Learn How to Pollinate Your Plants like a Bee

You must have probably heard someone complain that their tomato, cucumber, or squash plant’s flowers fall off or fail to set fruit even when fully bloomed? Or their strawberries produce very small deformed fruits. It can be quite astonishing especially when you hear it from someone who’s so much into gardening and strives to provide nearly everything their plants ever needed for growing. If so, wondering what they might have missed out giving?..   

Lack of pollination is a major reason why flowers do not fruit or fall off soon after blooming. Plants being strongly fixed to the ground largely depend on bees and other pollinators for reproduction to develop fruits and seeds of the next generation.  

In this article, we shall be discussing what is pollination, why it is important to pollinate, how you can do it, and we shall also be discussing its types. 

Pollination can be a stellar topic for those of us new to plant parenthood, but worry not! We are breaking down pollination to the basics so that you’ll have the right skills to pollinate your plants successfully like a bee. You’ve got this! 

Anthony Lee/Unsplash

So, let’s get into it.  

The goal of every living organism is to reproduce and develop new individuals of the same kind to continue their life cycle. Most of the animals are mobile and could find their mate and fortunately reproduce. But plants have a problem unlike animals they are firmly rooted to the ground so they can’t just get up and find their mate. Hence, plants develop flowers as a reproductive tool that gets transformed into a fruit after fertilization bearing seeds of the next generation. Plants make use of a special mechanism for mating called pollination. Now, what is pollination? 

Pollination is basically the transfer of the pollen from the male part (anther)  to the female part (stigma) of a flower. Only after pollination, the pollen can fertilize the eggs in the female flower resulting in the formation of fruit and seeds of the future plant. 

We’ll understand its types as we move along, so stick around! 

The earliest plants like ferns and mosses relayed on the water to move their pollen from plant to plant. Other plants like conifers and grasses make an enormous amount of pollen that they release in the wind and is transferred to their respective flowers. It is sort of like a lottery where they release as much pollen as they can hoping that a few will land at the right place. Wind pollination works well in open areas where there are not that many different plants. But it really doesn’t work that well in habitats that are closed or diverse like tropical rain forests. There the pollination occurs with the help of animal-pollinators like bees, flies, birds, and ants that get attracted to the bright colored petals, beautiful fragrance, and sweet nectar and so involuntarily facilitates pollination. 

For example, when a bee visits a flower to collect nectar, some of the pollen from the male part (anther) sticks to its hairy body and when it visits the next flower some of its pollen gets rubbed off onto the female part (stigma) and when this happens, fertilization is possible, and a fruit, carrying seeds, can develop. However, closed or indoor gardens are likely to have pollination problems due to lack of pollinators which results in limited or no fruit formation. In such cases, plants need a little help from us to mate and fertilize and that’s where hand pollination comes in the picture.  

How to hand pollinate? 

Hand pollination is a cakewalk even for gardening newbies so don’t worry if you don’t have a green thumb, you’ll get there! 

Hand-pollination is necessary for indoor or balcony gardens due to the lack of pollinators traffic. You’ll need just a small paintbrush/ toothbrush to transfer pollen from the male part to the stigma of the female flower. The idea is to mimic the delicate vibration of bees’ wings. Gently swirl the pollen collected on the brush or cotton swab over the female part. Don’t shake it strongly as this can break the stigma or even worse destroy the flower. You can also use cotton swabs, gently swirl around the anther to pick the pollen and transfer it to the female part. You can even use a fan to create a slight gust which can facilitate pollination. Pollens are generally released from morning to afternoon, try to pollinate your plant’s midday as it provides optimum pollinating conditions (warm and low humidity) ideal for hand pollination.  

Though pollination is important for reproduction, not all plants need to be hand-pollinated. Most of the houseplants, non-flowering or non-fruiting plants don’t need pollination as they are not grown for their fruits or seeds. Some plants perform self-pollination while a few require cross-pollination to set fruit. So, before getting started with the pollination first check whether your plant is a self-pollinating or cross-pollinating type. Hang on, now what is self and cross-pollination? Let’s start with an explanation of that first.  

Self-pollination 

Some plants are self-reliant enough to pollinate themselves and contain both male & female parts required for fruit formation in the same flower. In such plants, the pollen from the male part (anther) falls onto the female part (stigma) in the same flower, pollinating itself. So hand pollination is not usually needed if you’re growing it outdoors, as even a gentle wind can facilitate pollination. But most of the indoor gardens are not blessed with such gusts and thus, a few self-pollinating plants like tomatoes, pepper, and eggplants need a little help from us in pollination. hand-pollinate your plants to ensure effective pollination and better yield.  To pollinate, simply shake your plant or blow on its flowers to release pollen or gently swirl with a small paintbrush to transfer pollen into the stigma.  

Here are a few Self-pollinating plants: 

  • Beans  
  • Peas 
  • Lettuce 
  • Tomatoes   
  • Eggplant 
  • Peppers 

Cross-pollination:  

Some plants are complex to pollinate as they produce both separate male and female flowers on the same or different plants. Such plants involve the movement of pollen from the male flower to the stigma of the female flower.  Many vine plants like cucumber or squash show cross-pollination. Cross-pollinating plants are completely relayed on pollinating agents however in the absence of bees or any other pollinators they need a little bit of help from outside for pollination to occur. Self-pollinating plants are also cross-pollinated to ensure better yield and a good fruit set. For example, many strawberry growers cross-pollinate their flowers to ensure maximum yield and to prevent deformed fruits.  

Here are a few plants that essentially needs hand pollination: 

  • Pumpkin 
  • Cucumber 
  • Squash 
  • Melons 

The most tricky part of cross-pollinating plants is to make out male and female flowers. Remember, male flowers are shorter, and show numerous filaments laden with yellow powdery pollen. While female flowers are extended with a few stigmas arising from the flower with a swollen ovary at the base. The first flowers on a cucumber or squash plant are male flowers that remain on the plant for a day and then fall off, soon after the appearance of male flowers, female flowers emerge after a week or two. After that, both male and female flowers start showing at the same time while the plant is still blooming.  When you see both male and female flowers open, pollinate the female flower right away to ensure successful pollination.  

If your plant is a cross-pollinating type,  use a brush or a cotton swab to pick pollen from the male flower and transfer it to the stigma of the female flower. Collect pollen from multiple male flowers for each female flower on the plant to ensure successful pollination. Make sure you use a clean dry brush or cotton swab so that the pollen can easily fall off and reach its destination. You can even pick a male flower and gently rub its anther onto the stigma of the female flower.  Keep pollinating your plants until they stop blooming and you’ll see a bountiful garden with numerous well-set fruits. 

Your plant will bear fruit in a couple of days after pollination, if it doesn’t fruit then it must be lacking something else. Poor watering, lack of sunlight, extreme temperatures or any nutrient deficiency can cause plants to conserve energy and not bear fruit.  

Now that you know when and how to pollinate, you are ready to go!  

If you have any questions, please leave us a comment, and we’ll do our best to help you out. 

Happy growing! 

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