Grow Loofah (Growing Loofah): As a matter of fact, no they do not grow in the ocean. Or the sea. Or any other body of water. That’s always the biggest shock to people when you tell them they can grow their own luffa sponges; the fact that they grow on land, not in the water. You’re thinking of Spongebob Squarepants.
A bit about the Luffa gourd.
Luffa, Loofah, Sponge Gourd. All the same thing just different ways to say it.
Luffas are part of the gourd family and grow on vines that can get to be 30′ long. Trust me on this.
The part of the Luffa you’re used to seeing is actually the inside fibres of the gourd, which lay beneath the green skin.
Immature Luffas look pretty much like a cucumber or zucchini and can be eaten when they’re very young (4-8″ long).
Luffas turn brown and become light as a feather when they’re ready to pick but if there’s a danger of frost you can pick them earlier (like I did).
Luffas are shitheads.
For the past decade or so I’ve been killing myself trying to figure out how to be completely successful growing luffa gourds in my zone 6 climate. Luffa need a longggg growing season and they also seem to be easily frightened. Like you can frighten a Luffa to death. More on that in a few moments.
To figure out how to successfully grow a Luffa sponge, you have to know how to very, very unsuccessfully grow a Luffa sponge. Luckily for you, I have all kinds of experience in that particular area. In fact, I’ve spent the better part of a decade being really great at unsuccessfully growing Luffa sponges. Not to brag.
There are 3 main areas where things can go horribly wrong.
Your seeds won’t germinate. Because they’re little asshead seeds that hate you.
Your little luffa seedling goes into shock when you transplant it outside and it dies of fright or at least goes into a month long coma.
Your vine grows but you never get to the point of seeing fruit before the frost kills it.
I’m going to show you how to overcome all of those issues so you can grow your very own organic Luffa sponge this summer.
Handy for showers, scrubbing pots and whacking people on the head with.
o how can you overcome these obstacles so that you can proudly peel your very first luffa sponge? These few simple tips are the only thing between you and a Luffa.
HOW TO GROW LUFFA (LOOFAH) SPONGE
If you’re in a cooler zone, start your Luffa seeds early, indoors, 6 – 8 weeks before the last frost date.
Use new Luffa seeds and soak them in water for 24 hours prior to planting. Seeds that have been hanging around for years probably won’t germinate.
Increase your success at germination by starting your seeds on a seed heat pad. Sow seeds and then place their pots on the warmth.
Transplant into biodegradable or paper pots once the first “true” set of leaves have formed. Using pots that decompose reduces the risk of transplant shock which Luffa plants are prone to.
For an even BETTER chance of reducing transplant shock, grow in soil blocks instead of pots.
When the weather is right (warm soil and air) start hardening off your seedlings. This is more important than with most other plants because Luffa are so prone to transplant shock.
After a week or so of hardening off, plant your seedlings in an area that gets FULL sun. As much sun as possible. Anything less and you won’t get any Luffas.
Plant your seedlings at the base of a really strong structure that its vines can climb on and cling to. Chain link fence or something similar is perfect.
If after planting out, a cold snap threatens, cover the seedlings with a vented cloche. A plastic pop bottle cut in half with a lot of air holes punched into it would work fine. A few days of cold weather will STOP a luffa from growing and it could take a month before they get over the shock.
Keep the Luffa watered. No water equals no growing! Now you wait. And wait. And wait.
2 months before your first frost date (by the early middle of August for me in zone 6) you need to pinch away all the flowers on the vine. This is important because it will direct all the plant’s remaining energy to growing the luffas that are on the vine now instead of starting all new tiny luffas from the flowers that have no chance of ever getting big enough to harvest. THIS IS CRUCIAL.
By October you should have big, green Luffas. Pick your Luffa sponges BEFORE they’re hit by frost even if they’re still green. Technically you aren’t supposed to pick them until they’re dried out and brown, but in Zone 6 it’s rare for them to get to that stage. You can still pick them when they’re green and get perfectly acceptable Luffas. They’re just a bit harder to peel.
To increase your chances at success even MORE try growing your luffas in a little hoop house/low tunnel like this:
Build a small hoop house and cover it with 2 layers of 5 or 6mm plastic. It only needs to be 1-2 feet high.
Heat the hoop house with a single lightbulb.
After your seeds have germinated in your house immediately put them into the heated hoop house remembering to monitor it every day and vent it on sunny days or when it starts to get warm.
When the soil is very warm and it’s nice out (for me that’s June 1st) plant your luffa seedlings in their final location.
A fellow luffa grower in my area starts and grows her luffas like this and has had HUGE success. I’m going to try it myself this year with half of my luffa plants.
This is what my luffa plant looks like when it’s starting to grow. You should expect this much growth after about a month in the ground outside.
By the end of the season the luffa plants will fill the entire fence. They’re had to spot in the photo below but to the right of the straw umbrella you can see the wall of luffa green climbing up the fence with the odd yellow flower at the top of it.
Like I said, it isn’t easy and definitely not for the half assed gardener. But if you really want to grow luffas where you have a shorter than ideal growing season, YOU CAN.
Where to Buy Loofah: