You planted your winter squash and zucchini seeds, the plants have grown and thrived, and now you have all kinds of beautiful yellowish-orange blossoms! But have your squash been pollinated, or are they going to be left to shrivel on the vine? It’s easy to tell once you know what to look for.
And if this is happening to your squash, don’t worry – hand-pollination is easy! I’ll show you how.
What Unpollinated Squash Looks Like
In a nutshell, pollinated squash grow. Unpollinated squash don’t! Once the squash blossom falls off of a squash, if your squash is unpollinated, the baby squash won’t grow. It will start to become soft to the touch, yellowing and eventually shriveling up.
Here is a photo of an unpollinated zucchini.
So why does this happen? First, a little anatomy lesson.
Male Squash Blossoms vs. Female Squash Blossoms
Male squash blossoms grow prolifically on long stems and have a single, long stamen that protrudes from the middle of the blossom. This is where the pollen is produced. (These are also the blossoms you want to pluck if you’re eating squash blossoms – I still need to try that!)
Here is a male squash blossom:
Female squash blossoms have what is called a stigma in the center that looks like a cluster of stamens. At the base of female squash blossoms are the beginning of a squash.
This example shows a zucchini blossom. At the base of the flower, and you can see the baby zucchini.
How Does Pollination Happen?
Pollination happens when pollen from a male stamen is transferred to a female stigma. If you’re the average backyard gardener and not breeding squash (thus not worried about cross-pollination), your garden will ideally be full of pollinators just waiting to buzz around your blossoms and pollinate everything freely.
This bee was so heavy with pollen after circling this male squash blossom that he fell off and could barely fly afterward! Hopefully he moved on to a female squash blossom shortly after that and covered it with all of that pollen.
I love to plant lots of flowers in my veggie garden to attract and keep pollinators. My garden is now overflowing with happy little bees and a few beneficial wasps. Right now they are loving the borage volunteer flowers that return every year to my garden.
But when my squash first started blossoming, there weren’t many pollinators around. My flowers hadn’t started blooming, and the bees hadn’t discovered the garden yet. So I had to hand-pollinate my zucchini and winter squash for a few weeks.
How to Hand-Pollinate Zucchini and Other Squash
I’ll be honest, at first it felt a little … invasive to hand-pollinate my squash. Ha! But there’s nothing wrong with nudging nature along, especially when your veggie garden begins to flourish with zucchini and other summer squash, pumpkins, and winter squash.
It’s easy to hand-pollinate squash. I simply use a small, clean paintbrush, and move pollen from male flowers to female flowers. Done and done.
Gathering pollen from a male flower …
Pollen! Not very much, because a bee had taken pretty good care of this one already. But enough!
Then, gently brush a female stigma with the pollen.
That’s it, you’ve pollinated your squash!
Another way to do it is to pluck the male squash blossom at the stem and removing the blossom, leaving only the stamen. Then, you can apply the pollen to the female using your little squash blossom “paintbrush.”
Soon, you’ll have squash to show for your efforts – and many squash recipes waiting for you and your bounty!
Here are some young zucchini, ready to be picked in a day or two. No shriveling here!
This buttercup squash was up so high on my vertical squash trellis that I couldn’t get up there to hand-pollinate, so I’ve been keeping a closer eye on it. I am pretty sure it’s okay, but I’ll know more in a couple of days when I can see if it’s grown or not.
A little further down the trellis, this buttercup squash is definitely in the clear. Grow, baby, grow!
I hope this post helped you learn more about whether or not your zucchini and squash have been pollinated, the difference between male and female squash blossoms, how to attract pollinators to your garden and how to hand-pollinate if you’re having trouble getting your squash pollinated (or if you just want a little insurance!)
If you have any success stories or additional tips, I’d love if you shared in the comments below!
Sources: HOME VEGETABLE GARDEN TECHNIQUES: HAND POLLINATION OF SQUASH AND CORN IN SMALL GARDENS from University of Florida IFAS extension | Seattle Urban Farm Company Podcast #92: Hand-Pollinating Winter Squash | This reel and caption from @deannacat (of Homestead and Chill) on Instagram is super informative and helpful!