Preview: This tutorial will explain why you might want to hand pollinate your squash and how to do it properly.
If you aren’t harvesting lots of squash from your plants, you may wonder what is wrong. Squash and zucchini produce prolifically so you rarely need more than a couple of plants for a small family.
And while there can be several reasons your squash aren’t producing like they should, many times lack of squash can be caused by bees not visiting the plants regularly. Learn how easy it is to hand pollinate squash in this tutorial. A video is included for those who prefer to actually see the process. For the purpose of this post, we will use the terms squash and zucchini interchangeably.
Why would you want to hand pollinate squash?
There are several reasons you might want to hand pollinate your squash and zucchini. First, if you aren’t getting many fruit from your plants, you may want to hand pollinate to increase the yields from your squash or zucchini plants.
Secondly, if you decide to keep your squash under row covers to prevent squash bugs and squash vine borers, you will definitely need to hand pollinate or you will not have any squash at all.
How do you know you need to hand pollinate squash?
One way to know that you may need to hand pollinate squash is if you see lots of squash flowers but aren’t actually getting any squash to mature. You do want to make sure that you have both male and female blossoms at the same time. (See below for how to tell the difference.) If you only have male blooms, you won’t get squash until you have female blooms and male blooms on the same day.
Another way to know you need to hand pollinate your squash is if you find small fruit that seems to be rotting on the vine. You may notice the blossom end turning brown or the fruit starts to shrivel up. This is usually caused by the fruit not being pollinated properly.
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How do I tell if a squash flower is male or female?
Male flowers are generally more prolific than female flowers. Male flowers are also usually the first flowers to open. Sometimes you may have lots of male flowers up to a week before the female flowers start appearing.
Male squash flowers have a stamen in the middle and contain lots of powdery yellow pollen. If you notice a bee inside a male blossom, he will likely be covered in lots of yellow fuzz. I’ve seen bumblebees so yellow from pollen that you could barely tell they were a bumblebee.
A female flower has a stigma that usually has multiple parts. There is also a baby squash or zucchini behind the female blossom.
Why is my squash blooming but not producing squash?
Sometimes you may only have male blooms at first. Since the male flowers tend to open sooner, this may be the reason you see lots of blooms but you aren’t actually getting squash or zucchini yet.
The temperature may be another reason you see mostly male blooms. If it is too hot or too cold, the plant may not produce female flowers.
Why is my squash dying on the vine?
The other reason you may not see squash or zucchini or you see small ones but they die quickly is improper pollination. If you aren’t seeing much bumblebee activity in your garden, you might need to hand pollinate your squash.
If you are sure that your zucchini and squash blooms were sufficiently pollinated, another reason you may see squash dying on the vine is due to squash vine borers. To learn more about how to deal with these pests read how to deal with squash bugs and borers.
When to hand pollinate squash
The best time to hand pollinate squash is early in the morning. Squash blossoms tend to close by mid-day especially if it is hot outside. Each squash bloom is only open for one day. So to pollinate your squash and zucchini, you must have both a male and a female flower open on the same day.
How to Actually Hand Pollinate Squash
Hand pollinating squash and zucchini is actually pretty simple. The only tool you really need is a child’s paintbrush.
Take your paintbrush and gently collect some pollen from the male flower. Then, dab or wipe the paintbrush onto a female flower. I usually do this several times. Be sure you get pollen on each part of the stigma to ensure the whole flower gets pollinated. You can watch me do this process in my own garden below.
If you don’t get pollen on the entire stigma, you will have misshapen fruit that may turn yellow in the middle and even rot.
One thing that also seems to help is to use more than one male blossom to pollinate your plants. If I have more than one male flower open, I will repeat the process a second time with the second bloom. And the pollen doesn’t have to be from the same variety of squash or zucchini. I have had success pollinating a zucchini with a squash blossom and vice versa.
Think about how pollination works in nature. A bee doesn’t just collect pollen from one plant. Each bee darts here and there collecting pollen from many, many flowers before returning to the hive.
Note: Some people will cut the male blossom off and just dab it onto the female blossom. I have found it more effective to use a paintbrush. It is much easier to control where the pollen goes. Plus, I think it works better to use the pollen from more than one flower if you have them.
So as you can see, it is quite easy to hand pollinate your zucchini and squash. As the summer wears on and we are plagued with squash vine borers, I plant my squash under row covers and hand pollinate it myself. This allows me to have squash and zucchini all summer long.