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Squash – Cucumbers – other Cucurbits – Hand Pollinating and Why

Erin, a reader of TMG left a question on the Squash Bug post yesterday. He asked, “Regarding floating row covers, I’m wondering what you mean by “hand pollinating” beneath the covers? Just wondering how to do this! ”

This post will answer Erin’s question about hand pollinating squash and can be applied to any member of the Cucurbit family: squash, zucchini, pumpkins, cukes, gourds, and melons.

Cucurbits are not self pollinating.  In addition, their pollen is sticky and will not transfer in a breeze. They have to have pollinators (like bees) to pollinate.  And pollination is required to get fruit.

Therefore, if you’re using floating row covers as a protection from the squash vine borer or squash bug, as some point you’ll have to lift the covers briefly and hand pollinate the squash yourself in order to get fruit.

If you’re new to gardening — or if you’ve never paid any attention — your squash plants (and the rest of the cucurbit family) have male and female flowers.

It’s pretty easy to tell one from the other.

Blossoms – Male or Female?

The male flowers are held on a thin stem. Inside the male flower is a stem-like “anther” that holds the pollen.

The female flowers have a small fruit under the flower.  In order for that fruit to grow the blossom needs to be pollinated by pollen from one of the male flowers.

Which came first? The Male of course.

While your plants are small they may only produce male flowers.  As they grow — they’ll start producing female flowers.  It’s normal for the plants to have more male flowers overall than females at anytime.

When to Start and How to do It

When you finally start getting female blossoms — you can start pollinating.  Here’s how:

  • Plan to hand pollinate early in the morning or at least before 10AM to make sure that the pollen is viable.
  • Use male flowers that have just opened as opposed to one that was open yesterday.

And yes — you’ll have to keep watch on the blossoms to know this.

  • You can remove the petals from the male blossom and use the stick-like anther with the pollen to dab the center of a newly opened female blossom.

How to Tell if You’ve Been Successful

If your hand pollination was successful the fruit underneath the female blossom will begin to grow and push off the blossom.

Other Reasons for Hand Pollinating

Have you ever had only small misformed cucumbers and couldn’t get any straight, large and beautiful ones? 

I have.  And Danita (a reader of TMG) has.  I didn’t know it at the time Danita had trouble with her cucumbers, but this can be a pollination issue.  It can be a lack of pollinators or it could be the bees are just not pollinating the plants because they prefer other blossoms that offer them more appealing nectar and pollen.

I’ve just recently had this problem again in the garden this year with some bush cukes.  They were not being pollinated so I didn’t get but a couple of  cukes. I didn’t bother with hand pollinating, because my Diva cukes are so beautiful and so delicious that I just pulled up the Bush cukes.  Evidently the bees like the Divas too.

Ever had baby squash rot on the plant and end up not getting as many yellow squash or zucchini as you wanted because of it?

Year before last I had dozens of baby squash rot on the plant. Squash production was low. I may have been able to correct it with hand pollinating had I known.

Final Thoughts to Keep in Mind

Every attempt may not be successful.  Even in the best of natural conditions — not all fruits mature.

  • Be consistent and keep trying.
  • Make sure your blossoms have just newly opened.
  • Make your attempts as early in the morning as possible.
  • Also, you might try pollinating one female blossom with the pollen from 2 or 3 male blossoms.

Keep at it and you’ll be successful.

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Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient —- and it’ a lot heathier

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All content including photos are copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.  All rights reserved.

2 comments to Squash – Cucumbers – other Cucurbits – Hand Pollinating and Why

  • GardenDmpls

    One way to solve the pollination problem with cucumbers is to plant parthenocarpic varieties, like Diva. These do not need pollination to develop their fruit, which is seedless (although they can be pollinated and produce fruit with seeds). They are used a lot in greenhouse production. Some varieties are Puccini, Sweet Success, Diva, Tasty Jade, Euro-American, County Fair 83, Cool Breeze, Rocky, Socrates, Tyria, Camilla, Diamont and Suyo Long.

    For squash, all I could find listed as parthenocarpic were Perfect Pick, Parthenon, Venus and Cavili(light colored), all zuchinni. They are on my list for next year. I hope we will see more parthenocarpic squash in the future. Take that, vine borers. Mwahahahahaha ;-}

  • Theresa

    Hi Garden Dmpls,

    When I first discovered Diva online, I had read that it was seedless and parthenocarpic. I had also read a lot of varying reports — that indicated that it could still have pollination problems and that it is not seedless.

    I grew it this year for the first time.

    The Divas in my garden have been pollinated —I think — because I’ve seen pollinators on them —- and they are definitely not seedless. But I like the idea that I have a better chance of getting cukes from Diva if they are not pollinated —- even if that piece of information is not always 100% true.

    You had mentioned liking Diva sometime ago before I grew it. That was encouraging to know that it did so well for you and that you liked it.

    Here you have mentioned numerous other varieties. Would you please tell us which you’ve tried and which ones you liked the best?

    And yes, that bit of information on self pollinating squash is down right exciting.

    Thank you for reading and thank you for sharing such useful information so that others may benefit.
    Theresa

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