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28.7.11

Pollinating Cucumber Flowers

Cucumber plants are usually monoecious meaning the plants have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The same is true for their relatives, squash, cantaloupes, and watermelons. The flowers on cucumbers are usually pollinated by insects, but in their absence you can hand-pollinate the female cucumber flowers yourself. In the illustrated guide below I'll show you how to identify the female cucumber flower and pollinate cucumber plants in your own garden.

Female Cucumber Flower



The female cucumber flowers grow on a slender stem off of the main vine. At the base of the female flower is a large ovary that is fertilized by the pollen from the male flowers and develops into the fruit.

Male Cucumber Flowers

The difference between male and female cucumber flowers (aside from their sexual reproductive parts) is that male cucumber flowers develop in clusters along the main vine. Male flowers are shorter and do not develop the small fruits below them like the female cucumber flowers do.

Collecting pollen on male cucumber flower

To collect pollen from the male cucumber flowers you can use a small paint brush. Insert the tip of the paint brush into the center of the flower and vigorously twirl it around to load pollen onto the brush.

Cucumber Blossom Pollen

You could also use a cotton swab to collect pollen, but I find the dark fibers of the paint brush to better suited for the job. Pollen is light colored and easy to recognize on the tip of your brush.

Pollinating Female Cucumber Flowers

After you've loaded the brush with pollen from the male cucumber flower, pollinate the female cucumber blossom by twirling the tip of the same brush in the center of the female flower. The three lobes of the stigma do not necessarily need to be coated evenly to ensure pollination, but you'll get better results if you repeat the process with pollen from several male flowers. That's all there really is to female cucumber flower pollination in your garden.

No Female Cucumber Flowers.
In monoecious cucumber varieties male flowers open about 10 days before the male flowers open up. Male flowers also greatly out-number female flowers at rates of something like 10 to 1. Cucumber vines are veritable sausage fests during this time.

Cucumber Fruits Falling Off.
The poor pollination of female cucumber flowers is one of the main causes poor fruit setting, fruit abortion, and misshapen fruits. Because of this it is a good idea to transfer pollen from several male flowers onto the female cucumber blossom to ensure the bloom has been well pollinated.

How Many Cucumber Plants Do You Need?
You really only need one cucumber plant, cucumbers are self-fertile meaning the male flowers can pollinate the female flowers growing on the same vine.

Cucumber pollination is usually handled by bees but I had to resort to hand pollinating the female cucumber flowers on my plants because bees haven't discovered the garden on the back porch. Being efficient foragers, bees will focus on visiting flowers that are available in great numbers. The handful of cucumber flowers on my porch aren't enough to draw their attention so my cucumber flowers were not being pollinated. The other reason I pollinated the cucumber flowers myself is because this cucumber is an heirloom and I'm trying to ensure the seed stay true to type. With some luck I'll have 'White Wonder' cucumber seeds to add to my seed collection along with my lemon cucumbers.

Related: 
How to Pollinate Strawberry Plants.
How to Pollinate Thanksgiving Cactus.
Amaryllis Pollination.

10 comments:

  1. thanks so much for your nice comments on my blog!!! i have never pollinated using a paintbrush...so glad you showed how, mr. BT!!!

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  2. I learn something new everyday. Thanks. I love cucumbers! And do hope to grow them in a garden of my own one day.

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  3. Excellent tip MBT. I suspect we may all be looking forward to a lot more hand-pollinating in the future.

    My cucumber vines stopped producing female flowers during last week's intense heat. They're back to making girls again this week with the more normal summer temperatures.

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  4. Thanks for recommending dark fiber - good tip!

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  5. I haven't ever had to hand pollinate my cucumbers...they are usually planted very close to a lot of flowers, so I get a lot of bee visitors. But it is good to learn things like this so I understand the plant better, or like in the case you mentioned, when I want to ensure seeds are true to type. Very nice clear pictures.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Love the photos, very helpful. I have a lot of bees, but I grow my zucchini 'Eight Ball' in a container with a tomato cage for support. So the big old leaves kind of face up and encase the blossoms, hiding them from the bees. I've had a ton of female flowers and only had 3 zucchinis so far. Gonna go check if I have male flowers and start sprinkling that pixie dust myself!

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  7. OK, after getting all up close & personal with my 'Eight Ball,' I found I *do* have male flowers right now... only not a female one. Well, my paint brush and I are at the ready. I'm giggling at having to pollinate something most people have gazillions extra of.

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  8. Rarrw - what alien-looking little critters those cukes are! I do this for my zukes when the bees are being lazy.

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  9. Fabulous pictures. Thank you so much for your clear and educational post. I suspect my area is without many bees. I'll have to do this by hand, too. And that completely explains why I've had such an abundance of flowers, but nothing resembles a cucumber. Apparently, the female is slow getting ready. :P

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  10. Anonymous9:36 PM

    My cucs are only producing female flowers. How can I pollinate them myself without the male flowers??

    ReplyDelete

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