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How hand pollinate pumpkin & squash flowers

Growing your own pumkin and squash at home is an incredibly rewarding and impactful plant to grow. It is a great addition to any home-grown food garden and if you can get your pumkins and squash to full maturity then you can have an abundance of food. However, to reach maximum harvest with these plants you need to help them along and give them support. Part of that support is being able to hand pollinate the female pumpkin & squash flowers to ensure that fruits are completely pollinated. This will help with fruit drop due to the lack of pollination, which is common with plants in the cucurbit family. A key part of being able to hand pollinate pumpkin & squash flowers is to be able to identify male and female flowers. 

The difference between unopened male & female pumpkin flowers

Knowing how to tell the difference between male and female flowers that have not yet opened is a great way to know when flowers will open so you can hand pollinate. Without knowing when these flowers will open, you run the risk that they will open and close without you knowing and in turn you potentially losing a delicious meal. 

Male flowers are just that – flowers. You can easily identify them by a single flow coming directly off the pedicel.

Female flowers, on the other hand, have a minature of the mature fruit at the base of the flower. In the side image you can see a minature patty pan squash at the bottom of the femail flower. This is the most prominent way to identify unopened female pumpkin and squash flowers. 

Unopened male & female pumpkin flowers

How to tell the difference between male & female pumpkin flowers

The difference between opened male & female flowers

Once your pumpkin or squash flowers have opened you have a very limited window to hand pollinate them. Flowers in the cucurbit family have their flowers open for 1 morning only. This means you have a very small window to get your flowers pollinated before they close up, never to open again. This is why hand pollination increases yield. Due to the short window of pollination opportunity it is easy for bees or other pollinators to not get to every single flower before they close.

The main difference between male and female flowers, once they have opened is the male has a single anther that holds all the pollen and the female has a complex stigma that receives the pollen from the male flower. Without a good amount of pollen from the male pumpkin or squash flower it will not develop or ripen into a mature fruit.

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