squash blossom on a squash plant

How to Pollinate Squash by Hand

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Hand pollination is the surest way of getting a good squash harvest in your backyard garden. Learn how to pollinate squash by hand easily. It’s so easy even beginning gardeners can do it!

How to Pollinate Squash by Hand

How to self-pollinate Squash

Imagine this: You have planted summer squash in your garden and everything is going great until the fruits start to rot and fall off. The bumper harvest you expected disappears right before your eyes. There is a simple explanation for this and the problem is easily fixable (for your next crop). It is called pollination- or lack thereof.

Bees and birds play a major role in pollinating our favorite plants. The absence of bees or birds in your squash garden is not a good thing, but it does not necessarily have to be disastrous. If you have a summer squash garden, follow this tutorial to hand-pollinate squash and be assured of a good harvest.

When to plant squash in Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, you can plant squash any time between April 15 or our average last frost date, and around the middle to end of July. After that, there won’t be enough warm season left for you to get a harvest. Squash grows pretty fast, but not that fast.

For more information about when to plant what, check out this month by month garden planting guide. We are in zone 7 here, but there are several zones in Oklahoma.

Hand pollinating squash

You want your squash plants to produce large edible fruits after blooming. If you live in a place with a considerable bird and bee population you do not need to worry about pollination. Bees, butterflies, and birds are good agents of pollination. They transfer pollen from the anther of the male flower to the female flower as they seek nectar.

If where you live has few birds or bees, you may need to help your squash plants pollinate. Sometimes even those living in places where insect pollinators are abundant find their squash fruits dying because of lack of pollination. It is a weird phenomenon.

Hand-pollinating squash is the surest way to guarantee that your squash plants will grow fruits and carry them to maturity.

How to identify male and female squash flowers

Before you hand-pollinate squash ensure you have a sufficient number of blooms on the plant. Squash plants grow robustly in rich, well-drained soils. Each plant has several male and female blooms. Look at the stems to identify the male and female blooms.

The male flower will have a straight, bare stalk. The female flower has a rounded (or squash-like) tiny immature fruit on the stem. If the flower remains unpollinated, the fruit will rot and drop off.

When you look inside the flower of the female blossom, you will see stigmas clustering around one place. The male flower has anthers that contain pollen. In theory, the pollen from the anthers of the male flower should stick to the pistil in the stigma of the female flower for pollination to occur.

When bees land on the squash’s flower to collect pollen and nectar from the stamens, some pollen sticks to the hair on their body. When they visit the next flower, the pollen is rubbed onto the stigma.

hand pollinating a squash blossom with a male flower

Steps to hand-pollinate squash

This is best done in the morning after the flowers open up. Hand-pollinating squash is easy.

  • Open the flower up. Separate the petals from the anthers (in male flowers) and stigmas (In female flowers)
  • Pick the male flower and brush the anther against the stigma lightly. A male flower can pollinate several female flowers. Or you can use a paintbrush or q tip to mix the pollen onto the female flower.

Pollinating squash by hand

All varieties in the summer squash can cross-pollinate easily. For instance, a Zucchini male can pollinate a crookneck squash without issues.

Tip: Do not dispose of these blooms after cutting them. Squash blooms are edible and can make great delicacies.

pile of fresh squash blossoms on a board

Sometimes it takes several trips by pollinators to get the flower effectively pollinated. You should also hand-pollinate several times. Regular pollination ensures that the plant will produce many quality fruits.

Hand-pollinating squash for seed saving

Because different summer squash varieties cross-pollinate, the only way you can be assured that the plants you have in your garden will produce seeds of the same variety is through hand pollination.

To do so, identify and isolate 2-3 female blooms to carry seeds. Cover the flower using a breathable fabric. The goal is to prevent insects from accessing the stigma of the flower. Insects carry pollen from different places and can easily cross-pollinate squash. You do not want this to happen when collecting seeds of a specific variety.

When the flower opens in the morning hand pollinate and cover the flower with the fabric again. You can remove the cover when the plant drops off as there will be no further risk of cross-pollination. Monitor these fruits well to keep track of where to gather your seeds when they mature.

How to attract pollinators to your garden

Pollinators keep your garden vibrant because they facilitate fruit production. Here’s a quick look into how you can attract pollinators to your garden to help crops not possible to hand-pollinate;

  • Provide food and water sources – e.g. for hummingbirds and bees
  • Provide shelter – Give pollinators nesting places (dead wood, leafy areas, debris, etc.)
  • Grow plants that attract pollinators to your garden

Some plants (such as sunflowers) are bee magnets. The yellow petals can be visible over long distances. Having sunflowers in your squash garden will attract bees and other pollinators. Other plants that attract pollinators include:

  • Daisy
  • Dandelion
  • Lavender
  • Milkweed
  • Marigold
  • Dahlias
  • Borage
  • Parsnips
  • Snapdragons
  • Butterfly bushes

For more on how to attract pollinators, check this out.

Tip: Once your squash matures, harvest when they are small and tender. A fruit like zucchini can easily grow to a foot long with enough exposure to sunshine and rain.

Hand-pollinating squash guarantees you will have a bumper harvest. Do not wait for pollinators to do their job, especially if not many are around. The process is simple; transfer some pollen from the male flower to the female flower. Once the flower falls after the fruit has started forming, you will have accomplished your mission and you can relax awaiting a good harvest.

Recipes for squash

For yummy ways to use the summer squash you grow, check these out:

For more tips on how to successfully grow squash, check this out. It’s a super easy vegetable to grow. So easy even kids can grow it. And it’s perfect for a survival garden too. If you have trouble with squash bugs, check this out for ideas.

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