How to Manually Pollinate Vegetable Plants
My vegetables are growing in a greenhouse that we build into our home. This means I don’t have the benefit of insects pollinating my blossoming flowers and must do the job myself. It is not difficult at all if you know what you’re looking at, so I am going to break down the process step by step and teach you how to manually pollinate your vegetable plants.
First, it is necessary to distinguish between male and female flowers. This is very easy to see if you just learn it once and this method applies to many plants especially squash and other melons and gourds.
Let’s take a look at a female flower first, as it has something the male flower doesn’t, an ovary.
In the photo above, the top flower that is sticking straight up in the 12 o’clock position is the one we’re looking at. It has yellow petals and a light green bulbous structure underneath the petals. That is the ovary and it will eventually become a fruit (vegetable) if the flower has been successful in becoming fertilized. Now that we can recognize a female flower, let’s look at a male blossom.
In the photo above, you can see the stem under the blossom is straight and “normal” looking with no bulging. This allows one to easily identify male and female flowers across many varieties of vegetable plants.
Above is a photo of the male flower after it has been picked. You can see that the base of this male flower does not have the swelling that the female flower had.
Above, you can see the inside of the male flower with the petals peeled away from the front of the flower. The anther and filament of the stamen is visible. The anther is what we will use for pollination of the female flower. Now we want to go ahead and peel off all the petals to fully expose the anther.
Now the male flower (the anther) is fully exposed and ready to fertilize the female flower. Now we go back to the female flower and gently open the petals if they are not already open.
As you can see, the anther of the male flower is being gently placed inside the female flower and the pollen is transferring from the anther to the stigma of the female’s pistil (female parts). I just rub the flowers gently together to transfer the pollen. While I have the male flower available, I check for any other female flowers that need pollination. Finding none, I’m finished with pollinating for today and I’ll check again in a few days. When in doubt about which blossoms have been done, I’ll repeat this process in a few days to make sure that I haven’t missed any. There are typically lots more male flowers than female flowers so I am not worried about running out from picking them.
Above is a baby squash. This used to be a female flower, and you can still see the brown wilted petals on the top tip of the squash in the upper left of the photo. Soon this will be fully grown squash ready for harvest. This same method can be used to manually pollinate other vegetables such as pumpkins and zucchini.