The Cucurbit cousins – squash, cucumbers, melons, gourds, and pumpkins – have a reputation for poor pollination. You may find that your plants are covered with flowers, yet you get few fruits. Why? There are a number of factors that can contribute to pollination problems, but first, it helps to understand a little bit more about the Curcubit’s.
Members of this family have separate male and female flowers and in order to yield fruits, cross pollination needs to take place. This is when the pollen from a male flower is transferred to a female flower. It’s easy to tell the two types of flowers apart; male flowers have a straight stem beneath the bloom, while the female flowers have an immature fruit under the bloom. Only the female flowers will develop into a fruit. If no pollination takes place, that immature fruit will rot and fall off.
Savvy gardeners may also notice that when Curcubit’s initially begin to bloom, the plants produce only male flowers. Don’t worry! This only lasts for a week or two, with plenty of female flowers soon following.
What causes poor squash pollination?
- Too few bees and pollinators to move the pollen from the male to the female flowers.
- A stretch of very cool or very hot weather when the flowers are in bloom.
- Wet weather, or badly timed watering will affect pollen quantity and quality. If you must water, avoid early morning when the blooms first open. As well, irrigate only the soil, not the plant.
What’s a gardener to do?
As your Curcubit crops come into bloom, there’s no need to cross your fingers and hope for the best! Instead, give Mother Nature a helping hand by hand pollinating. Hand pollinating is quick and easy, and can seriously increase your yield.
Before you begin, grab a q-tip or a small bristle paintbrush, or pluck a just-opened male flower from the plant. If using a q-tip or paintbrush, press it gently to the anther of a fresh male flower and transfer the pollen to the stigma of a female flower. If you want to pollinate using a male flower, pick a good looking specimen from the plant and remove the petals to expose the anther. Then, simply press it against the stigma of the female flowers.
In my garden, hand pollinating cucumbers, zucchini, and squash results in more fruits per plant and an earlier harvest. Yet, for certain crops, like edible snake, bottle, and luffa gourds, it’s essential to hand pollinate. Many gourd flowers open at night, a time when there are fewer pollinators. Hand pollinating newly opened female flowers results in an excellent harvest.
Do you hand pollinate your crops?