how to pollinate tomatoes by hand

With their lush green foliage, pretty yellow flowers, and rich, red fruit, tomato plants make a beautiful and functional addition to the garden, deck, or patio.

But if something goes wrong and the fruit doesn’t set, that’s a big disappointment!

There are a few factors that can lead to fruit failure, such as cool, damp conditions, high humidity, or lack of pollinators – a common problem in greenhouses.

Fortunately, these plants have a “complete” flower that makes pollination by hand easy.

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Self-fertile, each flower is equipped with both male and female reproductive organs. So, even if conditions are less than ideal, with just a few minutes of extra effort a week, you can be sure of a bountiful, fruitful harvest!

Join us now as we look at four easy ways to hand-pollinate tomatoes.

blossom basics

Tomatoes are self-pollinating plants that have perfect flowers for the job. That is, each flower has both male and female reproductive organs (i.e. stamens and stigmas).

Photo by Lorna Kring.

This makes pollination easier because each flower releases pollen from the stamen onto its own stigma. And once fertilization occurs the fruit develops.

Typically, tomato fertilization is achieved through buzz or wind pollination. But several studies have determined that buzz pollination is most effective in terms of increasing fruit size, yield amount and seed count.

Buzz pollination occurs when some insects, including true vibrissae such as bumblebees (Bombus spp.) and carpenter bees (Xylocopa spp.), vibrate their bodies to shake pollen off the anthers, or the parts of the stamen that hold the pollen. Are.

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On the other hand, bees are not able to do this.

Wind pollination occurs when the wind stirs the flowers to release the pollen. However, in the world of pollinators, Solanum pollen is sticky and heavy, so it takes a good breeze to free the grains from the anthers.

Photo by Lorna Kring.

Pollen shed normally occurs from early morning to late afternoon, with midday being the ideal time for release and transfer.

Sunshine, warm weather, and low humidity create optimal conditions for pollination, but doing it by hand means you don’t have to wait for the right conditions. Some pollen transfer still occurs in less than ideal climates.

how to pollinate tomatoes by hand

To mimic the conditions of wind or buzzing insects, any one of the following methods will improve fruit set.

1. Shake Them Up

Simply shaking or patting the plant is enough to mimic the wind to promote pollen shed.

Photo by Lorna Kring.

This can be done gently, but rapidly, by tapping the top of each flower. You can also flick the flower stems in short, staccato bursts.

2. Art Brush

A small art brush is an effective tool for collecting and distributing pollen, similar to nectar-gathering insects.

Photo by Lorna Kring.

The brush may be cheap, but it should have natural bristles—pollen sticks to natural bristles better than plastic ones.

Gently lift the flower and rub or move the brush back and forth and inside the petals, along the pistil, and at the tip of the stigma. It will collect and transfer pollen grains.

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To avoid cross-pollination, always use a different brush for different tomato varieties, or wash your brush in isopropyl alcohol before moving on to another variety.

3. Cotton swabs

Cotton swabs are another effective tool because the finely cut cotton surface is ideal for collecting and distributing pollen.

Photo by Lorna Kring.

Use a swab the same way you would an art brush.

You can also collect the pollen in a small vessel and use a broom (or brush) to gently apply it to the tip of the stigma of each flower.

4. Battery Operated Toothbrush

The easiest, fastest and most effective method is employed through a simple battery operated toothbrush.

Electric vibrators are available for commercial operation, but a child’s toothbrush does the job for the home gardener at a cost of only a few dollars.

Photo by Lorna Kring.

The vibrating head buzz mimics pollination and causes the anthers to release their pollen onto the stigma.

Simply place the vibrating toothbrush head at the base of a flower or on the stem of a flower, and buzz for a second or two before moving on to the next flower.

How often should I pollinate?

If possible, pollinate by hand every three or four days in the heat of the midday sun.

Photo by Lorna Kring.

Target every open blossom and repeat every two days until the plants stop flowering to ensure that every flower on the cluster is fertilized.

Watch for fruit formation after the flowers have faded.

mature, red goodness

To enjoy bountiful harvests of delicious ripe, red goodness, hand pollination ensures that each flower has the best chance to set fruit.

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Swirling like the wind or buzzing like a bee, it’s easy to do and only takes a few minutes to significantly improve your yields – something every gardener longs for!

What is your favorite method of hand pollination? Let us know in the comments below.

To learn more tomatoes, be sure to read these growing guides next:

Photos by Lorna Kring © Ask the Experts, LLC. All rights reserved. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.