So, you want to start growing luffa sponges? You’re in the right place! This is a step-by-step guide on how to grow these natural luffa sponges.
Luffa sponge (also spelled luffah or loofah) is a cucurbit vegetable in the gourd family. They actually can grow right in your backyard! I always thought they were sea sponges from the ocean! These gourds are most used as scrubbing sponges due to their porous fibers that soften when wet.
Also known as dishrag gourds, sponge gourd, vegetable sponge, Egyptian luffa, Egyptian cucumber or their scientific name, luffa aegyptiaca and luffa cylindrica, these multi-use sponges are so much fun to grow.
There is another type of cucurbitaceous vine commonly grown for its unripe fruits as a vegetable, luffa acutangula. These luffas have an angled outer shell. They look just like the smooth luffa plants we will be discussing today, but with ridges. Ranging from Central, Eastern and Southeast Asia, they are grown as houseplants in colder climates! Some of their common names include Chinese okra, dishcloth gourd, ridged gourd and silky gourd.
Although some folks eat luffas as young fruits like squash or cucumber would, I won’t be doing that. Instead, I’ll be hanging them to dry to use as biodegradable sponges and will teach you to do the same! Are you ready to grow these natural scrubbers?
Table of contents
How to start growing luffa sponges in your backyard.
When growing a loofah sponge, it doesn’t have to be hard. Many folks find it easy, super fun and rewarding! Harvesting them can sometimes be a challenge, but I’ll walk you through that, too. I’ll take you through my process and we’ll find yours as well. You’ll be growing loofah sponge after loofah sponge in no time.
Don’t forget to read the comments for other folks’ quick tips and experiences!
Where to get seeds: The First Step
I learned about growing loofah plants from someone writing about how challenging it was. Well, a challenge sounded good so I bought some seeds.
I remembered reading the luffa seeds would take a very long time to germinate, but mine only took tops two weeks! Once I bought the black seeds and put them in the ground, they popped up almost immediately. No soaking or chilling required!
Of course, I am in Central Florida where we have plenty of frost-free days and a very long growing season.
Soil and location
You should use rich, well-draining soil. There is sandy soil here in West Central Florida so I was sure to mix in some quality, home-made compost.
Paired with the rich humus and nutrients from the compost, I had the perfect ratio of sand:soil to grow this tropical plant without much effort.
For the location, your vines need lots of sun exposure, a sturdy trellis and a lot of space! My luffa vines get sun all day long and they love it. You want to make sure your sponges grow on a sturdy loofah trellis so the 1-2 foot (Yes, you read that right!) gourds don’t rest on the ground to rot.
I set mine up by a fence and they took off and took over! Here’s a picture of how they started out. (This picture was taken June 27, 2018, and the seeds were planted May 17, 2018!):
This vining plant started producing fast-growing vines before I could say “Uncle!” (that’s the saying, right?).
Watering your gourds
I live in Florida so we get a fair amount of warm water from the rain. I’ve turned my hose on a total of 10-15 times since May! Needless to say, our electric bill has been low all summer because we haven’t had to use our well quite as much. Thanks, Mother Nature!
On dry days, I give the base of the vines a nice soak so I can maintain a consistent schedule for growing. I’ve also mulched them since the rain is slowing down a tad bit here in September. My luffas are thriving!
In colder climates where rainfall is less, you may have to water your plants more often. Regardless of your zone, water the base of the plant and not the vines of the luffa plant, male of female flowers or gourds. Saturating these can lead to the development of powdery mildew or downy mildew, dark spots on your gourds and rotting luffa fibers.
If your luffa seeds get waterlogged, they won’t survive. So if your yard puddles after rains then you can do yours in pots! Make sure to have a good, strong trellis for them. By August 3, 2018, my vines looked like this:
This looks all fine and dandy but I read that vines can grow up to 30 feet! When I started growing these fun sponges I didn’t believe it at first but proven wrong. Don’t worry, I’ll show you a picture! The twine strung between the posts was pulled by the weight of leaves and thick stems.
Next year I’ll construct something out of wood and wire.
The perfect season for growing a luffa sponge
Luffas love hot weather and a long growing season. They can take around 4-5 months to reach maturity so I’m nearing that date now. Planted in mid-May, I’m at the four-month mark.
I got my first bloom on August 13, 2018, and boy was it pretty. Soon after I got my first bloom, I noticed my first gourd. The gourd is high up in a nearby lemon tree.
Below you’ll see my first flower, my first gourd, and how intense the luffa vine took over. I love them and they love the luffa flowers so I’m totally okay with the bee party that takes place every day all day.
I’ll miss them when they go but look forward to the next year. If bees aren’t your thing, don’t plant luffas or plant them somewhere that you don’t have to pass by so often.
Just because luffa plants and luffa fruit love warm temperatures, that doesn’t mean folks in cooler climates can’t grow these natural sponges. For folks in a lower hardiness zone with shorter growing seasons, your luffa will take longer to mature. Plant them as soon as you can after the danger of frost has passed. Always know what your projected first frost and last frost date is and get them in the ground as soon as the risk of frost has passed.
Sow the seeds in a sunny spot with good drainage, and mulch them to aid in warm soil and good germination. If you wanted to get a head start on growing your own loofahs, you could start them in large pots with well-drained soil and transplant them once they have established sprouts, before their first flowers arrive so you don’t shock them.
Alternatively, you could start your seeds in a dark place, transplant them into large pots and just move the pots outside once the cold temperatures have passed, keeping an eye on the immature fruits with green skin just in case. This allows you to take advantage of the entire growing season, and then some.
Under the right conditions, germination rate will be high and you’ll have yellow flowers turning to green luffas turning into mature luffa gourds in no time.
I didn’t experience any pests on my crop, but some folks have mentioned cucumber beetles. These beetles are a common species in home gardens and become active in late May or early June, making them a perfect pest for luffas. They feed on the blossoms of early flowering plants!
Keep an eye out for these yellow and black beetles and manage them swiftly. This is a great article on ways to battle cucumber beetles.
Harvesting and drying: The Final Step
I’ll be harvesting my luffas soon. Some say to wait until they have dried and developed brown skin and others say to harvest and peel them once the skin feels “loose”.
Considering the zone you’re growing in, your mature gourds will need to be harvested at a different time.
After I peel my luffa gourd, I’ll remove the seeds, spray off any pulp, let them soak in a soapy water or vinegar water and then dry a couple of weeks.
These gourds were supposed to be a difficult vegetable to grow. They worked out flawlessly in my yard! For us Floridians, our long growing season supplies us with a great opportunity and a greater chance at growing tropical crops.
Here’s a quick video of the first time I harvest my luffas! They were a little too brown, but it still worked out nicely.
Once the outer shell is removed, this fibrous sponge can be used in homemade soaps, at the sink to clean dishes and in the bathroom to clean your body. Here are some DOs and DO NOTS as a recap. Good luck and I am wishing you the most plentiful growing season!
- Plant your luffa seeds in a well-draining, sunny area.
- Construct a strong trellis to support your vines all seasons.
- Admire all the bumblebees you’ll attract; it’s a truly great thing.
- BE PATIENT! Once you see that first bloom and gourd, it’ll take off from there
- Tell me if you’re growing luffa gourds so we can chat about it!
- Send me pictures of your vines!
- Read this next as a follow-up post: Harvest Luffa Sponges: How to and When to Harvest!
- Use your luffas for dishes because it’s the best!
- Read the comments below to see other folks’ experiences and comments.
- Harvest them too early.
- Shade them because the flowers close, this is normal.
- If you’re scared of bees, plant them near the house.
- Plant them on a fence that is already falling apart… I guess I’ll finally be fixing the fence after the season is done!
- Plant them too close to other vegetables such as squash. They might cross-pollinate!
- Overwater them. Remember, waterlogged seeds mean no germination!
For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, you’ll know I was originally based in Florida. I have since moved to Eastern Kentucky – which is a whole new gardening ballgame! I’ve completely started over and have been slowly building up a brand new homestead.
This blog will continue to be a safe learning space – and I’ll continue to write transparently about the new experiences I have. FIRST OF WHICH will be growing loofah gourds next season! I’ll need to source some loofah seeds and get started by late March, and that is so exciting!
For those of you who need guidance on growing this climbing plant in a cold climate, I am here for it! And soon I’ll be able to give personal advice on growing luffa sponges in cooler climates. I. AM. SO. EXCITED. In the meantime, drop me a line and happy growing!