Pollinating squash by hand is easy, will ensure higher yields, and doesn’t take much time. In this post, I will explain why your baby squash keep falling off, and discuss the processes of hand pollinating the flowers step-by-step.
One of the biggest struggles that newbies face when growing vegetables for the first time is having big healthy squash plants but no fruit.
Or worse, their baby squash keep shriveling and falling off, and they don’t know why. Nothing is more frustrating!
Well guess what, the solutions is simple! Sometimes your squash plants just need a little help in the pollination department in order to produce their best yield.
Hand pollination works for all types of squash too. So whether you have winter or summer varieties, including pumpkin, zucchini, butternut, acorn, spaghetti, gourds, you name it, it can be done.
Heck, it even works for melons and cucumbers, or really anything in the Cucurbit family!
Below I’m going to discuss the processes of pollinating squash blossoms, and then I’ll show you exactly how to do it step by step (don’t worry, it’s very easy).
Here’s what you’ll find in this detailed guide…
Why Do My Baby Squash Keep Falling Off?
A reader asked me the other day… “Why are my baby squash shriveling up and falling off?”. This is such a common problem, and one I get asked about all the time.
The answer is simple (and thankfully so is the solution!). When the babies shrivel up, turn yellow, start rotting, and eventually fall off, it’s because the flowers aren’t being pollinated.
So, if this is what keeps happening with yours, then it’s time to intervene with nature and try hand pollinating them yourself.
What Is Hand Pollination?
Hand pollination is the process of transferring pollen from one flower to another in order to ensure successful fertilization.
Squash plants have two types of flowers: male and female. Pollen from the male must cross-pollinate with the female in order for the fruits to develop.
Both sexes produce nectar to attract bees and other pollinators. That way they will transfer the pollen from flower to flower as they collect the nectar.
This is the ideal way. But if nature isn’t doing the job, you can easily help your plants out by transferring the pollen by hand.
Male vs Female Squash Flowers
It’s important to understand that only the females can bear fruit, and the males are required for pollination.
In order for you to successfully hand pollinate squash yourself, there must be at least one of each type of flower on the plant.
You also must ensure that you’re using a male to pollinate a female. Thankfully it’s simple to tell them apart.
The two distinguishing characteristics that make it easy to tell the difference are the stem and the center of the flower.
- Male flowers: The stem below the male is long and thin. In the center of the blossom you’ll see a long and narrow pollen-covered appendage sticking out (called the “anther”).
- Female flowers: The females have a tiny baby squash just below the blossom instead of a stem. Their center is wider, and is orange around the top (called the “stigma”). It almost looks like a mini flower itself.
Read all of the details about how to tell female vs male squash flowers here.
Do I Need To Hand Pollinate My Squash?
No you certainly do not need to hand pollinate your squash. Normally the bees and other helpful garden bugs will do it for us.
But, sometimes there aren’t enough of these beneficial bugs in a veggie garden to get the job done.
Transferring the pollen from the male to the female flower by hand helps to speed things up, ensures better success, an earlier harvest, and also will give you a larger yield.
Of course, if you don’t want to worry about this, then you can take steps to attract the bugs that will do the job for you. Learn how to attract more bees to your vegetable garden here.
How To Hand Pollinate Squash
It’s easy to hand pollinate squash flowers, and really doesn’t take that much time.
I like to do it a couple of times a week while I’m out working in my garden, but you can do it every day if you want.
All you have to do is take the pollen from the male anther, and put it onto the females stigma.
Sounds really technical doesn’t it? Well, don’t worry, it could not be easier, and it only takes a couple of seconds.
Here are the step by step instructions…
Step 1: Locate the female flowers – First you’ll want to find all of the female blossoms that are open. Make note of any that haven’t opened yet, and check on those again tomorrow.
Step 2: Find the male flowers – The male blossoms are very easy to find because they are usually the most abundant. Only use the ones that are open for the best success rate.
For me, the simplest, cleanest, and most reliable method of pollinating squash is to use the male flower.
To do this, simply pluck off any of the males, and remove the petals so they don’t get in the way. Then rub the pollen directly from the male anther onto the female stigma.
The goal is to transfer as much pollen as you can. So take a few seconds to thoroughly rub it around, touching all parts of the stigma.
Just make sure to be very gentle with the female in the process. Never pinch, twist, or damage it in any way, or it could fall off the plant.
When To Hand Pollinate Squash
You can hand pollinate squash any time during the day, but the best time is in the morning after the dew has dried.
That is when the flowers are fully open, so the job will be easier for you. They close up in the evening, so don’t wait to until too late in the day.
If the females aren’t open yet, then check on them later that day, sometimes they are slow. If they’re still not open by the evening, then check on them daily until they are.
Don’t force it by trying to prop them open. You don’t want to damage them, and doing it too early might result in failure. They will open when they’re ready.
If you missed it, and the blossoms are already closed, you can still get the job done. Just remove the petals from the male, and carefully pry open the female to transfer the pollen.
Related Post: When & How To Harvest Squash
FAQs About Pollinating Squash
Now that you know exactly how to hand pollinate your squash plants, let me address a few other questions that often come up. Read through this list and see if yours has already been answered.
Does squash need to be pollinated?
Yes, squash needs to be pollinated in order for the plants to produce fruit.
How do I know if my squash is pollinated?
You’ll know that your squash is pollinated when the fruit grows larger and starts to develop into its full size.
If it was successful, the blossom on the female will wilt and fall off, leaving the baby fruit on the stem to grow to maturity.
Otherwise if it did not work, within a few days the baby will start to turn yellow, then brown, and it will eventually fall off. Don’t worry if it didn’t work, just try again!
How long after flowering do squash appear?
Tiny baby squashes will appear as soon as the female flowers develop on the plant. They will start to mature and get larger within a day or two of successful pollination.
How do I get more female flowers on squash?
In order to get more female flowers on your squash plant, consistent watering is key. Never allow the soil to dry completely or remain too wet.
Another option is to grow more than one plant. That way there will be a better chance of having both male and females blooming at the same time.
Do you need two squash plants to pollinate?
No, you do not need two squash plants in order to successfully pollinate them. One plant is all you need.
However, the more you have, the better your chances are for getting plenty of male and female flowers, which will also increase your yields.
Do ants pollinate squash?
Yes, it’s certainly possible that ants could pollinate squash. However, they are definitely not very reliable pollinators. Learn all about garden ants here.
Hand pollinating squash is easy, doesn’t take much time, and will maximize your yield. So, if you see lots of the baby fruits shriveling, rotting, and falling off, then it’s time to take matters into your own hands – literally.
More About Growing Vegetables
- Tomatoes Not Turning Red? Try These 5 Tricks
- How To Fertilize A Vegetable Garden
- How To Water A Vegetable Garden, The Right Way!
Share your tips for hand pollinating squash in the comments section below.