Pollinating summer squash

The vegetable patch at the beginning of July, 2012

All looks well in my vegetable patch doesn’t it? Well, looks can be a bit deceiving. As you may know, I have very few bumblebees this year. All pollinators are down in spite of my efforts to spray nothing harmful and to grow all their favorite foods. Summer squash and other cucurbits are not wind pollinated like corn. They need help to bear fruit so this year I’m playing Aphrodite. Just in case you’re facing the same bee crisis and want some cucumbers, melons, squash, etc., I wanted to show you the difference between male and female flowers.

Male flowers of summer squash, Gray zucchini

The beautiful male flowers, which are also good for eating, appear first, about seven to ten days before the female ones. In Latin America, they are much sought after and are called flores de calabaza. The male blossoms are here to lure bees and other pollinators to the plant. They hope the bees will communicate back to the hive or nest saying, “Hey, the good stuff is over there.” They entice the bees to do their dances and entice their fellow workers out to play.

Unless, of course, the bees have been confused by a certain class of insecticides called neonicotinoids. Then, the bees behave as if they were Alzheimer-inflicted, nursing home residents who wander off by themselves. Scientists think that’s why bees are disappearing all over the United States. But, no talk of colony collapse disorder today. Here’s what you can do if you notice your squash is withered like this.

Squash which isn’t pollinated will wither on the plant.

First, break off that squash and feed it to the chickens or throw it in the compost pile. Next, find an open female blossom (easy to spot because the females have an ovum at the base of the blossom).

Female squash blossom. See the ants? They don’t hurt anything. At the bottom of the bloom is an ovum which will grow into a squash if pollinated.

Either take a q-tip and dab pollen from the male bloom to the female one, or if you’re like me and have no q-tips handy, pinch off a male bloom. Tear off its outside petals and expose the stamen.

Pulling off the petals to expose the stamen
Pulling the petals off of a male squash blossom to expose the stamen.

Take the stamen and gently dab pollen to the female blooms pistils.

Take the stamen and gently rub the pollen onto the female squash blossom.

That’s all there is to it. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. In a few days, you’ll have a squash big enough to harvest. I find this gray zucchini especially tasty. We’ve fried it, sautéed it and even eaten it raw with ranch or another dressing.



  1. I never knew to do this. Thanks! I’ll have to try it with my 2 remaining squash plants.

  2. Jenny says:

    We just learned about this at a recent Master Gardener meeting. This was the problem I had with my squash last year. It was so frustrating because that was the *one* year I managed to keep the squash bugs and borer at bay.

  3. Andrew says:

    I’m pretty certain that not only the flower is edible but also the stems and leaves.
    In China, at the local produce markets it is sold as a vegetable you can buy the flowers and also stems and leaves of Pumpkin plants separately or together.
    Sadly, in the UK the Bumble Bees have been in decline for many years now along with Honey Bees at first everyone blamed pesticides but the thinking has now maybe changed a little.
    Perhaps we all need to do more to encourage the Bumble Bees to take up residence.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yes, Andrew, all parts of the squash plant are edible. I’ve heard that just like grape leaves, squash leaves are great for rolling up meats, rice and such. I’ve never tried it though. This particular variety has lots of little spines on the back of the leaf which grab me as I go squash bug hunting. When I was researching the bee post, I saw that your bumble are in even sadder shape than ours. I’m so sorry. Thank you so much for coming by and commenting.

  4. Ann H Csonka says:

    Never used Q-tips, but any small soft paint brush (artist’s brush) works well. We had a problem years ago with acorn squash and tomatoes that were not setting fruit. Worked like a charm. Btw, many native pollinators, including flies, help pollination.
    The wet Spring here in No. Va. hurt butterfly and moth populations.
    Also, in some areas, “helpful” aerial Bt spraying for Gypsy moths (usually unnecessary) destroys all the caterpillars that are out at the time. Localities are supposed to give notification and property owners can “opt out”, but it still causes havoc in the insect world because the stuff always drifts.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Ann, thanks! Another great idea. Yes, all native pollinators help do their thing. I saw a green bee on my squash this morning, and I stayed out of her way while she did her thing. The aerial spraying frightens me.

  5. Hi dear Dee, my favorite cohort,

    Free at last, free at last…you know the rest. Liberated and loving it!!!

    Thought of you as Jeff helped me work and work on our final challenge. Spent probably 8 hours total on it, but like how it was finished. Out with my best foot forward (I hope).

    Thinking of you and sending love to Aphrodite,


    1. Dee Nash says:

      Sharon, I’m so glad you got finished too. Glad to be free. 🙂 Hugs!

  6. I just never thought about pollinating aquash. I certainly don’t need to encourage the zucchini. But I might try that just to say I know how.

  7. RobinL says:

    Hmmm, I think I may give this a try. I have lots of bees this year, but I notice that the zucchini has had flowers for weeks now, but no sign of any fruit. Thanks for the tutorial!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Robin, I hope it helps. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Frances says:

    I don’t know if the bees here are afflicted in some way, but they don’t much care for the squash blossoms so I do the act for them, just like you do it. No q-tip, more like, well, you know.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Frances, I think even on a good year, bees have a harder time pollinating the summer squash than other plants. This is just based on observations I’ve made over the years. Oh, and yes, I do know. I see what you did there. 🙂

  9. You are sort of a sex therapist for squash blooms. 😉 Good for you to be aware of the lack of pollinators and go ahead and pollinate the female blooms.
    Gray squash? I know zucchini and yellow…..hmmm. interesting.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Janet, or maybe for bees. I’m showing them how. LOL! The gray squash is a type of grayish zucchini. Very tasty. I had some for lunch today.

  10. CurtissAnn says:

    Oh, honey-bunny, what a help! Jim pollinated our squash, watermelon, and cucumbers. He told Paxton, “Come on, and we’ll be bees,” and showed him how. Only we never knew to pollinated like that. We just used q-tips from blossom to blossom. Hopefully now I can do better. Thanks!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Curtiss Ann, so far my cucumbers and watermelons are all doing fine without my extra assistance. However, the squash is another matter. I find using the male blossom to be much easier than the q-tip method. Plus, I have all the tools at my fingertips. 🙂

  11. Gail says:

    We need our bumbles for so many things! I’ve noticed a few more in my garden on the coneflowers~which makes me very happy. So glad you’re going to have squash! Excellent tutorial. gail

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Gail, I love the bumbles and after reading your post, I went out in search of more coneflowers. I didn’t find any I don’t already have growing (and aren’t the fancy cultivars), but I did find some Rudbeckias I wanted to try. I’m planting them next to the vegetable gardens to lure the bumbles I have seen.~~Dee

  12. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Hi Dee, here we aren’t having very many bugs at all. The local extension agent claims it is because of the early spring weather then the drought set in. I don’t know how it all correlates but the bugs aren’t doing well here either. I haven’t resorted to pollinating anything but I would if we were getting enough water to make things grow. Sigh…

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, we have fewer bugs overall too. Makes me wonder. Maybe the weird weather we’ve all had this year, including the early spring, stopped the bumbles where they were. I know some people have them. I’ve barely seen any squash bugs either although today I scraped a bunch of eggs off of my squash leaves and killed some adults and smaller ones. I have seen hordes of grasshoppers this year. Ugh!

  13. So as long as the male flower has not completely flowered I can still use it to pollinate the female? I can help the zuke and the pumpkins if this is true. I find it curious that the males open well before the females and then there is no pollination….

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yes, Donna, you should be able to go ahead and pollinate. I wait for the male flower to open, and then I tear off the petals. The males get the bees acclimated to where the plants are. I need to plant my pumpkins. Thanks for the reminder.~~Dee

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