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The Best Way to Pollinate Tomato Plants

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The Best Way to Pollinate Tomato Plants

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Overview

Tomatoes are everybody's favorite home garden crop, but they need good pollination to produce a good crop of fruit. There are a few ways to make sure this gets done efficiently and none of them are difficult. You can be the tomato champion of your neighborhood; it just takes a little planning and attention. You can also use this information to crossbreed your favorite tomatoes to see what happens. It's an easy science project with practical applications, and it's fun, too.

Step 1

Plant your tomato bushes in a staggered or block formation. Use a different block for different varieties, to keep them from crossbreeding.Tomatoes are primarily wind pollinated, so putting them in a row makes it more difficult for the plants to find each other. Plant your tomatoes about 1.5 to 2 feet apart, but plant them in a square or a double row, not a single row.

Step 2

Help the wind along. Go out in early afternoon and gently shake each plant at the base, just enough to encourage the spread of pollen. You don't have to be rough. A gentle shimmy of the entire plant, just like in a soft breeze, is enough. This gentle shake also imitates the vibrating effect of a bee in the blossom. You can also gently push two plants together at the top before you do your shaking.

Step 3

Be more aggressive with your pollination. Start by shaking the plant. Then, use a cotton swab to gather pollen from one blossom and deposit it on another. Use newly opened blossoms, not flowers that are mature and fully open. The pollen is inside the blossom center and you want to deposit it on the stamens, at the top of the blossom. Be gentle with your swab to avoid damaging the blossoms.

Step 4

Be specific with your pollination. Choose the varieties you want to cross, then gather pollen from one plant's blossoms and deposit it in the blossoms of the other plant. Place a plastic sandwich bag over the pollinated blossom and secure it gently with a twist tie. Make sure you have pierced several holes in the bag to allow for ventilation and respiration. The bags are to protect against unintended pollination by bees, wind and other visitors. Do this back and forth with both plants. You can also thoroughly pollinate both plants, then use larger plastic bags to enclose entire branches. Remove the bags in a week to ten days, or when you start to see the faint swelling of a baby tomato at the base of the blossom.

Tips and Warnings

  • Be gentle with your plants to avoid damaging the stems, branches and flowers. Remove your bags after two weeks, or if the weather gets quite warm (over 90 degrees) and the plants' breathing is endangered.

Things You'll Need

  • Tomato plants in bloom
  • Cotton swabs
  • Plastic sandwich bags
  • Twist ties
  • Bamboo skewer or ice pick

References

  • Washington State University Extension: Tomato Pollination

Who Can Help

  • The Pollination Home Page
Keywords: pollination, tomato, tomatoes, tomato breeding

About this Author

Patricia Bryant Resnick started writing when she was 7. She received a Bachelor of Arts from Sonoma State University in 1975. She began writing professionally in 1996 and has been published in "Rolling Stone," "Georgia Family Magazine" and online. Resnick specializes in food and gardening articles; she is a regular reviewer of tea on the Web.