Luff – Something New in the Garden

May 25, 2024

Jane Powell

Loofahs are the sponges of spas and self-care baskets, but did you ever think about where they come from?  Not me.  It was never even a fleeting thought until a few weeks ago.

I have a group of gardening friends in the Beckley area, and we trade stories and tips about what’s happening in our gardens. One is a container gardener, growing beautiful house plants and annuals for his outside area. Others have gardens, big and small, where they grow the usual peppers and tomatoes but toss in a zinger now and then. 

Luffa (Luffa aegyptiaca), or loofahs, as they are commonly called, are native to Asia and thrive in hot weather and acidic soil. This vine produces a yellow flower, then fruit, then sponges. 

This annual vine is a climber and needs a trellis or support system to attach to and grow vertically. This not only saves space but also keeps the fruit off the ground, where it may rot or grow crooked. Luffas are related to cucumbers, and like those vines, good air circulation is important.

When the Beckley Boys offered me seeds harvested from their plants, of course I said yes. Then I had to do some research.

The growing cycle is long: 90-120 days for fruit and up to 200 days for sponges. And they like it hot, so I needed a spot with at least six hours of sun each day. 

The first thing I did was place my trellis, then after loosening the soil, I planted the seeds. Luffas need water, as much as one inch a week, but they don’t like wet feet, so the soil needs to be well-draining. As with all vines, water at the base not the top of the vines. This helps prevent disease.

I will watch for the plants to break through the soil and, if needed, thin the vines. As they begin to grow and attach to the trellis, I may need to trim back long vines to encourage the plant to branch out.  If all goes well, I could get as many as four fruits/sponges per plant. To keep the plant healthy and productive, give it a shot of nitrogen-heavy fertilizer three times during the growing season.

First, the plant will have vivid yellow flowers. Then, fruit will appear and should be harvested when it is young for the best taste.  But let’s be serious; I’m all about the sponge.

Pro tip: About six weeks before frost, prune any flowers or small fruits. This allows the plant’s energy to be focused on existing loofahs.

This means I will leave the fruit hanging on the plant and wait for it to dry out and turn light brown.  When harvesting, it is best to leave about two inches of vine on the sponge as it dries.

When the plant’s skin is hard, and you hear seeds rattling inside, the plant is completely dried inside and out.

Soak the luffas in warm water for 20 minutes to make the sponges. After this the skin should be easy to remove.  Shake the seeds out and save them for friends and next year’s planting.

After removing the skin and seeds, soak the sponge in a 10% bleach solution for about an hour. This will kill any bacteria.  If bleach is not your thing, rinse well and zap the sponge in the microwave for 3 minutes – it should be steaming when carefully removed from the microwave.

Let the new clean loofahs dry in a warm, well-ventilated area before storing.

Because of the loofah’s love of heat and the extended growing cycle, they are often grown in USDA Zones 7-10. But I know they grow in Beckley, and I’m hoping they grow at the little house on a big hill.