Luffa. Loofah. Whichever you prefer is a vine growing plant in the cucumber family. What is a luffa? Is it edible? Why actually, yes! When they are young, they can absolutely be eaten. That being said, I’ve never tried them so no recommendations or experience there. A luffa is a plant when let to mature grows very large gourds with fibrous insides perfect to use as sponges.
My venture with luffas started five years ago when I’d seen that a luffa sponge was a product of a plant, and I just had to try it! It took me four years to have any success in getting an actual luffa to grow and five years to have prolific vines with over 40 luffas! So, what was the secret…?
Seeds need soaking: Luffas can be finicky to start from seed. A good 24 hour soak in lukewarm water helps to really jumpstart them.
Start seeds 6-8 weeks before your last frost date: Luffas seemingly take forever to start… like to the point where you may wait so long for a little stem to appear that you may give up. Don’t! If they have enough warmth and light, the seeds will germinate. It can just take a minute. When they do appear, you’ll be amazed how slow these little guys grow. Seriously, watching paint dry. Starting them indoors or in a greenhouse well before your last frost date really helps make them grow into strong little plants that will thrive outdoors which brings me to…
Avoid transplant shock: I tried growing these in those little pots that you can plant directly into the ground to no avail. Why? Because in theory those pots are great, but in reality, those little pots dry the soil out something crazy. They suck up all the moisture. Luffas are a tropical/subtropical plant. They need moisture. After your first frost date when the luffa has 3-5 healthy leaves, it’s time to begin its outdoor life process. To avoid transplant shock, avoid planting your luffa straight from inside to your garden. It needs a slow introduction to the outside wind and light. Start by putting it out a couple hours in the morning and then bringing it back in before the afternoon heat. Gradually leave the plant out for an extra hour or two every day until eventually you leave it out overnight until eventually it’s strong enough to be planted into its permanent spot. This process takes at least a week. It’s tedious… I know. I’m sure you have better things to do, but you want luffas, don’t you!? Of course you do!
Plant in full sun with a strong structure to grow on: Luffa vines are longggg. Like 30ish feet long. And, they have a mind of their own. They will grow wherever they please. We still have dried, moldy luffas hanging from the tops of multiple trees around our raised bed that are completely unreachable. Husband jokes that he will shoot them down (not possible). Only God know how long they will hang there. Could be forever. Regardless, make sure you have a strong enough structure to hold the weight of this plant. If it thrives, it carries many leaves, lots of flowers and (fingers crossed) extremely large gourds that are heavy.
Keep watered: Like I said, luffas are tropical plants. They like water, especially while they’re small. Keep them well-watered. When they are more established, they won’t be as needy, but in the beginning, they like some water.
Let ’em go: When they are established (vine actively climbing, leaves sprouting), it’s pretty smooth sailing from here. They enjoy sun and warmth. They may seem stagnant at times throughout the summer, but keep faith. They go through growth spurts.
Let them dry on the vine: Do I have to? No, but it does make it a little easier to harvest them properly. Harvesting them is another venture all in itself so that’s another blog article, but if you can, let them dry on the vine. Supposedly, they cannot be left out on the vine during a frost, so no matter what they look like, pull them before your first Fall frost. I’ve never left mine out for a frost, but apparently they become mush if they freeze.
So, Why Grow Luffas?
I might have should of started with this, but why would you go to all this trouble to grow luffas?
- They’re beautiful! Okay, so not the actual gourd. It’s not pretty. It looks like a cucumber on steroids, but the flower is beautiful. They’re bright yellow, and depending on where you let them grow, they will overrun it and light it up with gorgeous, bright flowers.
- For the sponge! How cool is it that you can grow your own sponge? How many people can say that? Not many… Their fibrous insides are perfect for scrubbing your own body, dishes, floors, tiles- you name it. They’re just as versatile as a normal sponge. The only caveat, they mold. When they do, you can soak them in a vinegar/water solution to try to rid them of mold or just toss and replace. And, you don’t have to feel bad about tossing because it’s organic material!
- For the seeds! Each luffas has a million seeds, not really but close. I’ll never have to buy another luffa seed packet. The seeds are easy easy to save from the dried gourds to the point where you’ll have plenty for yourself and to share with others.
- It’s a challenge! I literally just asked Husband why we go to the trouble to grow these things, and he said, “You read one time that they were hard to grow, so you were determined to grow them.” baha at least he’s honest! They can be challenging. I feel like each year it gets easier and easier though. From the first year where I couldn’t get the seeds to germinate to the second year when the young plants died to the third year when the vine barely took off to the fourth year when we had four total luffas to this past year. We seriously had 40 luffas this past year. It was overwhelming. It is a challenge, but most everything is in the garden. If you like a challenge, then you’ll like growing luffas, and once you have luffa success, it feels great!
- Other people are amazed! This point might be a stupid point, but it’s true. I’ve put luffa sponges in soap and given them as-is for Christmas presents the past two years. The recipients were floored. Why?
A. because they thought luffas were a sea sponge.
B. because you grew this?!?
C. because I can use this on my body?
It’s a simple concept, but others who may not be garden-savy really are shocked that luffas not only come out of the ground but that you grew them! They make great gifts.
So now I’m tired about talking about luffas… just kidding. They’re somehow fascinating and definitely worth a try. Don’t get discouraged. Growing luffas can take time. You can do it, and I wish you the best of luck on your luffa growing adventure!
P.S. I apologize for not having pictures of the flowers and baby plants. I’ll be sure to take pictures this season and add them to this as they come. Also, follow us on MeWe for regular homestead happenings! https://mewe.com/p/thehomesteadkings