Lots of pumpkins will be carved and painted in the coming days. Augusta County horticulturist Mark Viette believes the bottle gourd offers a more sophisticated way to decorate for the fall—and all year long.
“All you need is a couple of gourds from the bottleneck family, part of the pumpkin and gourd family of Cucurbitaceae,” Viette said. “There are several beautiful ones, like the Speckled Swan, that make great decorations once they’re dried out.”
“You can buy them at garden centers and craft shops. Or you can grow them yourself,” he added. “Once they’re dry, there are lots of things you can do with them. This is a great kids’ project for school, a family project or a do-it-yourself project.”
Drying gourds takes patience, Viette said. It can take six months to a year for a gourd to be completely dry and ready to decorate.
If you grow your own gourds for decorating, it’s recommended you leave them on the vine until after first frost and then cut them, leaving at least 2 inches of stem. The stem is actually where a lot of the moisture within the gourd evaporates. Some hobbyists brush the dirt off and sanitize their gourds with a light bleach wash to reduce mold and the risk of rotting. Place gourds in a cool, dry place like a garage or basement, on a raised surface like a shipping pallet, with room for air to circulate around each one.
The ideal temperature for drying gourds is 55 to 65 degrees, Viette said. “Once they’re dry, you want to clean them with a scouring pad or sandpaper. When they’re clean and smooth, you can stain them, coat them with a polyurethane finish or paint them.”
The natural patterns created by some mold as the gourd dries are attractive to crafters, Viette said, so many people just wax or use polyurethane to preserve them for fall decorations. Another popular craft for gourds is to create natural shaped birdhouses.
“You can use anywhere from a 1½-inch spade drill bit to a 1¼-inch bit; it really depends on the type of birds you want to attract,” he said. “The size of the hole determines the type of bird. I sometimes like to use 1¼-inch bit because the smaller size keeps out larger birds like starlings but is attractive to bluebirds. The other thing you need to do is drill (smaller) holes in the bottom for drainage.”
Alternately, cut several large holes in a gourd to create a natural bird feeder, he said.
For more than a decade Viette has hosted In the Garden, a television and online garden tips program produced by the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. A video on this topic is available at youtube.com/watch?v=nE_