Sex in the Garden ~ Hand Pollinating Squash

Sex in the Garden pic

Sex in the garden? Why, yes! Okay, now that I have your attention, we’re going to look at hand pollinating squash. How do you know you need to? How do you do it? My female squash flowers have obviously not been getting pollinated at all or have been insufficiently pollinated. So yesterday morning, I began to take things into my own hands…literally.

INSUFFICIENT POLLINATION IN SQUASH

It’s obvious that your squash isn’t getting pollinated when you have no fruit growing. The ovary (which looks like a baby squash under the flower) will just fall off the vine.

Yet, sometimes, you find the ovary starts to grow. You get excited that a squash is finally growing. Then, it begins to shrivel – like this.

Black futsu squash shriveling

Black futsu squash shriveling

In this case, the female flower got pollinated to a certain extent, but it was insufficient to sustain full growth of the fruit.

So, what’s a gardener to do? Well, don’t feel too badly because cucurbits are renowned for their pollination issues. Did you know it takes about 15 bees to pollinate one female flower sufficiently? Ants do a fine job, when you have them. Sometimes, it takes a little sexual intervention by the gardener. And that’s what I decided to do for the first time yesterday.

HOW TO HAND POLLINATE SQUASH

The best time to hand pollinate your squash is in the morning, especially after 9:00 a.m. I was in the garden around 7:00 a.m. before heading to work, and there were only a few flowers open; but, it being a work day, I had to work with what I had.

The gist of hand pollination is to take the pollen from the male flower and insert it into the female flower. (Sounds risque, doesn’t it?) The male flower sits on a plain stem, and the female flower sits on an ovary that looks like a baby squash.

Male zucchini flowers

Male zucchini flowers

Female butternut squash flower

Female butternut squash flower

Once the flowers open, you can easily help pollination along.

I actually picked the male flower from the plant and peeled back the petals to expose the anther in the center. I then held it like a popsicle stick.

Male squash flower with pollen-laden anther exposed

Male squash flower with pollen-laden anther exposed

I then inserted the anther into the stigma of the open female flower and rubbed it inside the center and over all the stigma parts.

Female squash flower with stigma exposed

Female squash flower with stigma exposed

I used one male flower per female flower, but I since learned that one male flower can pollinate a couple of female flowers.

It rained all day yesterday after I helped my squash with their sexual problems, so I’m not sure if that will negatively impact my success rate. I intend to hand pollinate every morning this weekend (and any other time I can get to the flowers in time). So, come back every Monday for my Sanctuary Gardener Update to find out if I was successful in making squash babies that grow into beautiful fruit.

Have you every hand pollinated your squash? How has it worked for you?

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2 comments on “Sex in the Garden ~ Hand Pollinating Squash

  1. This year, I am growing my squash under a row cover to keep off the vine borer. I have been hand pollinating for about a month now with great success. Hope you have the same!

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