How to Hand-Pollinate Your Squash and Increase Yields
November 12, 2021
“What’s wrong with my squash?” and “Why isn’t my squash fruiting?” are two common squash questions. Often, these squash problems are related to a lack of pollinators. Here are the short answers, as well as a video to show you HOW to hand-pollinate a squash.
Why Is My Squash Not Fruiting?
If your squash plant produces ample flowers but never bears actual fruit, or it bears fruit that stops growing when it’s very small, then you’re likely dealing with a pollination issue.
Most squash are monoecious, meaning that a single plant produces both male and female flowers. Male blossoms are borne on a straight green stem, while female blossoms sit atop a tiny bulbous growth (the eventual squash fruit).
To develop fruit, pollen from male flowers must be physically transferred to the female flowers by bees. Usually, the bees do a fine job, but if you don’t have enough bees in your area, you may end up with fewer squash than you had hoped for!
Luckily, it’s easy enough to masquerade as a bee for a day and pollinate the flowers yourself. To do so, you’ll need to transfer pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers.
How to Hand-Pollinate:
First, identify the male and female flowers. Recall that female flowers have a small bulbous growth at their base, which will eventually develop into the squash fruit. Male flowers do not have this growth.
After finding a male flower, use a Q-tip, pipe cleaner, paintbrush, or similar object to gently dust around inside the flower, being sure to gather pollen on the end of the pollinating utensil.
Locate female flowers and gently dust inside them, as if you were a buzzing bee.
Repeat this with as many male and female flowers as you like. The pollen from one male flower should be enough to pollinate a few female flowers.
See our video demonstrating how to hand-pollinate your squash:
What If I Only Find Male (or Female) Flowers?
Don’t worry! Squash don’t always produce male and female flowers at the exact same time.
What usually happens is the following: You’ll see male blossoms first, and you’ll wonder where the female flowers are. Be patient. If there has been unusually high amounts of rain or cold weather, this can delay the emergence of the female flowers by a bit.
This sort of subpar weather can also impact the activity of pollinators, which is another reason to hand-pollinate squash.
If you’re seeing fruit, but they are shriveling up and/or rotting, this may also be a pollinator issue, but it can also happen because the conditions are so damp that the fruit gets killed off by a fungus.