Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male anthers of a flower to the female stigma of a flower. Pollination is necessary for fertilization to occur and the plant to develop seeds. Some plants are self-pollinating, meaning the plant has male and female parts, either in the same flower or as separate flowers. One plant is capable of producing fruit and seeds on its own. Other plants require cross-pollination. In these plants, the pollen that fertilizes the flower must come from a different plant. This is accomplished in nature by wind, bees or other insects.
Determine Whether To Hand Pollinate
Determine whether your plant needs pollination. Leaf vegetables such as lettuce and spinach, and most herbs do not need pollination unless you are trying to produce seeds; nor do root crops such as carrots, beets and radishes.
Pollinate self-pollinating vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas if you believe pollination is not taking place. This sometimes happens when plants are grown hydroponically indoors. You might also wish to hand pollinate these plants to produce new hybrid varieties or to ensure that the seed produces true to an heirloom seed.
Hand pollinate plants that produce male and female flowers if they are grown indoors, when there is not a pollinator plant close by, or if there are not insects present to help with pollination. Melons, squash, cucumbers and many fruit trees are cross-pollinators.
Determine whether pollination is occurring. If the flowers are dying and falling away and the fruit does not set, pollination may not be occurring. If bees and other insects are present, pollination is probably occurring and the problem may be over fertilization, weather-related problems or disease.
Polinate each flower with a small, soft paint brush. Brush down inside each flower, making sure the pollen is transferred into the pistil in the center of the flower.
Follow the instructions for cross-pollination if your goal is to create hybrid plants.
Identify the male and female flowers. Male flowers usually appear first, sometimes up to a week before the female flowers. Male flowers form on a thin stem that extends up or out from the branch or vine. The stamen contains pollen that will come off on your finger if touched. Female flowers are identified by the tiny baby fruit or vegetable located just below the flower. The flower will be close to the vine with a shorter stem than the male flowers. Female flowers contain the stigma, which is designed to receive the pollen.
Pollinate the flower in the morning on the first day that the female flower opens. The flower will close in the afternoon and evening.
Use a small, soft paintbrush or a cotton swap. Brush the stamen of the male flower to collect the pollen. Transfer the pollen onto the stigma of the female flower by gently rubbing the paintbrush into the inside of the flower. Make sure to stroke all segments of the stigma. If your male and female flowers are on separate trees some distance apart, you will need to collect the pollen separately.
Collect pollen for use on other plants. Purchase some large gelatin capsules at a health food store. Open the capsule and gently scrape it against the anthers. The pollen will fall into the capsule. Close the capsule. Collect as many capsules of pollen as you expect to need for your flowers.
Return to the female plant and open one capsule. Insert a small soft watercolor brush into the capsule to gather the pollen, then brush the pollen onto the stigma of the female flower. Repeat this process for each flower to be pollinated.