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Plant Pollination Problems

Tree Branch

Mother Nature pollinates the flowers of the world countless times each and every day. Its a vital first step in the process of plant propagation, survival of the species, and genetic mixing and evolution. The more you research into it, the more amazing it is. It causes you to pause and marvel in wonder at God's great design for the world.

While the process of pollination goes on endlessly each day, the process is not always successful. A small percentage of the time, pollination either does not occur, or occurs with unsuccessful results. When poor pollination happens in our garden, we ask "why" and seek to discover how to correct the problem.

Listed below are the most common problems of poor pollination in your garden. Got a pollination problem? Let's get right on to identifying the problem and the cure.......  

Tree Branch

Common Problems with Pollination:

No blossoms:

Temperature Cold weather can delay the development of blossoms. Hot weather on the other hand, can also delay blooms or cause them to shrivel and not produce fruit.

The Cure: Await milder temperatures. As soon as the weather improves, new blooms will appear. In cold temperatures, wind breaks, cloches, mini greenhouses, and row covers will help to raise the temperatures.

No female blossoms Some plants produce male and female flowers. When it comes to pollination, male flowers usually come to the dance first. (do you remember those days?) They come in big numbers and strut their stuff, awaiting the arrival of the ladies. After a while, sometimes several days or more, a few timid females begin to arrive. Usually there is no problem here, just an anxious grower.

The Cure: A little more patience. A little extra phosphorous will help promote blooms. Hold off on Nitrogen during the pollination period.

Did you know? The blossoms of some plants are self pollinating. Examples are tomatoes, corn, and beans. Other plants have uniquely distinct male and female flowers. Good examples are pumpkins, squash, and watermelon. Regardless of the type of flower, the pollen needs to get to and pollinate the fruit which will cause it to grow.

Fruit Shrivels and Dies Off:

Pollination did not occur, it did not occur properly, or plant stress caused the fruit to abort.

High Temperatures- As temperatures reach the high 80's, the success rate for pollination declines. A heat wave in the nineties, results in poor if any, pollination. This is common with many plants, especially with more southerly climates.

The Cure: Wait for a cool spell and nature will do it's thing. Shade covers in hotter regions is a big help. Avid giant pumpkin growers have resorted to building a small tent with ice or dry ice inside to lower temperatures around the fruit! This will work on other fruits and vegetables, too.

Lack of Pollinators: A disease affecting honeybees has devastated their population in many areas. There are many other insects that step in and inadvertently do the job....sometimes. Some are harmful insects, some are harmless. Many new growers will spray insecticides on their plants to eliminate the many unwanted and sometimes harmful insects. The spray kill insects and pollinators alike. The result.....no pollination. Been there...done that.

The Cure: Buy or rent honeybee colonies. Do not spray insecticides during the pollination period. If you do spray during this time period, you can always hand pollinate.

Plant Stress:

In nature when a plant is under stress, it will not produce fruit. Or, it will abort existing fruit. It is a survival mechanism, allowing a plant to focus upon survival first. That stress is caused by:

Water Too little or too much water.

The Cure: Keep soil consistently moist, not wet and not dry.

Soil pH imbalance pH levels are too high, or too low.

The Cure:: Get your soil tested. Alter pH levels as indicated by the test.

Mineral and/or Nutrients Levels too high, or too low. Nitrogen is important in early plant growth and throughout the season. Too much nitrogen will cause lots of green leaves and growth, but can delay the flower/fruit stage. During pollination, phosphorus will promote flowering and fruit set. A range of micro-nutrients are also important.

The Cure: Get your soil tested. Alter levels as indicated by the test. Cut back or halt nitrogen applications for a while. Add phosphorus. Look for fertilizers that contain micro-nutrients, many don't.

Insect or disease problems The plant is struggling to fight off damage from insects or disease. It will focus upon survival rather than reproduction. It will not produce flowers and can abort existing fruit.

The Cure: Apply insecticides and/or fungicides as appropriate. Trim and remove affected leaves and vines to promote new, healthy growth. New growth will produce new flowers and fruit. Organic gardeners, there are organic sprays.

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