins need a lot of sunlight. They should get at least 6 hours of full sun throughout the growing season. The more light you get, the better. This is why this plant grows best in at least zone 5.
For your loofah sponge to survive, the temperature must always be above 50 ° F. It should be even higher if you want the plant to thrive. If the temperature continues to drop after the threat of frost, try to keep the soil warm by adding more mulch, landscaping fabric, or a clear dome (if the plant is small enough).
Water and moisture
Right from the start, keep the soil consistently moist. Luffa needs medium watering, so the soil should never dry out, but never get soaked. Only water your loofah by the roots. Wet leaves or unripe fruit can encourage fungal growth and invite pests.
Luffa will do fine with most soils, as long as they are fertile and well-drained. Ideally, use a sandy loam, as clay soils will block water drainage. The soil should be rich in organic matter and have a slightly basic pH value (approx. 6.0 – 6.5).
All of that growth takes a lot of nitrogen to support it. Add nitrogen fertilizer to the soil a few times during the growing season. Most gardeners apply a slow release fertilizer right after transplanting and again when the loofah begins to bloom. If you don't see a lot of growth in the summer, supplement with a half dose of liquid nitrogen fertilizer every couple of weeks.
Pruning and training
To keep your loofah vines healthy and tidy, provide a sturdy trellis or fence. Although they grow on the ground, it is very easy for diseases to spread and the fruit there to rot. Espaliers provide the necessary air circulation to keep the plant healthy. Arched trellises are a good choice as they allow for easy harvest as the fruit hangs away from the leaves.
It is also important that you trim your loofah properly. Remove most of the lateral growth so that there is only one main vine. When the loofah is in bloom, limit the fruit set to around 20 per plant. If your zone has a long warm season, cut off the first blooms to allow the plant to better establish itself before starting fruiting.
Trim back new growth towards the end of the season so all of the energy can be directed into the fruit. This will help them ripen faster, which is important when winter is coming quickly.
Since loofah is naturally annual, it is only propagated by seeds.
The seeds inside the ripe pumpkins are scattered over short distances after the fruit has been broken open by the wind. Harvesting dried sponges makes it easy to collect the ripe seeds after they are peeled. Store them in a dry, dark, and cool place until next spring.
When growing loofah to eat, remember to only use store-bought seeds. However, if all you want to do is harvest sponges, then you can definitely save your own seeds.
Harvest and storage
When green and tender, loofah can be eaten like other pumpkins or gourd. Source: alasam
It's the end of the season and hopefully you have some of your own loofah to show off for it. Whether you want to eat them or craft, we'll show you how to harvest them.
Harvesting loofah for eating
Remember, loofah pumpkins grow quickly. So for edible loofah, you need to pick it in good time. Otherwise they are a little too fibrous to eat. Pick young loofah pumpkins when they are less than 6 inches long (around 2 months after planting). The fruit will be green and resemble a funky looking cucumber.
If you plan to harvest both of the loofahs to eat and use as sponges, have the first few turn into sponges and harvest the later fruits for food. This gives the loofah pumpkins enough time to ripen.
Loofah. to store
Eat your green luffas raw or cook them instead of zucchini or summer squash. These pumpkins are especially popular in stir-fries and scrambled eggs.
If they are not completely dry, loofah fruits cannot be stored well. You may be able to give them a few extra days of life by wrapping them in a paper towel in the refrigerator. However, your best option is to eat these vegetables ASAP.
Harvest and prepare sponges
Ripe loofah pumpkin is ready to harvest around 3-6 months after planting. It is important that you let the fruit fully ripen on the vine, even if it means a very long growing season. If the green skin fades and the fruit loses moisture, limit watering so it dries out completely.
When your loofah sponges are ready to pluck, the outer skin will turn brown and papery and begin to peel away from the fibers underneath. They'll be surprisingly light once you pick them up. When you shake the pumpkin, you will hear the seeds rattle inside.
After harvesting, peel off the outer shell from above or below. When the sponges are ripe, the skin will peel off easily. The seeds are at the base of the fruit and should fall out easily. If you have trouble removing all of the skin, soak the pumpkin in water for 2-3 days and try again.
Now that you have your home grown sponge, rinse it off and quickly dry it in the sun. Some gardeners even soak their sponges in a 10% bleach solution for an hour or two to disinfect and whiten them. You can use the holes in the middle and pull a string through for hanging or glue in a dowel to make a handle. If you want multiple pieces, the fibers can simply be cut with a serrated knife.
This Luffa acutangula was packaged to protect the fruit from pests. Source: Rigid
Many of the pests and diseases for loofah are shared with cucumbers, winter squash, and other gourds. Fortunately, that means we already know how to use them so we can keep our vigorous vines healthy!
You can usually expect at least 5-10 fruits per plant. If you aren't getting a lot of fruit, chances are you are Overwatering the plant roots. Too much water, especially during flowering and fruiting, can greatly reduce the yield. Cut the water down just enough to maintain soil moisture and your plant should start producing.
Another problem we see with loofah is the flowers or immature loofahs that fall off. This is not a sign of a weak vine, but of a improper pollination. If the fruit is not pollinated, the plant will have no use for it and will stop investing energy in production. You need to ensure proper pollination by doing it yourself with a cotton swab or brush. If you only have one plant, try planting several in the next year so you have a greater chance of the female and male flowers opening at the same time.
Pumpkin flies are orange and brown threats that lay their eggs on immature pumpkins. The maggots then feed on the pumpkin, causing dry, dark brown, sunken regions. The damage starts to rot, making the fruit anything but palatable. To control these pests, catch the problem early on by destroying all fruit with these lesions and removing them completely from the garden (don't add them to your compost bin!). This ensures that the maggots present in your garden cannot multiply any further. If the problem persists, you can use an organic pesticide that contains fenthion or pyrethrin.
Cucumber beetle may be pretty, but they will devastate any Cucurbitaceae plant in your garden. These pests feed on roots and leaves and often spread disease along with the damage. Like pumpkin flies, pyrethrin insecticides are useful against cucumber beetles. They don't always work on this resilient pest, however, so you may need to turn to ladybugs and lacewings to get the job done. You can prevent future infestation by using floating row covers or by dusting your plants with kaolin clay.
The infamous, flat, brown one Squash bugs can target your loofahs. They feed on the fruits and leave their coarse eggs under the leaves. In winter, full-grown pumpkin bugs cower in leaves, stones, and other debris. A good place to start is by keeping the soil clean and removing used plants. Basic pesticides like kieselguhr and neem oil work well here, although kieselguhr won't harm the adults. In more serious cases, pyrethrin sprays can be used from spring to early summer. Wrapping the fruits in a breathable, stretchy cloth bag can also protect them from damage from pumpkins.
If you have your own garden, you will be safe on it mildew someday or so. This common garden disease leaves a powdery, white dust on the leaves and deprives the plant of nutrients. The spores spread by the wind, so it is very important that you remove any diseased plant material immediately. Neem oil, copper fungicide, and sulfur fungicide are good options for dealing with powdery mildew.
It may look and sound like powdery mildew, however Wrong mildew brings its own problems into the garden. It is a mold that thrives in warm and humid conditions. Instead of white powder, it makes yellow and brown spots on the leaves. Downy mildew can spread through infected seeds. If you experience this disease, it is best not to save your own seeds for next year sowing. As always, neem oil is a great option here, as is a copper fungicide. To prevent this disease, make sure you only water at the base of the plant so that the vine, leaves and fruit are dry.
frequently asked Questions
An immature Luffa cylindrica that is gradually reaching maturity. Source: Farkomer
Q: How long does it take for loofah to grow?
A: Eating loofah will be ready in about 2 months. However, loofah sponges take 3-6 months to fully develop their fibrous flesh.
Q: is loofah hard to grow?
A: It's picky about a few things like sunlight and not being transplanted, but loofah shouldn't be too heavy for an advanced gardener to use.
Q: How many loofahs does one plant produce?
A: Most plants typically produce at least 5. However, some can grow over 20 loofahs!
Q: Can you grow loofah on the ground?
A: You can, but we don't recommend it. The fruits rot very easily on the ground.
The green fingers behind this article: