The Q&A Archives: Hand Pollination

Questioner's Location: Vancouver, WA
Date: April 15, 2001

Question: Reading about Brandywine tomatoes on your site, and I quote "Try a little cotton swab action on the flowers during the midday if fruit set doesn't seem to be adequate".

What does this mean? Please explain what the cotton swab action procedure is, and how does one determine if the fruit set doesn't seem to be adequate.

Thank you, I appreciate the information.

Answer: 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.

Fruit set will be considered adequate if most of the blossoms produce a fruit.

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