Food Crops & Edibles

How to Make Sure Summer Squash Pollinates and Matures

It happens all too often. You’ll see big blossoms on your summer squash plants and tiny little squashes forming behind the blossoms. But after a few days the blossom dries up and the tiny squash shrivels and turns brown. Why does this happen?

There are several reasons why this may be occurring in your garden. The first thing to consider is the weather. Extreme temperatures of below 55 degrees or above 85 degrees while the plant is flowering can affect the plant’s ability to set fruit. Squash enjoy warm weather, but not too warm.

Squash plants prefer to grow in full sunlight. If they’re not getting enough sun, the plants protest by not setting fruit and they’re also fair-weather friends. If the plants are blossoming and a heavy rain occurs, the rain can wash the pollen from the male flowers, preventing the female flowers from being pollinated. Likewise, never water your squash plants with an overhead sprinkler early in the morning. Each male flower opens for only a few hours in the morning. It’s in the morning hours that pollination is most likely to take place, and a sprinkler can wash away the pollen. 

You can help pollinate your summer squash but first you need to know how to tell a female squash blossom from a male squash blossom. It’s easy once you know the difference. The female blossoms will have a tiny squash forming directly behind the blossom, while the male blossoms have just a stalk behind the blossom. That little squash behind the female blossom is the ovary, and if it isn’t pollinated it will wither and fall off.

To pollinate your squash blossoms, go out to the garden in the morning, before 10 a.m., armed with a cotton swab or small paintbrush. Now locate a male flower and gather some pollen by rubbing your swab or brush on the stamen in the center of the flower. You’ll see the yellow pollen on your swab or brush. Then move on to a female flower and rub the pollen onto the pistil in the center of the female blossom. Voila! You have pollinated your squash and will be rewarded with fresh, tasty vegetables for your dinner table.

Mike McGroarty is the owner of McGroarty Enterprises and the author of several books. You can visit his website at and read his blog at

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