“I thought luffa was a sea sponge?!?!” You’re not alone, I did too until I saw luffa (loofah) growing in the demonstration garden for the University of Arizona Master Gardeners. Learn how to grow luffa, also known as loofah, a delicious vegetable to eat (when picked very young) or you can choose to let it grow and develop into a useful sponge.
I decided to give it a try, and planted a few seeds, and ended up harvesting dozens of luffa sponges. Learn how to grow luffa and give growing luffa in the garden a try!
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How to grow luffa: Plant luffa at the right time
Growing luffa (loofah) in the garden takes time; it often takes 8 months until the gourds are harvested as sponges.
Plant luffa seeds in fertile soil after the danger of frost has passed. (Seeds must be started indoors in Zones 6 and above.) Luffa seeds are available from Seeds Now.
In the low desert of Arizona:
- Start seeds indoors: January – March
- Plant outside: Feb 15 – April
Luffa does best directly sown in the garden but can be started indoors. If growing indoors, transplant when very young for best results.
- Plant seeds 1/2 – 1 inch deep, and plant transplants at the same level as the nursery pot.
- Allow about 1 foot between each luffa plant. For square foot gardening, plant one luffa per square.
- Luffa grows best in well-draining soil with plenty of sunlight. Luffa vines tolerate full sun, even in hot climates.
- Provide regular water, and mulch well the soil around the luffa plants.
- Luffa gourds grow on a vigorous vine (over 10 feet long). Be sure to give them plenty of room to grow and a trellis for support.
Patiently wait for female flowers to appear
Be patient… male flowers on the loofah plant will be the first to appear. They are beautiful flowers and the bees will love them.
After a while, you will see what looks like a miniature luffa. These are the female flowers, and once pollinated will develop into luffa gourds.
Decide if you want to harvest a luffa squash or a sponge
After pollination, small gourds will begin to grow. Harvest loofah when less than 6 inches long if you want to eat it.
Prepare these small luffa like you would a summer squash. It is delicious in stir-frys and when roasted.
Read here for more tips for growing summer squash.
Once it is longer than 6 inches, the insides become fibrous and it is too tough to eat.
How to grow luffa: harvest the gourd at the correct time
When growing luffa in the garden for the sponge, leave it on the vine until it is yellow and feels lightweight and hollow. The skin will begin to shrivel and separate.
- The green gourd pictured on the left side of the photo should stay on the vine a little longer.
- The brown one in the middle should be harvested and peeled right away; it may be brittle.
- The one on the right is ready to harvest. It will be easy to peel and fibrous inside.
This luffa was harvested a little too early. The fibrous insides have not developed. If you have to harvest at this stage, store in a cool dry place until the gourd feels lightweight and hollow.
This luffa was harvested at just the right time. It’s easy to peel. Let it dry once you remove the peel.
This luffa stayed on the vine a little too long. The fibrous insides have become brittle. It is still usable but not as durable.
After peeling, rinse the luffa sponges well by spraying them off with a hose; allow the rinsed luffa to dry thoroughly in the sunlight.
How to save luffa seeds at the end of the season
Saving luffa seeds is easy; when the luffa is ready to harvest as a sponge, the seeds are usually ready too! Once the luffa dries, shake out the seeds inside the luffa gourd, and if they are black, then save the seeds to share with others and plant the following year.
To harvest luffa seeds, cut off one end of dried luffa and shake the seeds out.
To remove seeds from a previously peeled luffa, allow the gourd to dry out and then shake out the seeds.
Want more information about gardening in Arizona? This blog post shares 7 tips for how to grow a vegetable garden in Arizona.