Gourds have been used for a variety of purposes since at least 13,000 BCE as tools, containers, food, musical instruments and art. The sheer diversification of these fruit makes them ideal for use as painted gourds for Christmas ornaments or other gifts. Prior to trying your hand at DIY decorative painted gourds for Christmas however, it’s important to learn how to properly dry ornamental gourds. Read on to learn how to prepare DIY easy painted gourds.
How to Dry Ornamental Gourds
Gourds include flowering plants in the family Cucurbitaceae, most commonly Cucurbita and Lagenaria (calabash or bottle gourd). Ornamental gourds suited for use as DIY decorative gourds are those with a hard skin that when dried has the consistency of wood.
How to properly dry your gourds prior to decorating them is key. First, harvest the fruit when it has developed a hard rind and/or wait until the stems dry and turn brown and the foliage has begun to die back. Harvest the fruit before the first frost by cutting the stems at the vine end.
Wash the gourd well with soap and water. Then rinse it in warm water mixed with a touch of household disinfectant, such as bleach, or rub the fruit with rubbing alcohol to kill any mold that will discolor or rot the gourd.
Toss out any damaged gourds and allow the unblemished, clean fruit to dry in an open mesh bag that has been hung in a dry, warm, airy space away from sunlight. This is called curing, and can take from one and up to six months depending on the size of the fruit.
The outer skin hardens first in about two weeks, followed by the interior of the gourd which will take at least another four weeks. If you shake the fruit and hear seeds rattling, this is a good sign the gourds are ready.
Easy Painted Gourd Ideas
Once the gourds are dry, they are ready to be waxed, varnished, painted and carved. If you are a stickler, you can fill in any imperfections with wood putty, and then sand the fruit.
If you are planning to hang the dry decorated gourds, it is a good idea to create a hanger prior to painting. Drill a hole in the gourd at the end at which you wish to hang it. Thread a bit of wire hanger, copper wire or the like through the hole and twist the ends together to form a loop or hook. You can also use decorative ribbon or yarn to form a loop.
If you like the imperfections, it’s time to paint. Some gourds like okra can be cut in half and the resulting star shape used. Others can be used whole, like calabash, which makes terrific snowmen or Santa Claus. Whole okra can also become a chorus of angels with hot glued Spanish moss for hair.
Spray-paint your painted gourd Christmas ornaments, or hand paint with craft paint. A wood burning tool also works exceptionally well to add details to DIY decorative gourds. Use hot glue to add accents.
When you are done with your painted gourd Christmas ornaments, finish them with a coat of wax or varnish so these heirlooms will last as they're passed down to your kids and onto your grandchildren.
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Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.