When it comes to gardening, sometimes mother nature isn’t on your side. If you aren’t producing as much fruit on your plants as you wanted to – or expected to – it might just mean that you’ve got to play a part in making sure your plants are pollinating. Whether you’re growing plants indoors, outdoors, or in a controlled environment, learning how to hand pollinate your plants can be beneficial. Learn the basics of pollination and how you can pollinate your plants by yourself.
What is Pollination?
Pollination is required to produce seeds, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. In this process, the plants are reproducing to grow flowers or seeds. Flowers have male and female parts, known as the anthers and stigma. When the pollen grains move from the anthers to the stigma, a piece of pollen develops a tube that allows fertilization.
Because plants that pollinate make nectar, they attract animals and insects that help transport pollen. Butterflies, bees, and birds all help spread the pollen grains to help the process. Weather and wind also help move the pollen grain from plant to plant. Sometimes even moths, bats, and other insects are involved in assisting.
Pollinators have been declining in the United States, so it's not uncommon for some plants to not pollinate by the end of the season. Simple ways to help beneficial pollinators include avoiding pesticides made with harmful chemicals that can kill pollinators, along with planting certain flowers that attract more pollinators. Learn more about the kinds of plants that attract pollinators here.
How Can I Help Plants Pollinate?
Even if plants are outside, it’s a good idea to help with the pollination process to have a successful growing season. As for indoor plants or plants in a controlled environment, like a greenhouse, the pollen grain must be moved for reproduction, which places you in charge of this task.
The first step in hand pollination is knowing what kind of plants you’re dealing with. When it comes to peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants, these plants are self-fertile. This means that in order to reproduce, the pollen needs to be released from a part of the plant and into another part of the same flower.
When it comes to these self-fertilizers, a breeze or gust of wind is enough to shake the plants up to get the job done. You can gently shake your plants by holding the stem near the flower to replicate this process.
Placing a fan next to your indoor garden space can help with pollination, too. Using a toothbrush or bee vibration stimulator, you can replicate the process of the bee wings vibration which also shakes the pollen.
Other types of plants require cross-pollination. These plants include cucumbers, melons, and squash. To pollinate, the pollen needs to move from the male flower to the female flower. This is accomplished by insects flying or crawling from one flower to another. Pollen can move from flower to flower by being on the insects’ body, fur, or mouth.
If there aren’t enough insects, or if your garden is inside and blocked from them, then it’s important to move the pollen for the plants. By taking a small paintbrush, toothbrush, or even cotton ball, and dabbing the stamen of one flower (the male bloom) to the central stalk (the stigma) of another, you can brush the collected pollen to the female. Make sure to cover all the surfaces around the middle part of the female flower.
In this case, you’re acting as the bees and the insects would, moving pollen around, allowing the plants to reproduce. Keep in mind that the male flower will have anthers that are typically shorter and won’t show immature fruit. Female flowers have what looks like a tiny vegetable at their base.
Besides ensuring successful pollination, hand-pollinated plants offer other benefits. If you cross-pollinate two species, you can create a new variety of plant, producing different colors, characteristics, or genetic traits. This is called hybridization, which occurs when there are different varieties of the same fruit. Hand pollination can keep the plant from self-hybridizing. This will help you save plant seeds.
What Do You Do to Have a Successful Season?
How do you make sure your flowers and fruits pollinate? Tell us about your best garden season on our Facebook page. Here at Safer®, we always want to make sure that you have the best resources available to make your gardens the greatest they can be. Sign up for our enewsletter to stay up to date on the latest gardening tips, along with getting access to exclusive deals and special offers.