Hand pollination solves squash problem

The straightneck early yellow squash in my garden would start to form and then mysteriously die on the plant.

summer-squash-blogI’ve always had plenty of bees and other pollinators in my garden, so it didn’t occur to me my summer squash was dying on the plant because of a pollination problem.

When I was at CSU last week for the short course program, I had the chance to ask Carol O’Meara what the problem could be. She asked questions to determine the cause: Blossom end rot? Inconsistent watering? Watering from above? Pollination problems?

I had to answer, no, no, no–wait. Pollination problems? Maybe. Even though I’ve seen bees in the garden, they don’t  seem to be finding my squash blossoms.  Carol suggested hand pollination. I tried it and it seems to have worked.

If you’re having trouble with squash dying before maturity, you may be having pollination problems, too.

Here’s how to take over the pollinator’s task to pollinate by hand:

  1. Pick a male squash blossom. The male blossoms have a long stem without the “bump” where the stem meets the blossom. Pick the blossom from the plant so you have the long stem to use as a handle.
  2. Fold back the leaves so that the stamens, filaments and pollen-covered anthers are visible.
  3. Locate the female squash blossoms. These are the blossoms that have a squash forming at the base of the blossom.
  4. Disperse pollen from the male blossom to the female blossom by gently rubbing the parts together.

Successful pollination means you’ll see the squash growing larger every day instead of shriveling up. Pictorials of the process can be found on several websites.


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Thank you for this info on the dying squash
I live in the high desert and want to grow winter squash per green house. Firs part was a great success, big wonderful blossoms, small squash starting, now dying . What do What do?? Read your info. Gong out right now and pollinate the new blossoms Im hoping it is not to late to get some big hubbards. hanks again

Glad to help! Please let me know if this solves the problem.

I live in the low desert of Las Vegas. We are having cooler weather than normal and that has been great for gardening as our blistering sun and heat is usually the culprit. My squash are forming well and growing to almost a small harvest size, the flowers have long since died on the fruit, and then the squash yellows, shrivels up and dies…No bugs…could it be a deficiency?

Hi Mike:

Thanks for dropping by WesternGardeners.com–sorry to hear you’re having trouble with your squash dying on the vine. Cooler than usual weather may be part of the problem. Other possible causes are lack of pollination, excessive nitrogen fertilizer, or overwatering.

Have you checked in with your county’s extension service? Someone there may be able to tell you if this is currently a common problem in your area and what might be a good solution.

I hope this info is helpful,

Hi Jodi,
Summer of 2012 I had the same straight neck squash problem as you wrote about….problem is the neighbors have large acreages on two sides of us, one as close as 150 yards, They have a Airplane fly over and over there fields spraying a mist that kills all bee’s and some of the local birds. Several months after the spraying we notice honey bees again….we then have set squash but oh to late as the frost gets us. We live in the high desert of Oregon. I’m going to try your method of Pollination which I have fogoten that was taught to me at an early age by my Grandfather from Denmark. I have composted all of my life using garden waste, sawdust, straw and cow manure. The tea you speak of is a miracle in the soil. In 1975 I used lawn grass composted in the garden soil and set an unaficial world record of 9.6 lbs of potatoes per squar foot of garden, which came out to 22 pounds per potato plant. As it turned out that summer we had an invasion of Grasshoppers that become very agressive, half of our garden was fertilized with commercial garden fertilizer and the other half compost. One morning on my rounds at the garden I noticed a grasshopper on one of the compoted leaves, he was busy eating the leaf, I decieded to see what was the outcome with the compost as the commercial fertilizer area had scores and scores of grasshoppers. At 3 p.m. I checked again on the progress of the grasshopper that was eating on the composted potato plant. He was not where in sight, then suddenly I spotted his dead body laying ont the ground. If plants have the right nutrients
they dont have to break down fertilizers or minerals that change during each day, that makes the plant produce antitoxins that does protect itself from bugs and the like.
The outcome of the commercial fertilized potatoes were only 40% of the composted potates. We also noticed the flavor of the commposted potatoes were the best we ever tasted.
I have grown vegitables everyway imaginable and grew tomatoes unside down way back in 1987, needless to say the outcome was astounding, the tomatoes that are grown that way today lack the secret I found. One upside down tomato produced just shy of 60 pounds. We moved the plant inside just prior to a hard freeze November 12 that year….my wife picked fresh tomatoes for Christmas supper. Keep up the important good work Jodi.
God Bless. Wayne

Hi Wayne:

Thanks for stopping by and leaving your interesting comments. I imagine gardening in your area is just as challenging in our semi-arid climate, but it sounds like you have a lot of good tricks up your sleeve.

Thanks again,

I also had trouble with my hybrid winter squash last summer, 2012. I had 35 beautiful plants loaded with flowers. Only 3 of the flowers had a little bump – these began to develop but 2 died. Am I doing something wrong? My summer squash and gourds had no problems.

Hi Dawn:

Thanks for your question. This information from the Colorado State University Extension may shed some light on your winter squash pollination problems:

Most varieties of winter squash produce several male flowers before female flowers appear and fruits are set.

If female flowers are being produced, there are two common reasons for failure to set fruit:
1. If there are growing fruits already on the plant, they will inhibit further fruit set until they mature or are harvested.
2.These plants depend upon insects, mainly honeybees, for pollination. If insect activity is very low, fruits may not set due to lack of pollination. Insufficient pollination sometimes results in deformed fruits.

Perhaps you can encourage more honeybees to your garden by planting flowers and/or pollinate by hand.


I’m having problems with my yellow squash. I have tons of male flowers and have gotten 3 nice size squash off about 3 weeks ago. Now when the females come on they kind of shrivel up way before the bloom even attempts to open. I do know how to hand pollinate but these blooms are not even remotely ready to open. My vines have crawled out onto the grass. Could that be causing them problems. I have the most beautiful plants with lots of males and my zucchini are doing great as well as the cucumbers that are right next to them. This is my first garden. Have I don’t something wrong? Also it is a straw bale garden. Not sure if that would have anything to do with it or not.

Hi Alexa:

Sorry to hear you’re having problems with your yellow squash. Very frustrating, I know.

I checked in one resource (Straw Bale Gardens by Joel Karsten) and it says plants need lots of room. He recommends training half the vine up on a trellis and half on the ground. Remove the flowers on the trellis and allow those on the ground to grow fruit.

Are you fertilizing enough? Squash are heavy feeders and he recommends top dressing with a low-nitrogen fertilizer and giving them regular, plentiful water.

Have you tried contacting your county’s extension office and the master gardeners there? They may have some ideas that are specific to your area.

Best wishes,

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