PHOTO: Jessica Walliser
June 8, 2017

If you’ve been disappointed in the yields or quality of the squash, cucumbers, melons and pumpkins you’ve grown in the past, poor pollination might be to blame. The decline of many pollinators has led to a shortage of quality pollination in many gardens. To overcome this issue, many gardeners use hand pollination of squash and other related vining crops.

Thankfully, hand pollinating members of the melon family is fairly simple. It takes just a few minutes of your time every morning to ensure these crops produce heavy yields of high-quality fruit. Hand pollination of these vegetables also helps prevent deformed fruit with a shortened, stubby blossom end (another sign of poor pollination). Here’s how to hand pollinate squash and other cucurbits.

Step 1: Identify Male And Female Flowers

Unlike many other garden crops, members of this plant family have separate male and female flowers on each vine. In order for fruit to be formed, pollen must be transferred from the male flowers to the female flowers. Because each flower is open for only a single day, that pollination has to take place in short order.

Hand-pollination of squash and other members of this family begins with determining which flowers are male and which are female. Thankfully, this is an easy task.

  • Male flowers have a straight flower stalk. The flowers produced for the first several days of the plant’s bloom time are always male. This ensures that there’s ample pollen around when the female blooms open.
  • Female flowers have a bulbous flower stalk that looks like a little miniature fruit. These are the ovaries of the plant, and in order for them to develop into a full-size fruit, they need to receive pollen.

Once you’ve learned to distinguish the female flowers from the male, it’s time to get to work with the hand pollination.

Step 2: Remove A Male Flower

The next order of business when it comes to learning hand pollination of squash and other members of the cucumber family is to pick off a male flower. Use a sharp pair of scissors to cut off a newly opened male flower, including its flower stalk. Do this first thing in the morning, soon after the flowers open.

Once the male flower has been removed from the plant, take a careful look at it, and you’ll notice an elongated, pollen covered anther at the center of the flower. Peel away the large, trumpet-shaped petal surrounding the anther until all you have is the anther attached to the flower stalk. The stalk will serve as a handle while the anther becomes the “paint brush.”

Step 3: Locate Female Flowers And Apply Pollen

Once you have your male “paint brush” in hand, seek out the female flowers with the bulbous base. Gently rub the male anther against the center stigma of the female flower. This is the point on the flower that’s receptive to the pollen. Brush the anther against the stigma three or four times then move on to another flower. Each male “paint brush” can fertilize three to four female flowers. You can hand pollinate female blossoms on the same plant from which you harvested the male flower, or you can use it to fertilize female flowers on other plants.

In order for this hand pollination technique to work, stick with plants in the same species. In other words, male cucumber flowers pollinate only female cucumber flowers, male watermelon flowers pollinate only female watermelon flowers, and so on.

Step 4: Hand Pollinate Every Morning

For the best results, take a few minutes every morning to hand-pollinate squash and other plants. This yields a continuous harvest of fully formed fruits for many weeks. If you miss a few days of hand pollination, it’s not a big deal, but the more consistent you are, the better results you’ll have.

Once the flowers have been hand pollinated, there’s nothing else to do except sit back, relax, and wait for the fruit to grow.


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