Instead of waiting for the bees and other pollinators to find your squash plants, you can pollinate squash by hand to speed things up.
Hand pollinating squash not only results in an earlier harvest, but also more squash can develop on each plant giving you a larger harvest.
Did you know that all squash produce both male and female blossoms?
Only the female squash flowers grow fruit, and only if the flower is fertilized by a male blossom.
Natural pollination occurs when bees and other pollinators visit the male flower, and then the female. As it does so, the bee transfers pollen from the male flower to the female. After pollination, fertilization occurs, and the fruit begins to develop.
Fertilization is necessary for squash fruit formation. If fertilization does not occur, the female blossom will wither and die. If fertilization is successful, the squash will begin to develop.
The birds and the bees in our neighborhood are dysfunctional. They have a grand old time with our trumpet vine, but completely ignore our squash. Poor, neglected squash.
This kind of behavior is not good for its delicate self-esteem. Last summer our squash grew like crazy, flowered like crazy, but bore no fruit.
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What was the Problem with Our Squash?
The problem was, the squash wasn’t getting any action, which sometimes happens when there is a lack of bees in the area. Another reason for low pollination may be due to the weather. Cold, rainy, and cloudy weather slows down the pollinators visiting your garden.
These squash flowers need pollination in order to grow fruit. This year I was not willing to put up with plants that aren’t fulfilling their reproductive duties. Seems kind of degrading when you think of it that way, eh?
You know how they say: if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself?
Well, call me Empress Honeybee because I’m the new queen of this pollination. So, come along with me, and I’ll show you how to pollinate squash by hand.
How to Hand Pollinate Squash
Male squash flowers appear first to attract pollinators to the plants. About a week later, female blossoms should begin to bloom.
Step 1: Identify the Female and Male Flowers
The Female Squash Flower: The center of a female blossom has a stigma. On the stem right behind the female flower bulb is a miniature version of the squash that is to be.
The Male Squash Flower: At the center of a male squash flower is stamen. The male flower also lacks the miniature baby fruit behind the bulb.
Step 2: Apply Pollen from the Male Flower to the Female Flower
There are several ways to accomplish this act. If you’re more on the modest side, you can grab a Q-tip, rub it on the stamen from the male flower, coat it with pollen, and then rub the pollen onto the stigma of the female flower.
If you’re more like me, and aren’t embarrassed by a bit of graphic plant procreation, you can do it my way. Carefully snap off the male flower from the stem. Fold back the flower petals so the stamen is easily accessible. Bring the male flower over to the female flower and gently rub the stamen on the stigma, transferring the pollen.
If you have several female flowers to pollinate, go ahead and use that same male flower for all of them. If you see that more female flowers will be opening soon and you only have one male flower, you can put it in a zipper bag in the fridge for a few days and it will still do its job.
And just as quickly as it started, it’s all over. Your female is properly fertilized and you can let nature take its course. By tomorrow the flower will be closed up, and the magic inside will start to happen.
Step 3: Watch Your Squash Grow
After a few days the flower will die and fall off, leaving only the small swelling squash on the stem. This baby squash should grow if pollinated properly.
Hand pollinating also works with cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, summer squash, winter squash, and other gourds.
You have now survived your first reproductive experience with a plant. You can go back to your normal life and never tell anyone what happened in your backyard. Want to learn more about gardening? Check out some of my favorite books on the subject!