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No zucchini? Grab a paintbrush

How to give bees a hand and pollinate squash, cucumber, melon and pumpkin flowers.

See the largest open flower on the right? That’s a female flower. All the flowers on the long stems at left are male. Fully open male blossoms work best for hand-pollinating. Best time to do this is in the early morning.

See the largest open flower on the right? That’s a female flower. All the flowers on the long stems at left are male. Fully open male blossoms work best for hand-pollinating. Best time to do this is in the early morning. Kathy Morrison

During this heat wave, lots of gardeners are having the same issue: Plenty of squash flowers but no squash.

Cucumbers, melons and pumpkins also are having this same problem – lack of pollination.

Members of the cucurbit family (squash, cucumbers, melons and pumpkins are all related) have male and female flowers. They need something – usually a bee or other insect – to physically move pollen from the male flowers to the female blooms.

Bees and other pollinators do this accidentally as they collect nectar and pollen for themselves. During triple-digit heat, these pollinators tend to be a lot less active if at all.

Or the bees may be having a hard time finding your squash and melon vines, especially if they’re surrounded by non-flowering plants.

Another sign of lack of pollination: Baby zucchini start to form but stop when only about 3 inches long, then brown and fall off. That squash was insufficiently pollinated, so the plant aborted it.

When bees don’t do the job, pick up a paintbrush and give pollination a hand.

A soft-bristled artist’s paintbrush, such as a watercolor brush, is perfect for this job. (A small makeup brush will work, too.)

First, determine which flowers are which. The female flowers have an obvious swelling at their base. That’s the baby fruit, waiting to be pollinated. In the center of that flower, the female stigma (its lady parts) will be prominent and clearly visible.

The male flowers have no swelling at their base; on squash, they tend to have long stems. The male blooms are filled with pollen-topped stamens.

Take the paintbrush and lightly swish it around those bright yellow stamens. The brush will quickly be covered with yellow dust; that’s the pollen.
Then, open up the female flower and gently stroke the stigma with the pollen-covered brush. That’s it; you’ve pollinated the flower. (You can buzz like a bee while doing this, of you like.)

Do this over and over until all the female flowers have been “dusted” with your pollen paintbrush.

If you don’t have a brush, try this alternative: Remove a male flower and pull back the petals to expose the stamens. Then, use the stamens to “paint” their pollen onto the female flower’s stigma.

Either way, baby squash (or melons or cucumbers or pumpkins) will soon be on the way.


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Garden Checklist for week of July 14

Your garden needs you!

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to reduce the chance of fungal infection and to conserve moisture.

* Feed vegetable plants bone meal, rock phosphate or other fertilizers high in phosphate to stimulate more blooms and fruiting. (But wait until daily high temperatures drop out of the 100s.)

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week.

* Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more. Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* It's not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers.

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