Issue: November 2002

Grow Gourds and Popcorn for the Holiday Season

Growing ornamental gourds and popcorn is a great way to stretch the gardening season and brighten end-of-year holidays.

Gourds are one of the oldest crops ever grown. They come in a range of colors and shapes. Most can be made into holiday ornaments or toys and gifts, such as rattles, dippers and birdhouses.

Plant gourds in the spring for harvest in November. In colder areas, it's best to establish longer-maturing varieties in a greenhouse and transplant them to the garden after frost. In warmer areas, most gourds can be direct-seeded in the garden.

Training the vines up a wire trellis or fence will result in more uniform shapes. It will also reduce fruit rot and stain problems, while creating more uniform drying conditions for the fruit.

Popular gourd types include big apple, speckled swan, crown of thorns, orange, spoon, pear bicolor, turban, birdhouse, caveman's club, warted mix, snake, dipper and nest egg. After harvest, store gourds in a warm, dry place to cure for several weeks before cutting and painting.

When selecting popcorn to eat, look for hull-free types like Robust 21-82w, an early white popcorn, and Robust 90135 Hybrid, a yellow gourmet. After picking, husk and store ears in a dry, airy location to cure for several weeks. Periodically pop samples to test for proper moisture content. Pop kernels in a saucepan, or place the entire ear in a paper bag for microwave popping.

Ornamental popcorns vary from mixed colors to solid blue, pink and red. Strawberry popcorn is particularly popular. Its ears are only 2 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. Pull shucks back to allow the ears to dry, and then braid husks together to make corn ristras for wall decorations. Blue and red popcorns can also be shelled and popped like regular popcorn. The kernels, however, tend to be smaller than white or yellow varieties and contain a lot of hulls.

Ornamental pod corns are unique because each individual corn kernel has its own husk. Huskscolors vary from tan or brown to red and copper. The ear husks can be pulled back to dry and tied together into harvest wreaths for the holiday season.

Broomcorn is another popular ornamental also used for making wreaths. Originally grown to make brooms, seed colors vary from red and brown to purple and black. The colored brooms or seed stalks can be used in dried flower arrangements.

For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications World Wide Web site at

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Also Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on: KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays,and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.