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How to Hand Pollinate Cucumber Plants

So, your trellis is covered in cucumber vines with big, beautiful leaves, and striking yellow flowers but no cucumbers… huh?

Despite the popular saying, nature doesn’t always find a way… so if your cucumber flowers are going unpollinated, it might be time to give nature a helping hand.

How Pollination Works in Cucumbers

Cucumber plants are self-pollinating… so they’ll just work it out themselves, right? Well, not exactly. The term ‘self-pollinating’ means a plant has both male and female flowers, so only one plant is needed to produce fruit. However, they still need some third-party assistance to make the magic happen.

Usually, nature’s most valuable helpers—bees, do most of the pollinating. By going from one flower to the next, they distribute pollen from the male flowers into the female ones, leading to the production of fruit. However, there are a lot of plants/flowers bees prefer over cucumber vines. So, you might find that while the bees are busy, your cucumber plants are going unpollinated. No worries, hand-pollination is super easy.

Identifying Flower Types

The first step to hand-pollination is knowing the difference between male and female cucumber flowers. Both flowers are yellow and look similar, but there are a few tell-tale differences between them.

Commonly, male flowers will grow in clusters, whereas female flowers will be more spaced apart. But the easiest difference to spot, lies in the tissue behind the flower itself. Females have a thicker ‘base’, which almost looks like a tiny, baby cucumber. This is what will eventually turn into fruit. The males, however, have only a thin stem behind the flower. Note that it is possible to only have male flowers on your vine. If this is the case, wait a few weeks, and the female flowers will eventually emerge.

How to Hand Pollinate

Okay, so now you know the difference between the flowers on your vine, here comes the good part. Grab a paintbrush or a cotton swab (make sure it’s clean!). Find a new, fresh, male flower, and dip the tip of your brush inside. Gently twist, ensuring the bristles come in contact with the centre of the flower. Once you remove your bush, you should see little specs of yellow pollen at the end. Repeat this process on a few male flowers, then twist your coated brush into the centre of a female flower. Repeat again as necessary, until you’ve touched every female flower on your vine. That’s it! In a few short weeks, the ‘base’ of each female flower will expand and the flower itself will die back. And in no time at all, you’ll be enjoying juicy, home-grown cucumbers, yum!
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