When I first heard about growing loofahs (also known as luffa or lufah) I knew I had to give it a go. Imagining not having to ever buy another kitchen scourer or exfoliator; free loofahs for life for the investment of one packet of seeds.
What could possibly go wrong?
So I got onto the internet and ordered my seeds. I then started to Google ‘how to grow Loofahs in the UK’. And that is when I discovered that it might not be quite so plain sailing as I first thought.
Here are some quotes from some of the many blogs I read:
“To figure out how to successfully grow a Luffa sponge, you have to know how to very, very unsuccessfully grow a Luffa sponge”
“It isn’t easy and definitely not for the half-assed gardener”
“Loofah plants require a long growing season and may not reach maturity in areas with short summers”
“Luffas are shitheads”
“Your seeds won’t germinate. Because they’re little asshead seeds that hate you.”
By the time my seeds arrived at the end of April 2019, I was quite disheartened and had already decided I’d missed the early start they needed. I also made the decision that this was a job for my dad, who not only had many more years of gardening experience than me, he also had the essential ingredient of a greenhouse to get an early start. Something I lack in my teeny-weeny garden. So they didn’t get planted in 2019.
Fast forward to 2020
I passed the seeds to my dad to grow in 2020, along with all the gloom and doom about how challenging they would be to grow and the advice from those who had gone through the process many times unsuccessfully. He’s in London, so a little further North than me in East Kent, but still South East England.
From zero experience to success in one season
And here’s a step-by-step guide to what happened:
April 1st – Soaked the seeds overnight
April 2nd – Seeds planted and put on a sunny windowsill in the dining room
11 out of the 12 seeds germinated! A great start and much better than predicted.
After germination they were moved to the conservatory
May 21st – Potted up and moved to the (unheated) greenhouse
June 4th – Potted on, some in 12″ pots and some in 10″ – the larger ones were better as they dry out quickly and need frequent watering.
Disaster struck one plant at this stage when my dad accidently broke a significant chunk of the top right off! No matter, he still had another 10 healthy plants.
An encouraging start
Very soon all plants started to develop a tiny loofah. True to expectation they grew very, very slowly.
Early August and the plants were growing well, but the loofahs were still tiny. The growth barely discernible to the naked eye.
Except for one.
One loofah was romping away. Quite the opposite of the others. It was now about 10” long.
Are you ahead of me?
Yes, you’ve guessed it. My dad had (literally) accidently struck on the secret to successfully growing loofahs. The secret that had clearly eluded all the other bloggers who had been trying to grow them for years.
The one romping away was the one that he broke! Lady luck was shining on us that day with that happy accident! He had almost discarded it, as he had broken such a significant chunk off when it was about 15” tall. But us gardeners are forever hopeful, so he kept it alongside the other, much more healthy looking, plants.
But this happy accident, was clearly meant to be.
So in early August, he took the plunge and pinched the main growing shoot out of all the other plants. Lots of gardening websites recommend pinching out the side-shoots, but absolutely no-one suggests taking the main growing stem out.
And guess what; they all caught up within 2 weeks! They now grew so fast, you could almost see them growing. I wished I had a time-lapse camera on them! Within 2 weeks, most of those tiny little loofahs grew into big chunky 10”-12” loofahs (maybe mimicking their pot-size?!)
Long Growing Season?
So it seems you can reduce the so-called long growing season to a matter of a few weeks, just by pinching out the main growing shoot! Who knew? Not even the well-respected gardening aficionados, it seems.
As they continue to grow pinch out some of the tips when the plants are about 7 feet tall.
Leave on the plant until they look brownish. Around mid-late October.
Cut off and leave to dry (we clipped them up with clothes pegs in a dry conservatory).
Take off the skin.
Remove seeds, maybe using a jet of water. Save the seeds for next year’s crop.