Learn how to grow luffa (or loofah, as some spell it) in your own home garden in just a few simple steps and you’ll never run out of cleaning sponges (or seeds)!
Luffa is a prolific tropical/subtropical vine in the plant family Cucurbitaceae, also called cucurbits or the gourd family. Its common names are luffa, loofah, sponge gourd, dishcloth gourd, Egyptian cucumber and Chinese okra, but typically you only hear them called luffa or loofah.
Not only does loofah work great as a scrubber, it makes a tasty stir fry, as well! Cooked young, luffa are most like a cross between an okra and a zucchini, but we’ll get into that more later in the article.
Most luffa sponges you find in the United States used to be imported from Japan, but luffa plants can be grown in home gardens in zones 5-11. They are rapid growing climbing vines and very prolific. Luffa vines can grow to be around 50 feet long/tall in a single growing season. They’re a super plant for any homesteader to grow!
When to Plant Luffa Seeds
Luffa plants are annuals, so they will need to be planted each year. Once planted in early spring, loofah vines take about 60-90 days to fruit and then another 30-60 days before they mature into sponges.
Being tropical plants, luffa need long, warm growing seasons. This makes them perfect plants for zones 7 or higher. Zone 5 and 6 gardeners will need to start seeds indoors about 4 weeks prior to last frost so the soil temps are above 70°F when transplanting.
Where to Plant Luffa Plants
You can start luffa seeds indoors or directly sow them into rich, well-draining soil where there’s full sun (at least 6-8 hours per day). Whether you start your seeds indoors or in their permanent home, make sure the average soil temps are around 70°F.
Since luffa vines can get to 50′ or more, it is highly recommended to trellis them. They will need daily tending to make sure the vines stay trained on the trellis. We used a cattle panel arched trellis and they completely took over the trellis (as well as branching out to the other 3 trellis arches around it).
If you go the route of the cattle panel trellis arch, I recommend no more than 2 plants. Plant one on opposite corners from the second so they fill the trellis without choking one another out. Leave at least 4′ between plants so they don’t overcrowd one another.
It is also recommended that you not plant your luffa where other Cucurbitaceae plants were grown in the recent past. The pests and diseases that feed on the entire cucurbit family will likely still be present in the soil and may attack your luffa plants.
How to Grow Luffa
For best results, it’s recommended that you soak your luffa seeds for approximately 24 hours. This will soften the seed coating and increase the chances of germination.
After their soak, plant the luffa seeds no more than ½ an inch deep. Place 2-3 seeds in each hole to ensure germination of at least one plant. Within a week or two, you should see tiny little seedlings poking their heads out of the soil. Once they have sprouted, thin your luffa gourd seedlings down to one plant per hole.
When your luffa plants have grown to be 6″ or so, it’s time to transplant (if you’ve started seeds indoors). Cover the soil around each plant with a layer of mulch to help retain heat and moisture. The mulch will also provide nutrients to your luffa plants as it decomposes.
Caring for Loofah Vines
Luffa gourd plants are relatively easy to grow. They grow very fast and are highly prolific. With a little care, you’ll get a bumper crop from just a few plants.
Loofah plants require full sun throughout the entire season. Make sure they are planted in a place that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. For lower growing zones, more sunlight will be needed.
The ideal temperatures for luffa plants are between 70°F to 90°F, but you’ll get results (though slowed a bit) from 50°F up. Keep your gourd plants mulched to retain moisture and maintain a steadier soil temperature.
Plant your luffa in soil that is well-draining and fertile. Add a handful of organic compost to your planting holes for an extra boost of initial growth. Luffa gourd plants prefer a slightly acidic soil with a 6.0 to 6.8 pH level.
You’ll want to make sure your luffa gourd plants get a medium watering. Never let the soil get dry, and don’t water to the point of having standing puddles. Just be sure to keep the soil consistently moist. Overwatering could actually decrease growth and fruit production.
As with pretty much any plant, it’s recommended to water your luffa at the roots only. If the leaves or immature fruits get wet, it can encourage fungal growth and invite pests. That said, we never really worried about it our first year growing luffa, an
d we had no issues with fungus or pests with our luffa (except a couple of pickle worms).
You shouldn’t need to add much fertilizer, if any. If you do, add amendments like bone meal and blood meal as a side dressing once or twice a month. Start with the blood meal until the loofah vine starts to produce blossoms, and then add bone meal as well.
Luffa vines are best grown at about a 4′ spacing on a trellis or fence. We grew ours on an arched cattle panel, and it took over that, plus the other 3 where we had nothing growing. Trellis systems are best for luffa plants to provide air circulation, help prevent disease and fruit rot, and keep the plant healthy in general.
Arch trellises like the one we grew our luffa on are awesome because harvesting is much easier since the gourds hang down away from the leaves. Just be sure to watch your head when you walk underneath the archway.
It is also recommended to prune your luffa plants, removing side shoots so there is one main vine. I’ll be honest with you, we did not prune our luffa, and we had little to no problem with it. Since we grew the plants too close together, we had some browning of the leaves underneath where the plants were beginning to choke out other plants. The plants were still extremely prolific.
Close to the end of the growing season, when temperatures start to drop below about 60°F at night, trim back the new growth. This will allow all the plant’s energy to be directed into the fruit for quicker maturation.
Since luffa gourd is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, you will find that many of the pests and diseases will be the same as you have on your cucumbers, winter squash, and other gourds.
A few of the pests that may plague your luffa plants include squash bugs, pumpkin flies, cucumber beetles, and pickle worms.
Squash bugs feed on the luffa fruit and lay their eggs on the underside of leaves. During the colder months, squash bugs like to shelter in piles of leaves, under rocks, and amongst other plant debris. They have a flattened appearance and are greyish-brown in color.
Pumpkin flies are bugs that lay eggs on young loofah gourds. The pumpkin fly maggots feed on the gourd, destroying it from the inside out. They are orange and brown in color and can completely destroy any gourds you have in your garden if not kept in check.
Cucumber beetles destroy your luffa plants by eating the roots and leaves. They also tend to spread disease as they damage your plants. may be pretty, but they’ll wreak havoc on any Cucurbitaceae plants in your garden. These pests are yellow in color with either black longitudinal stripes or black spots.
Pickleworms are the larvae of the adult pickleworm moth and act as parasites to gourds much like pumpkin fly larvae. They burrow into luffa gourd fruits and make them inedible. You can tell you’re having a pickleworm problem by noticing small holes in the fruit with discarded pulp in the same area.
To prevent and control these pests:
- In the winter, keep the soil clear and remove dead plant material.
- Use pest repellents like diatomaceous earth and neem oil.
- Pyrethrin sprays are good from mid-spring to early summer.
- Attract and keep ladybugs and lacewings in your garden.
- Use floating row covers for young plants.
- Dust your plants with kaolin clay.
- Spray your plants with onion tea.
The only major diseases known to the luffa gourd plant are powdery mildew and downy mildew.
Powdery mildew is something almost every gardener in existence has had to deal with at one point or another. This is a disease that leaves a white, powdery “dust” on the leaves which takes away from the plant’s nutrients. The spores spread by wind, so it is extremely crucial that you take out any of the infected plant material as soon as possible.
Downy mildew is a whole different set of problems to your luffa plants. Like most molds, downy mildew thrives in warm and humid conditions, leaving yellow and brown spots on the leaves. It can be spread through infected seeds, so you definitely shouldn’t worry about trying to save your own seeds from an infected plant.
To prevent and control these diseases:
- Don’t save seeds from the fruit of a plant infected with downy mildew.
- Neem Oil, Copper Fungicide, and/or Sulfur Fungicide sprayed on the leaves in the evening.
- Water at base of the plant in the morning.
- Remove diseased area or entire plant if necessary. (Do not compost. Burn or bury away from the garden if possible.)
Harvesting Luffa Gourds
The luffa plant is very prolific, putting on at least 5-10 fruits or more per plant. Harvest them when they are matured and dried for seed saving and cleaning sponges or harvest them young to add to a delicious meal.
Depending on the length of your growing season, you may want to let the first few luffa gourds turn into sponges and harvest fruit later for food. This way at least some your loofah gourds will have plenty of time to mature and be used for sponges while others can be harvested to eat.
Harvesting Luffa to Eat
When your young luffa gourds are green and tender, they can be eaten like zucchini or squash. Pick young luffa when they are under 6 inches long. The fruit will be dark green and will look a big like a long, skinny cucumber. Keep in mind, luffa gourds grow fast, so pick the fruits at the right time, or they may become too fibrous to eat.
You can eat green luffas raw or cook them like any zucchini or summer squash. If you plan to eat your luffa raw in a salad or other raw application, I definitely recommend peeling them as the skin may be tough and bitter. Luffas are particularly tasty in stir-fries.
Unless you plan to preserve your loofah by dehydrating, freezing, or freeze drying, they will not store well. There’s a chance they may last a few days in the fridge wrapped in a paper towel, but your best option is to eat them as soon as possible.
Harvesting Luffa for Sponges
As luffa fruits mature, their skin turns brown and becomes loose and papery. When you shake the gourd, the seeds will rattle around inside. Because they are totally dried out, they will be surprisingly light.
Now that your luffas have matured and dried out, it’s time to harvest. Starting on one end, peel off the papery shell. If the luffas are totally dry, the skin should come off relatively easy. If the skin is not peeling off easily, soak the gourds in lukewarm water for about half an hour and try again. The seeds will be found near the bottom of the gourd and should fall right out with a little shake.
Once you have your luffa gourds peeled, give them a rinse and allow them to dry in the sun. If you want whiter sponges, soak them in a 10:1 bleach solution (about one and two-thirds cup of bleach per gallon of water) for a couple of hours to disinfect and whiten. Then rinse a few times to be sure the bleach is out of the sponge and allow to dry.
Use the holes in the center to loop a cord through for hanging or glue a sealed dowel inside as a handle. Luffa fibers cut easily with a serrated knife, so you can share them with friends and family or use some in the bathroom for shower scrubbers and others in the kitchen for cleaning.
Saving Luffa Seeds
Left to their own device, loofah seeds will be dispersed short distances in the wind after the dried, mature fruit breaks open. When you harvest your dried gourds, you will be able to easily collect the seeds. Store your seeds in a dark, dry place until next spring.
Once you start growing luffa, you will likely never need to buy seeds ever again. The number of seeds that come out of one luffa will give you enough to plant for a few years to come, and you’ll be able to give some to your friends and family.
Patrick & Jessie homestead in Middle Georgia with two of their four children and their three dogs. They love gardening, food preservation, and keeping their family prepared for any disaster that may come.