The Q&A Archives: Growing Cucumbers

Question: I am trying my hand at container gardening this year for the first time and I have planted squash and cucumbers which are growing well and covered with blossoms but they bloom and drop off leaving a bare stem or the stem wilts. What am I doing wrong? It looks like I should get a nice crop but nothing is developing.

Answer: Most squashes and cucumbers have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. So, to produce fruit, pollen from male flowers must be transferred to the female flowers. How do you tell a male from a female squash or cucumber blossom? The female blossoms have what looks like a tiny squash or cucumber below the flower. The tiny fruit is the ovary, full of eggs not yet fertilized via pollen from male flowers. Male blossoms have long-stalked stamens, each with pollen-filled anthers. Every pollen grain contains sperm nuclei, which fertilize the ovules in the female flowers. Visiting bees and other types of insects provide the transfer of pollen from the male to the female blossoms. Don't worry if the earliest blooms on squash or cucumber plants fall off before they set any fruit. The male flowers of cucumbers and squash often bloom and wither before the female blossoms start appearing. So be patient with squash and cucumber plants. Eventually, most will produce both male and female flowers. Once blossoms of both sexes are opening at the same time and there is still no fruit formation, there may be poor pollination. Sometimes Mother Nature needs help. If you have a shortage of pollinators, you can transfer pollen from male to female blossoms with a small watercolor paintbrush. Research has shown that growing cilantro, yarrow, wild buckwheat, white sweet clover, tansy, sweet fennel, sweet alyssum, spearmint, Queen Anne's lace, hairy vetch, flowering buckwheat, crimson clover, cowpeas, common knotweed and caraway attract natural pollinators and other beneficial insects including natural predators to gardens.

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