Plant American Bittersweet and Gourds for a Fall Reward
Gail Maifeld, Master Gardener
If you want to have beautiful American Bittersweet or quirky gourds this fall, find a place for them in your garden this spring. Read this article to learn more about why you want these plants to be part of your garden and how to grow them successfully.
American Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is a stunning addition to a garden and a beautiful fall extension of the season. American Bittersweet should not be confused with Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus scandens). The Oriental bittersweet is the invasive variety with the ability to girdle and overpower natural vegetation. Double check the identification tag when purchasing, making sure that the plant is American Bittersweet.
American Bittersweet vines up and over an arbor with tiny white flowers in the spring, dark green foliage in the summer and bright red/orange berries the fall. A mature female plant will produce flowers that develop into berries. Located at the end of the woody stem, the berries make attractive arrangements indoors and food for birds outdoors. A new variety, Summer Rhapsody, has been developed by the University of Minnesota. This new variety does not need both female and male plants for berries to form.
Bittersweet requires full sun, regular garden soil, and a 6 -10 foot arbor or trellis to climb and grow. American bittersweet is losing its natural habitat of woodlands, fence rows, and open prairies but can still be found in the Midwest. American bittersweet would be a rewarding addition to a native garden.
Fall is a ‘bittersweet’ time for gardeners. In one respect the gardener is reflective on a successful season but sad to see blooms fade. The addition of gourds to a fence row or on a 6 foot trellis will hide the fading foliage of other plants. Gourds are members of the pumpkin family and sometimes confused with pumpkins and squash. Gourds are one of the oldest cultivated plants. Egyptians used them for water bottles and as utensils, storage containers, and dippers by indigenous peoples of North America. They can be found at farmer’s markets designed as bird houses and other items. Numerous varieties of gourds are easy to grow in regular garden soil and can be planted around other crops. Gourd vines have tiny tendrils that reach for wire or another plant to twine around. They will also trail on the ground.
Gourds are interesting for color, shape, texture, and color. Preparation of gourds for carving is a year long process. After the frost has killed the vines, arrange the harvested gourds in a shed or dry garage. Let the gourds dry for 6 months to a year. Then, using a small sharp tool make an incision and clean out the inside. Seeds will rattle in dry gourds. Scrub the exterior to remove dirt and let the gourd dry before painting. Gourds are hard shelled so unlike the soft-shelled pumpkin they will last in an indoor arrangement.
American bittersweet and gourds will extend your gardens life. Gifting a gourd and bittersweet to friends is a particularly enjoyable activity at the end of the growing season.
Photo credits: Gail Maifeld (1, 2, 3, 4)