Hand Pollinating Squash for Higher Yields and Seed Saving

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Hand-pollinating squash

Squashes are notorious for being highly productive, but sometimes they need a bit of help to get started. If your plants are flowering like mad but not producing fruits, it’s time to start hand-pollinating them to speed things along.

Why Hand Pollinate?

Hand pollination is a useful technique when there aren’t many natural pollinators such as bees around, either because it’s cold or rainy, or because crops are growing under cover in a greenhouse or tunnel. Hand pollinating is also a simple and effective way to boost your yields, ensuring good fruit set for a reliable harvest.

All types of squashes can be hand pollinated including pumpkins, melons and zucchini.

It's easy to tell male squash flowers (on the left) from female ones

Male vs Female Squash Flowers

Squashes have separate male and female flowers. Before we hand pollinate we need to know exactly which is which.

When you compare male and female flowers side by side it's easy to see the differences. Male squash flowers have a straight stem behind the bloom with no swelling. Peer inside the flower and you can see the stamens, which carry the pollen.

The female flowers have a very obvious swelling behind them. This is the immature fruit, which will begin growing once it has been pollinated. Peek inside a female flower. You can clearly make out the stigma, which is where the pollen needs to be in order to fertilise the bloom.

Squash can be hand-pollinated using a paintbrush or by directly rubbing the stamen of a male flower against the stigma of a female flower

Hand-pollinating Squash

A soft-bristled artist’s paintbrush is ideal for pollinating squash blossoms. Use it to tickle pollen from the stamens of a male flower onto the brush. You should be able to see the yellow pollen on the brush end. Once you’ve done this, transfer it onto the stigma of a female flower by gently stroking the brush over it. And that’s it!

If you don’t have a paintbrush, you can simply detach the male flower from the plant then peel back the petals to expose the stamen and its pollen. Now – carefully – dab the pollen onto the stigma of an open female flower to pollinate it.

When saving squash seed it's essential to isolate individual squash blossoms

Hand Pollinating to Save Squash Seed

Hand pollination is also useful when you want to save seeds of your favourite varieties. Squashes readily cross-pollinate with each other, so the only way to guarantee that seeds will produce plants that are the same variety as their parents is to prevent pollination by insects. You can then hand-pollinate to ensure that only pollen from plants of the same variety reaches the female flower.

You don’t need to isolate the whole plant, just one or two female blooms that will carry your seed. Cover the flower with a light, breathable fabric such as muslin. Tie the fabric around the stem at the back so the flower is completely enclosed. Then, when it opens, remove the fabric and hand pollinate. Return the cover once you’re done and keep it in place until the flower drops off and there’s no further risk of cross-pollination. Mark the stem of the developing fruit with a ribbon so you know from which fruits to collect your seeds.

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Show Comments


"Toms River New Jersey Lots of grasshoppers around more than any other year."
Debra on Friday 16 August 2019
"I use feathers to pollinate, they pick up the pollen well"
Brooks Donahue on Monday 23 March 2020
"What a brilliant idea!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 23 March 2020
"My Winter Squash is only producing male flowers. What's up with that?"
Cole Hinds on Tuesday 24 March 2020
"Sometimes plants tend to produce only flowers of one sex initially. Give it a few more weeks and some female flowers should appear too."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 26 March 2020
"Just the information I was looking for. Thank you. "
Abbe on Sunday 31 May 2020
"So pleased it's helped Abbe."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 1 June 2020
"I needed this information! Thank you! I will get to work introducing those babies!"
Suzanne on Tuesday 16 June 2020
"I needed this information! Thank you! I will get to work introducing those babies!"
Suzanne on Tuesday 16 June 2020
"oops! sorry for the duplicate!"
Suzanne on Tuesday 16 June 2020
"No problem at all Suzanne, glad the article is of use. Hopefully you'll enjoy plenty of lovely squash very soon!"
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 17 June 2020
"I'm growing zucchini and summer squash. I do see the yellow flower but, the fruit appears to be small. What I'm I doing wrong?"
Regina Howard on Sunday 21 June 2020
"If you are certain it is a female flower (slight bulge behind the flower, not a straight, thin stem) then don't worry. The fruits can be very small at this stage and won't start swelling properly until the flower is fertilised."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 22 June 2020
" I have one courgette developing but the fruit is thick at the lower end and doesn't seem to be fattening at the blossom end. The blossom end does not look too healthy either. What is going on? "
Derek on Friday 26 June 2020
"Hi Derek. I often get this same problem earlier on in the summer. I'm not sure why they do this - perhaps incomplete pollination - but it seems to be less of a problem as plants get bigger, strong and summer progresses."
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 28 June 2020
"excellent. Let me know how many kilo's of winter squash I should send to you!"
John on Wednesday 15 July 2020
"Haha - hopefully you'll be overloaded with them given good pollination!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 16 July 2020
"Help! First time I've grown. The plants are growing well and I do have lots of males but females are now appearing. However the female flowers are not open ing so I can t self pollinate. What am I doing wrong or what can I do. I may have been over watering I think."
Lesley Buckner on Friday 14 August 2020
"Hi Lesley. I'm not sure why the female flowers wouldn't open for you. It may just be a question of time before they open? If the flowers are full-sized and therefore mature, you can try simply easing/tearing the flowers open to expose the pointy stigma."
Ben Vanheems on Saturday 15 August 2020
"Loved your video! So helpful. Now for my dumb question: Do I need to hand pollinate each flower? Or does pollinating one squash blossom pollinate the entire plant? Thank you!"
Laura on Friday 11 June 2021
"Hi Laura. It's not a dumb question, don't worry! Yes, you need to pollinate each female flower. One flower produces one zucchini/courgette, so each one needs pollinating to initiate fruit production from that flower."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 11 June 2021
"I can't even hand polinate because my squash start rotting when it is onlt about 1/2 inch long and the female flowers is very small and very green not big enough to open ."
Dalia on Monday 21 June 2021
"Hi Dalia. So sorry to hear this. We're actually putting together a video/article on squash pollination next week, so check back for more advice on this area. There is always an imbalance of flowers at the start of the flowering season, and often it's simply a question of waiting until there's a good mix of male and female flowers. Make sure your plants have access to plenty of potassium, which encourages more flowers and fruits - an organic liquid tomato feed could be used, and this may be enough to give plants the oomph they need to sustain flower and fruit production. Also, make sure plants are getting enough moisture at their roots."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 23 June 2021
"Great article! I grow several varieties of summer squashes. I want to hand-pollinate to save seeds. Must I use only the male flower of the exact same variety to pollinate the female flower? Or can any male flower do? If the fromer, that means I also have to isolate the male flower before it opens, right?"
Charlotte on Wednesday 10 August 2022

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