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Have you ever wondered why your squash plant is full of flowers but no fruits? The problem isn't pests or diseases — it's the birds and the bees or lack thereof. Learn how they play an important role in pollination and how you can hand-pollinate your squash plants a trick that also multiplies your yield with very little effort. Or why some flowers turn into cucumbers, while others fall off the vine? Or why a corn on the cob will have missing kernels on its end? These vegetables are known as self-pollinating plants; that is, they reproduce via the transfer of pollen from the anther male part to the stigma female part of the same flower, or another flower on the same plant.
Self-pollinating plants do not have to receive pollen from other plants in order to produce fruit and set seed. Tomatoes can be pollinated simply by growing outside in the breeze, or—for greenhouse-grown plants—sitting near a fan or having the vines lightly rattled to help some of the pollen drop from the anther to the stigma. Other plants, like corn, have separate male and female parts on the same plant that have to be pollinated by wind. Each corn stalk has male tassels and female silks, which are fertilized when the wind shakes some of the pollen off the tassels and onto the silks.
When this happens, babies happen—in the form of every fertilized silk turning into a corn kernel. Another type of self-pollinating plant is summer squash and winter squash and all other members of the Cucurbitaceae familywhich have separate male and female flowers on each plant. In other words, the male and female parts have to make physical contact in order to reproduce. Successful fertilization also depends on temperature, sunlight, hormones, and plant maturity. See, your plant has to be in the right mood for it, too.
Daily temperatures that are too high can affect the quality of the pollen even turning it sterile. Heavy rain or overhead watering can also reduce the amount of pollen available so opt for drip irrigation lines or soaker hoses to water your plants more efficiently. You see, a squash plant has both male and female blossoms on its vines in plant lingo, this is called a monoecious plant that show up at different times. In heirloom varieties of squash, the males usually appear first, growing in abundance on the end of long, thin stems.
Females usually appear first in hybrid varieties of squash, but sometimes this is all dependent on the weather. Long days and warm nights tend to favor male flowers, while shorter days and cooler nights favor female flowers. So you often see male flowers in the beginning of the season, a balanced mix in mid-summer, and gradually more female flowers as the season comes to an end. Male flowers tend to be rather large and showy, flaunting their stuff before the females arrive. As in other parts of life— ahem —the males vastly out the females.
If squash could take out personalsthere would be lots of them from single males looking for females! Female flowers usually appear a week or two after the males, growing low to the ground and close to the vine. They form with what look like miniature squash between the flower and the vine. This is the ovary, as the female always bears the baby. The ovary is essentially an immature squash awaiting pollination fertilization by the male flower.
Without it, that baby will never grow beyond the size you see. If the ovary is not pollinated when the female flower opens in the morning, the flower will close that evening, start to wither, and eventually fall off the vine in a few days. That means no squash will come, even if looked promising at first. If a bee or other pollinator does come around that morning, you have to hope that it does a good job of spreading the pollen around so you get some squash.
Bees land inside open male flowers to collect nectar and with all their activity, they also happen to gather pollen on their bodies. As they buzz around the plant, keeping busy and doing what bees do, they may land inside an open female flower and unintentionally transfer pollen to it. That means it sometimes takes many bees to pollinate your female flowers and turn them into squash, which is all the more reason to try to attract as many bees as possible to your garden with other beneficial, nectar-rich plants.
When bee activity is low, some gardeners will take the extra step of hand pollinating their flowers to help them along. The flower shrivels and falls off. Within a few days, the fruit itself starts to shrivel and turn brown at the blossom end.
Even if you have a healthy bee population in your garden, you might try hand-pollinating a few blossoms just to increase your overall yield. On a male flowerthe stamen is the reproductive structure in the center, consisting of an anther the pollen producer supported by a thin filament.
The anther is what you see covered in yellow pollen grains — think of it as the flower penis! On a female flowerthe pistil is the ovule producing structure, consisting of an ovary immature fruit that supports a long style, topped by a stigma a sticky orange structure in the center. This stickiness is what helps the pollen adhere to it. Remember that male flowers grow on tall, skinny stems, and female flowers grow close to the vine with an immature fruit at the base.
The ideal time to pollinate squash is in the morning as soon as your squash blossoms open and temperatures are mild.
They tend to close up by early evening, so you might spend several days pollinating by hand if you want to get to them all. Peel back or strip off the flower petals to reveal the anther. Using a soft, small paintbrush, lightly brush the anther of a male flower until the bristles are covered in pollen.
Brush the stigma of a female flower a few times as if you were painting it and repeat until all the female flowers are pollinated. And within a few weeks, you can harvest that squash! If pollination did not take, cut off the rotting fruit. It will never develop into anything, and leaving it on the vine is an energy drain on the plant not to mention a landing pad for pests. As for the male flowers? The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors.
After all, the secret to a good life is ». Brilliant, as always, and always something to learn from you. This will also help me respect all those male flowers more. So glad you posted this! This is my first year of growing squashes and my plants are full of flowers. Did you know squash have male and female flowers?
Male or female or both? Sex ed! Fascinating stuff. This is a great post! I loved this in-depth coverage of the process… thank you! As in other parts of life, the male flowers vastly out the female flowers! Is it weird that I find this crazy interesting? Not weird at all, I geek out on this kind of stuff all the time! The process of pollination fascinates me.
In my garden, the bees are most attracted to flowering herbs. They also love flowering rosemary, parsley, cilantro, dill, and thyme.
This year I had sunflowers growing near my squash to up the bee activity. Flowering herbs basil, parsley, cilantro, dill also attract them. Wonderful and in depth post. I love the photos. I would also like to add, that you have a better chance of proper pollination if you have multiple plants. This way a bee can jump from flowers on one plant to another and increase chances of fruit … same plants of course.
Ever wondered what happens between all those flowers on your squash plant? Great discussion. I wonder if the female flower only opens for that one day. Interesting to ponder. As far as I know, the female flowers only open once. Such a game of chance and luck, huh? Once I learned this, it made me truly treasure the squash I DO get! Save my name,and website in this browser for the next time I comment. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
Written by Linda Ly. The answer to all this is pollination—or lack thereof. What does it mean to be self-pollinating? Related: Grow Tomatoes Like a Boss With These 10 Easy Tips Other plants, like corn, have separate male and female parts on the same plant that have to be pollinated by wind. How so? Why should you pollinate squash by hand? How to hand-pollinate squash First, get yourself familiar with squash blossom anatomy.
Hand-pollination method 1: Pick the male flower. Repeat with as many male flowers as needed to pollinate the female flowers.
Hand-pollination method 2: Use a paintbrush. Cary Bradley June 8, at am. Linda Ly July 21, at pm. I hope you get lots of them!! Sarah July 20, at pm. Linda Ly July 21, at am. GoSproutIt July 19, at am. GoldhillOrganic July 18, at pm. TheCulinaryLens July 18, at am. Caitlin July 18, at am. MosserLee July 18, at am. Xochi Navarro July 17, at pm.
Great pics and description, thanks Linda! GoldhillOrganic July 17, at pm. Linda Ly July 17, at pm. James Doe July 22, at pm. Ashley July 17, at am.Sex personals birds bees
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