Gardening: How To Hand-Pollinate Fruits and Vegetables

A few weeks ago, we were having trouble getting our chili pepper plants to pollinate and bear fruit. The flowers would bloom and seem to flourish. Then a few days later they'd curl up again and fall off, stem and all.

After a bit of research, we thought we'd try hand-pollinating. Here's how!

Container gardens and balcony gardens are particularly prone to pollination problems because they don't get as much insect-traffic or crosswinds as ground gardens do. Sometimes hand-pollinating is necessary to get things off the ground.

First, determine if your plant is self-pollinating or if it cross-pollinates.

Tomatoes and peppers self-pollinate, meaning each flower contains all the necessary plant parts to make a fruit. But many vine crops like zucchini produce different male and female flowers. The male flower will have pollen-laden stamens and the female flower will usually have what looks like the tiny bud of a vegetable at the base.

A small watercolor or other soft brush is the best tool for the job. As you can see, Q-tips also make a good stand-in!

If your plant is self-pollinating, all you need to do is brush inside each flower, making sure the pollen gets down into the pistil (middle part) of the flower.

If your plant isn't a self-pollinater, brush up some of the pollen from the male flower and transfer it to the pistil on a female flower. You can also pick the male flower and shake pollen right into the female. (Sorry for nature of that description!)

If your plant doesn't start bearing fruit in a few days, then something else might be going on. Inadequate water, lack of sunlight, and nutrient-deficient soil can also cause plants to conserve energy and not bear fruit.

Our plant is now in good form and we're looking forward to plenty of chili peppers in a few weeks! Good luck with your own fruits and veggies!

Related: Recipe: Fried Squash Blossoms

(Images: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)