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A beautiful loofa blossom

Luffa or Loofah?

Luffa, lufa, loofa or loofah? You choose. It’s spelled all kinds of ways but it’s most commonly ‘loofah’ in the US and ‘luffa’ in the rest of the world. So whichever way you prefer to spell it, it’s pronounced the same (like loofah): loofah plant is a versatile vegetable worth growing!

First of all, I’ll admit it. For a long time I thought loofah sponges came from the ocean. After all, they had the skeletal framework of some creature perhaps kin to the sea cucumber or similar marine animal. And the sign at the store said natural loofah SPONGES.

How long did this misperception last? Well, the revelation came when browsing through a seed catalogue one day and in the squash/gourd section, appeared a photo of this “sponge” with a description saying “Grow your own sponge!” I’m pretty sure I made a shameless announcement to the rest of the family that luffas come from a gourd plant. Turns out I’d been a bit behind the curve on this one.

So that bit of revamped knowledge was catalogued and filed away for future reference until one day, a reader of GardensAll.com and Facebook community member, Kathlyn Cairns, did what we gardeners love to do: She shared her joy of growing loofahs and sent us some seeds. We started them indoors and set two plants in the back corner of the garden.

Further down in the article we’ve included Kathlyn’s images of her loofah plants and processing.

Are Loofahs Edible?

Yes, you can eat loofahs if you harvest them at a younger age. This makes sense being that they are members of the Cucurbitaceae family that includes melons, squash, gourds, and pumpkins.

However, luffas are more commonly eaten in Asian and Indian cuisine than in North America. We didn’t especially favor them one way or another, but this year we’ll probably give it another chance and try a few recipes. 1)http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/food/love-your-luffa

Growing Loofah Plants

Last year we grew only two plants because it was our first time and we have a small garden since we’re in the woods with limited sunny spots. It’s a good thing too because loofahs would’ve taken over everything! We think they may be an alien species out to invade the planet!

OK, so that’s a bit exaggerated but have a look at our photos! The loofa we planted took over our cattle panel arch, a trellis at the back of the garden, and a trellis running parallel to the arch! Oh and by the way, his was just one plant! We think it killed and ate its sibling. 😁

luffa plant
Young luffa plant – image by Coleman Alderson, GardensAll.com

 

growing loofah plant
Large loofahs in the GardensAll garden with Coleman Alderson

Loofah Loves to Grow!

All Jurassic World references aside, the loofah is an amazingly robust plant. It alone survived the powdery mildew, the squash bugs, and the vine borers all of which devastated our squash, pumpkins, and cucumbers. It thrived into October here in zone 7a until a hard freeze and a frost knocked it out.

Plant Loofahs Early

The big lesson learned about planting loofah is to plant them early in the season. Some varieties take 90 days to mature. If you garden in zones much above Zone 8, it’s a good idea to start them indoors to get a jump on the season. In retrospect, it took awhile for the seeds to germinate indoors. That may mean more of a delay if you planted seeds outside past the last frost date.

Some loofah varieties take 90 days to mature.

These growing instructions come from our North Carolina Extension Service expert Jean Davis. Though she’s giving recommendations on commercial growing of “Luffa”, the basic cultivation methods apply in general.

Growing Loofah from Seeds

Loofah gourd seed germination is often slow and sporadic. For best results, luffa gourds should be grown from transplants. Soak seeds in warm water for 24 hours prior to seeding. Sow seeds, two to three per cell, in flats. Thin to one plant per cell after the first true leaves appear. Grow for four to six weeks in a greenhouse at about 65-70 oF. Loofah should be transplanted outdoors after all danger of frost is past.

  • Soak seeds in warm water for 24 hours before planting
  • Sow seeds 2-3 per cell in flats
  • Thin to one plant per cell after first true leaves appear
  • Grow 4-6 weeks in greenhouse or under grow lights at about 65-70o
  • Transplant loofah outdoors after last frost

Site Selection and Fertilization

Loofah requires a well-drained soil in full sun and good air circulation. Conduct a soil test prior to planting and follow lime and fertilizer recommendations for cucumbers.

Planting and Trellising

To speed growth in the spring in cooler climates, loofahs should be grown on raised beds with black polyethylene mulch. Drip-irrigation is best and a trellis system. If loofah gourds contact the ground, they’re likely to rot or become discolored and misshapen.

Grow loofahs in raised beds with black polyethylene for warmth to speed growth.

For best results use a vertical trellis, similar to those used for trellised cucumbers and pole beans. However, it must be VERY STURDY!! These gourds get huge, so you’ll need 4″ x 4″ posts set ten feet apart to support the weight of mature loofah plant. The top horizontal support should be a heavy gauge wire or cable. Several other wires can be run horizontally between the top wire and the ground. To help train the vines to the trellis, string can be run between the top and bottom wires in a V-pattern, as for pole beans, or a nylon mesh can be used.

We used cattle panels and it worked great.

Commercial Loofah Growers and Market Gardeners

If you’re a commercial grower or market gardener, you’ll need a lot of growing space since loofah these plants love to grow and sprawl.

In-row spacing of 12-18 inches has produced the highest yields of marketable sponges.

Space rows five or more feet apart if you’re running equipment. In-row spacing of 12-18 inches has produced the highest yields of marketable sponges. The plants need to be hand trained weekly until they reach the top wire. Try to keep all fruit off the ground and away from the trellis wires.

Prune plants by removing the first four lateral shoots from the soil line upwards. As with all cucurbits, loofahs need to be pollinated. We recommend looking for ways to invite bees and other pollinators to your garden space).

The above ‘how-to-grow’, section was excerpted from our North Carolina Extension Service expert Jean Davis. 2)https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/commercial-luffa-sponge-gourd-production

Loofah plants need to be hand trained weekly until they reach the top of the wire.

Kathlyn Cairns Loofah Photos

loofah image, loofa plant, luffa
Growing loofah plant, image by Kathlyn Cairns on GardensAll
luffa, loofah plant
Growing loofah plants can rot and discolor is touching the ground. Image by Kathlyn Cairns on GardensAll
loofa plant, luffas
Loofahs: green harvest, plus dried and skinned loofahs. Image by Kathlyn Cairn on GardensAll

Harvesting Loofah

Opinions vary as to the optimum time to harvest the gourds. Some leave them on the vine till they turn brown and the interior “sponge” separates naturally from the skin. Others take them earlier when they are just turning brown and find that they can “cure” them by placing them in a warm dry spot.

Peeling loofah plant, image by Kathlyn Cairns on GardensAll
Processing loofah – image by Kathlyn Cairns on GardensAll
Drying peeled loofah – image by Kathlyn Cairns, on GardensAll

We opted for the latter timing mainly because we had a big freeze on the way and were wary of what might happen should the loofahs freeze. So, we picked and placed them in a dry warm place and allowed them to cure. Ours were “mummified in less than 2 weeks. You can see how to remove the outer skin with a simple putty blade.

For info on how to make luffa soap, please see this article.

 

 

Luffa, lufa, loofa or loofah? You choose. It's spelled all kinds of ways but it's most commonly 'loofah' in the US and 'luffa' in the rest of the world. So whichever way you prefer to spell it, it's pronounced the same, (like loofah) and it's a versatile gourd worth growing!

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I’m LeAura Alderson, entrepreneur, ideator, media publisher, writer and editor of GardensAll.com. Pursuits in recent years have been more planting seeds of ideas for business growth more than gardening. However, I’ve always been interested in medicinal herbs and getting nutrition and healing from food over pharmacy. As a family we’re eager to dig more deeply into gardening and edible landscape for the love of fresh organic foods and self sustainability. We thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the creative ingenuity of the GardensAll community.