The ash gourd goes by many names, including wax gourd, winter melon, Chinese watermelon, white gourd and white pumpkin. Officially named Benincasa hispida, the ash gourd is native to Southeast Asia and winters well in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 11. Ash gourds belong to the Cucurbitaceae plant family, making them associated with cucumbers, squash and melons.
The ash gourd is an annual creeping vine that can either climb structures or be permitted to distribute to the ground. This plant contains large green leaves and thick stems covered with rough hairs. The showy, golden yellow blooms appear early in the summertime, and feminine flowers give way to round or round fruits. Young ash gourds are covered with a soft down that disappears with adulthood. Totally renovated gourds have a white, waxy coating covering the surface. Mature fruits weigh in from 5 to 20 pounds, but they are able to reach as large as 50 pounds in optimum growing conditions.
Ash gourds thrive in well-draining, organically rich, fertile soils in full sun spots. You can begin planting the seeds once the soil temperatures in your area reach at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant three seeds together in every planting pit and lean out the weaker plants once they sprout. Planting seams should be about 1 inch deep and spaced about 10 inches apart.
Gardeners appreciate the fact that the ash gourd is a low-maintenance plant with just medium moisture needs. Because these plants are relatively drought tolerant, you need to water the gourds just every 6 or 7 days in dry weather. Just like with other melon plants, gently pruning the flowers and stem tips promotes better fruit production.
Although ash gourds usually do not suffer with serious disease or pest problems, they sometimes attract mites, aphids, squash bugs, cucumber beetles or squash vine borers. Keep an eye out for powdery mildew and downy mildew as well. Powdery mildew appears as small white spots on the leaves and shoots, while downy mildew causes light green or yellowish spots to form on leaves, giving them a mottled appearance. These problems aren’t usually serious enough to warrant the use of chemical sprays.
Harvesting and Usage
Ash gourds have edible leaves and stems that may be picked at any time and cooked just like other greens. Flowering begins anywhere from 45 to 100 days after sowing, and you may start selecting immature gourds about a week after the flowers look. Immature fruit can be cooked in the very same manners as summer squash. Mature gourds need to remain on the vine for 30 to 40 days after flowering, or until they develop their feature white, waxy coat. Ash gourds have a mild flavor, making them a frequent ingredient in curries, soups and Asian stir-fries. Old fruit shops for as much as six months if stored in a cool, dry place, but you should eat young gourds within a week of selecting.