How To Hand Pollinate Squash & Zucchini

Sharing is caring!

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 plants aren’t producing as they should, many times lack of squash can be caused by bees not visiting your backyard garden regularly. Especially if it is early in the gardening season, the bee population may not have arrived yet.

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. This method also works for cucumber plants and other members of the squash family.

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 much 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.

Hand pollination of squash can be an effective way to increase fruit production in the absence of bees and other insect pollinators.

hand pollinate squash
Hand pollinating squash and zucchini can help increase your yields.

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 squash 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.

Affiliate Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this article may be affiliate links and I may receive a small commission if you purchase something through a link. It will not change your cost. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, see my disclosures page.)

How Do I Tell if a Squash Flower is Male or Female?

The first step is to determine the types of flowers on your squash plants. Male flowers are generally more prolific than female flowers. They open on a long, straight stem.

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 squash 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 bee collecting pollen from a male squash blossom
This bee is collecting pollen from a male squash blossom.

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 blossoms.

Why is My Squash Dying on the Vine?

Another reason you may not be harvesting summer squash and zucchini or you see a tiny fruit at the base of the flower but it shrivels and quickly dies is improper pollination.

If you aren’t seeing much bumblebee activity in your vegetable garden, you might need to hand pollinate your squash for a bit due to the lack of pollinators.

Read: How to attract pollinators to your garden

opt in box for best vegetables for beginners to get the guide free

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 yellow 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 small paintbrush. You can also use a cotton swab or just remove the petals from an open male flower.

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 a couple of 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 in the short video below.

This video will show you how to hand pollinate squash and zucchini.

If you don’t get pollen on the entire female stigma, you will have misshapen fruit that may turn yellow in the middle and even rot.

One thing that also seems to help ensure successful pollination 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. Once plenty of bees and other natural pollinators show up, you can turn the job of pollination over to them.

As the summer wears on and we are plagued with squash vine borers, I plant my squash under a row cover and hand pollinate it myself. This is the only way I’ve been able to have squash and zucchini all summer long.

For Further Reading

Meet Julie

I’m a farm girl born and bred in North Carolina. I’ve been growing a vegetable garden for over 20 years (and helping my Mom grow hers even longer). I’ve been raising chickens in my bathtub and backyard for 12+ years. I believe that homegrown food can be made simple. Let’s get started.

hand pollinating squash to increase yields
Hand pollinating squash will help increase the number of squash and zucchini you harvest.

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *