Pollination Concerns: How to Hand Pollinate

What You'll Need
A handful of cotton swabs, clean and sterile if possible

Mechanical pollination is a method used to pollinate plants in a garden where the natural, open pollination is undesirable, or when there simply isn’t enough pollen going around. Honey bees do this on a massive scale, but if you feel more comfortable doing it yourself, there are methods of achieving the best pollination with your own two hands, and perhaps a tool or two.

In general, the pollination process works like this: pollen is released or shaken into the air and carried to other flowers of the same type—like tomato flowers, for instance. The pollen lands at the tip of the stigma, or the part in the center with the sticky end. When it lands there, it’s filtered down through the style, or the tube that leads down to the ovary, and then, once in the ovary, the makings of new fruits occur. Sometimes this doesn’t happen very easily, due to weather differences, but you can do it yourself. This will help the plants bear more fruit for you.

It’s important to keep in mind that when you’re pollinating you should go from plant to plant, not from two different flowers on the same plant, because a plant generally can’t pollinate itself. Stay within the species boundaries as well. You can’t pollinate a tomato plant with zucchini pollen and expect a hybrid.

Step 1 – Find The Pollen

Pollen is located in different places, but of all of the spots you can find pollen, rest assurred you will find it in the flower itself. It’s usually a yellowish or greenish powder that sticks to the anther, or the end of the little stalk that stick out of the flower. The filament will be right next to the stigma, which is the part that takes pollen from other plants and uses it to make fruit.

Step 2 – Collect Pollen and Take to Another Plant

Use your sterile cotton swabs to gently wipe at the anthers, collecting the pollen. Once you have a substantial amount of pollen on your cotton swab’s end, you can move to another plant (of the same type) and gently tap the end of the cotton swab onto the stigma. You should see some of the pollen stick there—the more that sticks there, the more you’ve pollinated each flower.

Step 3 – Repeat Until There are no More Unpollinated Flowers

The final step is to repeat this process, over and over, from the flower on your first plant to the flower on your second plant. Once you have no more flowers from which to collect pollen or to give pollen to, you’re all done.