The Q&A Archives: Pollinating Tomatoes

Question: I saved a tomato seedling from the garden last fall. It is growing great. How do I pollinate it in my house?

Answer: Do you have flowers on your plant already? You will be the envy of your neighbors harvesting tomatoes in the winter! Pollination occurs when pollen is transfered from stamens to pistils in the flower. Pollination usually occurs naturally, e.g., wind, bees, etc., but gardeners can also pollinate by hand.

Stamens contain the male reproductive parts of the flower. A stamen has a slender stalk called a filament, topped by an anther, which is often yellow. The anther contains pollen.

Pistils, in the center of the flower, is the female part of the flower. A pistil consists of an ovary at the base where seeds form and a stalklike tube called a style. The style has the stigma on top, which receives the pollen.

Most flowers contain both male and female parts. Some plants have male (without a small fruit behind the flower) and female flowers (with a small fruit behind the flower)., in particular the vining crops such as cukes, squash, and melons.

I've found that an easier way with tomatoes is just to gently tap the flowers/branches early in the morning, when pollen is fresh. If that doesn't work, you can hand pollinate the blossoms yourself by taking a small artist?s paint brush or Q-tip and rubbing the pollen from the male onto the female.

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