If the fruits on your zucchini plants are dying, you might need to try hand pollinating zucchini flowers.
One of the most common problems that gardeners experience when growing zucchini is that their plants won’t produce fruits or the blossoms drop. Hand pollinating zucchini flowers is the answer to both of these issues.
Zucchini plants are often one of the most prolific plants in gardens. The stems and leaves spread out everywhere, but sometimes, the plants continue to grow without producing large amounts of fruits.
When you see blossoms dropping before setting fruit, it’s easy to become alarmed. While it’s not always a problem, that’s a loss of fruits that you could harvest for food. Everyone wants to harvest as many zucchinis as possible.
Let’s take a look at why and how to hand pollinate zucchini flowers.
Why Should You Hand Pollinate Squash Plants?
When squash plants, such as zucchinis or pumpkins, aren’t pollinated, the attached fruit fails to grow and develop, eventually falling off the plant. It stays small and starts to rot from the flower end.
We grow zucchini plants to enjoy the fruits! You don’t want to lose fruits, so hand pollinating zucchini flowers is one way that you can ensure the largest harvest comes from your plants.
All squash plants can be hand pollinated, such as butternut, pumpkins, acorn, Hubbard, zucchini, and more. All of these plants produce female and male flowers that require pollination.
Unfortunately, not all places have a healthy bee or pollinator population. So, if you feel like you aren’t seeing enough bees and other bugs buzzing around your plants, the best thing to do is start hand pollinating.
It can’t hurt your plants!
Why Do Zucchini Plants Drop Blossoms?
I don’t want you to think that dropping blossoms is ALWAYS a problem. Some times, it is normal, but other times, it’s not. Here are a few reasons why your zucchini plants drop their blossoms early.
1. They Bloom Too Early
Blooming patterns don’t always line up as they should. So, when a female flower blooms before the male flowers, it means there is no pollen available. That leads to the female flowers drying and falling off the plant.
2. The Weather Is Wrong
Weather plays a key component in pollination. It needs to be warm enough and dry enough for the bees to move around to pollinate the flowers.
3. Poor Soil Conditions
If the soil lacks nutrients, it could cause the lant to drop blossoms. Also, too little or too much water can lead to it as well, which also goes back to the weather. If it rains too much, not only will bees not come around, but it will cause the soil to be too soggy.
4. Lack of Bees and Other Pollinators
Finally, if you used pesticides in or around your garden, you might have accidentally killed the bees in your garden. The same goes if your neighbors use chemicals that might be deadly to bees and other pollinators.
Don’t panic! There are ways to encourage bees to come to your garden.
Male and Female Zucchini Flowers
As your zucchini plant grows, you’ll notice lovely orange and yellow flowers. These flowers are essential to produce the fruits you desire. For years, I had NO idea that each flower has a specific gender! Zucchini flowers are either male or female.
You might think this information is useless, but you’d be wrong. Pollination is ESSENTIAL for the formation of zucchini fruits. This story is the tame version of the birds and the bees.
Bees and other insects take the pollen from the male stamen and move it to the female stigma, pollinating the plant. Pollen sticks to the bees legs and, as he lands on the female flower, the pollen arrives. After pollination, the fruit starts to grow.
Aside from pollination purposes, the male serves little purpose. You can flour them up and deep fry for a delicious snack!
The Difference Between Male and Female Zucchini Flowers
Zucchini plants have both females and male flowers, and while, at first glance, the flowers look the same, they are different.
The male flower has a single, long stamen in the middle of their blossom. It is covered with pollen. If you sneak up, you might find bees there. I found a bunch this morning on my zucchini plant!
The female flower is a bit different. Inside, she has multiple stigmas. The base of the blossom is wide, called the ovary. This area produces the zucchini after pollination.
The base of the male flower blossom is a long, slender stem. The long stem allows them to stand out on the plant more, attracting the bees faster.
Female zucchini flowers tend to stay closer to the base of the stem. Remember, they are going to produce the fruits soon. If they were high up in the area, the weight of the zucchini would cause the stem to break.
How Do You Hand Pollinate Zucchini Flowers?
If you notice poor fruit set on your zucchini plants, it’s time to start pollinating by hand. The goal is to transfer plane from the male flower’s anther onto the female flower’s stigma.
It’s really easy!
A few different methods exist. Some people remove the entire male flower, others use a Q-tip, and some use tiny paint brushes. You don’t need to buy anything fancy to start hand pollinating!
Let’s get started.
1. When to Hand Pollinate Squash Flowers
The best time to try hand pollinating squash and zucchini flowers is in the early morning. During that time, most pollen is available, and blossoms tend to close up by the evening. That’s why checking daily is so important if you want to hand pollinate all of them.
Let’s be honest; who has the time to check each multiple times per day? Morning might not work for you!
If you miss the initial bloom, you can carefully peel open the blooms that have already opened and closed to access their insides to pollinate.
This goes for both male and female flowers, which is a key reason not to remove male flowers!
2. Identify The Male Flower
You need first to find a wide-open male flower. Remember that male flowers are the ones with short stems and no fruit shape at the base.
3. Identify The Female Flowers
Female flowers open for one day, so it is important for you to check daily! Once you find an open female flower, the fun needs to begin.
4. Use a Cotton Swab
Your first choice is to take a q-tip, cotton swab, or small paintbrush and rub it along the stamen. Doing so will collect the pollen. Then, go over to the female blossom and gently rub the swab inside of the stigmas at the inside base of the flower.
5. Remove the Male Flower
Another choice is to cut one of the male flowers from your plant. Then, rub the male flower stamen inside of the female flower.
6. Repeat The Process
You need to do this for each open blossom that you find.
Why Do I Only Have Male Flowers?
I often am asked why they only have male flowers or even only female flowers. You need to have both for success.
This happens sometimes in the early season because some squash plants do produce one or the other more heavily. Typically, they’ll even out as the plants continue to grow.
The best way to ensure you have a mix of male and female flowers is to grow several squash plants. You might not know this but…
You can use the pollen from one squash plant to pollinate the female flower on another plant even if they’re different varieties!
That means any summer squash male flower can be used to pollinate a female bloom within the summer squash family.
I like to grow yellow and green zucchini plants. So, I can take a yellow squash male to pollinate a green zucchini flower.
This works because bees naturally cross-pollinate in your garden. They don’t identify that this is a green zucchini so I can only pollinate from another green zucchini. Unless you grow everything in a very controlled environment
Yes, It’s That Simple
Playing the birds and bees for your zucchini and squash plants is just that simple. Hand pollinating is often the key to having a large squash harvest if your pollinator population is low.
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