The Four Best Methods to Hand Pollinate Plants

The Four Best Methods to Hand Pollinate Plants

When everything in nature aligns as it should, plants form flowers, then bees and other pollinators drop in to grab the pollen from those flowers, and as they flit from one blossom to the next, they redistribute that pollen. Some of that pollen will likely have come from a male flower and will end up on a female flower, and boom: pollination. That pollinated flower should now produce a fruit.

But sometimes, conditions aren’t ideal. Whether because of a lack of pollinators or a lack of flowers, sometimes the conditions work against the natural order of things. If you’re nursing an indoor plant where there aren’t pollinators at all, or you’re just anxious and want to control the pollination process, you can do so via hand pollination. Here are four ways to make the magic happen.

Direct flower pollination

Some plants have such big flowers with pronounced stamen (male) and stigma (female) that the easiest way to hand pollinate is to just grab one of the male flowers, tear off the petals and use the stamen like a paintbrush. Lightly brush the stamen against the stigma of any female flower you want to pollinate. This has a really high success rate, because it’s so hard to mess up.

The hardest part is learning to identify female and male flowers, and even that part is pretty simple, because female flowers always have a bulb just below the flower. 

This method works wonderfully on pumpkins, all squash including zucchini, summer and winter squash, and melons. Once you’ve pollinated, just sit back and wait a few days to see the fruit start to develop. 

Paintbrush pollination

Though the previous technique includes a paintbrush-like motion, this technique involves a literal paintbrush. Although almost every article you’ll read about hand pollination mentions the paintbrush method, I personally find it to not have a high success rate. As such, I only use it when it’s the only method that’ll really work. A great example is citrus, which I hand pollinate in wintertime, inside. The flowers are small, but not as tiny as cucumber or tomato, for example. Every citrus blossom has both male and female parts, so every single blossom can become a fruit. 

Using a very clean, dry paintbrush, you softly paint the male portions (which are around the center), then swab it lightly across the female portion, right in the center of the flower. Then do this for every other open blossom. While I have limited success with this method, if you don’t have bees, it may be your only option.

Shaking pollination

Corn grows tassels, which have pollen on them. The wind carries that pollen to receptive corn silks. In big planting blocks, this is a reliable method, but home gardeners don’t plant enough corn to have 100% success. So shaking the tassels by hand, which will cause the pollen to fall directly onto the waiting plant below, is a good way to ensure success. Your corn will have ready tassels for about a week, and I just give them a good, hearty shake whenever I walk by them, at least once a day. 

Vibrating pollination

My favourite method, because it is the most successful, fastest and most efficient, is vibrating plants to loosen the pollen and send it airborne so it will land on waiting female flowers. When you have plants with very small flowers like tomatoes, trying to identify female and male flowers and dissect them to get to the pollen is absurd. If you have open blossoms, you can hold anything that vibrates (toothbrush, massage gun, sex toy) against the plant and you will see the air fill with yellow pollen. Do this for ten seconds once a day and you’ll be find high rates of pollination. This method works fantastically on indoor hydroponic gardens that need pollination, but you can also use it outside on peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, tomatillos, and peas.

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