Pollinating Cucumber Flowers

The edible cucurbits that we grow in our edible garden, namely, pumpkins, luffas, cucumbers, rockmelons, watermelons and various squashes, have unisexual flowers where the male and female flowers occur separately on the same plant and the term “monoecious” is used to describe this phenomenon.

The sexes of cucurbit flowers are quite easy to tell apart. Female flowers have an obvious baby fruit behind the petals whereas you don’t find any behind the petals of the male flower. This is the description that I have often used to tell visitors as well as my gardeners in the community garden.

In the lowland tropics, pollination of cucurbit flowers that open during daytime should not be a problem since insects such as bees will automatically visit the flowers and help transfer the pollen.

If you face problems with fruit set, your plants may need your help to assist in the pollination of the flowers they produce. Here’s a step-by-step guide as to how you can play the role of the matchmaker… In this example, I am using the flowers of the cucumber.

The male flower of the cucumber – there isn’t a baby fruit behind the petals.

Once you have identified a male flower, pluck it off the vine and strip off all its petals.

Here’s a picture of a female cucumber flower. Notice there is a baby fruit behind the petals. To pollinate the female flower, lightly brush the pollen laden anthers of the male flower with the pistil of the female flower. In doing so, you transfer the pollen from the male flower to the female flower.

Once pollination is successful, the female flower will wilter and develop into the cucumber fruit.

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17 responses to “Pollinating Cucumber Flowers

  1. I live in colorado springs, CO.
    I have found a way to pollinate my cucumber plants!!!!!
    I was at a park with my family and we sat under a pavillion that had a trash can close by. I kept having to get up and away because of all the BEES!!! bingo!!! I thought about how to bring that kind of smell to my garden with out having my trash can out for all to see. so as I was opening up a can of dog food to feed the dogs I said to myself, “self, I could put the empty can of dog food out next to my plants with out the neighbors seeing it!” I put it next to the plant with out washing the remaining dog food residue out of the can and waited. in just about a week of putting out new dog food cans and removing the dried up ones I now have 7, that’s right 7 cucumbers on ONE branch. almost every flower has been pollinated!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t belive that it worked!!!! by next week I will have about a cucumber every three days or so!!!!! try it and I bet it will work for you!!!!!!!!!

    • Hi Pat, after reading your story I got a chuckle. It sounds like you’ve confused wasps with bees :)

      If you want to attract honey bees or bumble bees to your garden to provide natural polination, plant some catnip in your garden. BOSS catnip grows quite tall and attracts bees like no other plant…very benefical to have in/near your garden!

      Also, if you happend to bait the “bees” with an open can of dogfood, you may be visited by a racoon, who might also steal your cucumbers and other edibles, so be careful!
      :)

  2. Bees and wasps( (all varieties) are very different critters, and I think you may be experiencing a coincidence. Wasps eat meat as well as sweet things, and would be attracted to trash cans and dog food, but they do not pollinate flowers.

    Bees are attracted only to flower nectar and very sweet things that they can make honey out of, like soda pop or rotting fruit, and do pollinate flowers. You might have attracted wasps (yellow jackets are commonly mistaken for bees) with a dog food can, but they would not have been interested in the flowers.

    Perhaps your cukes finally produced male and female flowers at the same time, or the bees just discovered them on their own. However it happened, congrats on your cukes!

  3. GREAT BLOG POST !!

    I have a couple questions …
    How long will the female flower stay open ? Is it just one day or will it bloom for a couple days ? (i.e. how many days do I have to get to it)

    If it has been successfully pollinated, will the flower start to wither right away (that same day or by the next day) or does it take a couple days ? (i.e. how will I know it was pollinated successfully or that I need to try again)

    One other difference I noticed on my male & female flowers … the male flower has a white base in the center with an obvious yellow nub sticking up out of it. The female flower only has the white base in the center of the flower petals.

    You mentioned other melons and squashes needing the same pollination … do you have any pictures of what the females and males look like on them as well ?

  4. Thanks for this article. I planted a bush cucumber plant around 6 weeks ago. It looks very healthy with large green leaves and many female flowers with 1-inch baby cucumbers behind it. I don’t see any male flowers. Some of the ‘baby cucumbers’ are starting to wither. So – they will not actually develop into cucumbers unless they are pollinated? I just assumed that since I saw the ‘baby cucumbers’, the flower had already been pollinated. In reality then, the female flower consists of the yellow flower and the 1-inch baby cucumber, right? Thanks for any help.

  5. Hi! I love your blog! This is the info I’ve been looking for! I have many cucumber plants and they have all flowered – but I see NO female flowers whatsoever on any of them! Is that unusual? They’ve been flowering for about a week. I checked the plants I have indoors & outdoors and no female flowers anywhere. Thanks again for your help!

  6. I started a cucumber plant in a potted container about 1.5 months ago. It has both female and male flowers. I learnt that the female flower needs to get pollinated for it to continue with it’s fruit growth. Now, I hand-pollinated one female flower this morning (07/21/09). The baby fruit behind the female flower is about 1 inch right now. Let’s see what happens. This is my first endeavor with cucumber growing. I heard that once pollinated, we should be able to harvest the cucumber within 9 days. If that’s true, then I should be able to pluck mine on/by July 30th’09. It’s hot here in San Jose, California. I’m gonna cross my fingers and hope to get a nice harvest. Will keep you updated. I heard that we should also lend a helping hand to pollinate peppers and tomatoes. One can flick the tomato flowers or shake ‘em gently enough to nudge the pollen from the flowers to spray around. Tomatoes and peppers normally have both female and male stuff within every flower (that’s what I heard). Do correct me if I’m wrong.
    All the best to all you gardeners out there. Happy Harvesting!!!

  7. can i eat the nectar female flowers of cucumber after they are drop?

  8. I, too, have a cucumber plant with nothing but female flowers! It is growing fabulously well, bug and strong, just no boys. I bought the plant at a PTA sale, and either mislaid or never had a description tag. What should I look for next time to be sure I either have a plant that will yield both male and female or that I have 2 plants that can mate to grow side by side?
    Thanks!

  9. i am in India, i have some cucumber plants in my garden, i tried to pollinate it, my question is can i use the male flower of same plant to pollinate the female flower of that or i have to use male flower from different plants…i tried both but flowers were not pollinated, female flowers just became yellow and shed down…pls can any one give me a solution….

    • Hi Prashanth.C,

      In principal it must be possible to pollinate a female flower with a male flower of the same plant. Cucumber plants are self-pollinaters.

      A reason that it doesn’t work, could be that the pollen are not fertile. You could try some other cucumber plants to pollinate.

  10. i’m indonesian. it’s a great. thank’s Wil.

  11. This is what i needed i have found d answers to question through this blog.

  12. Thanks for the good and useful advice ,its exactly what I needed

  13. Thanks for this from Dorset, southern England :)

  14. thanks for the info from Melbourne, Australia

  15. Pingback: I Need a Bee! «

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