Playing mother nature and learning to pollinate your indoor plants is fun, easy and rewarding. Regular and active pollination results in good healthy blooms than are accomplished without it. So getting good at pollination is worth your time and attention.
It takes you to the next level of care for indoor plants. One of the biggest drawbacks to growing plants indoors is the lack of access to natural pollinators like insects, birds, flies, moths, bees and even natural wind.
Before going into the details and techniques of pollination let us discuss why pollination is done.
Why Pollinate Indoor Plants?
For many indoor plants, it won’t make much difference. Indoor plants are mainly grown for their foliage. For them, pollination is irrelevant. A plant does not need pollination to grow, be green, produce leaves, branches, and vines.
Pollination is a process involving flowers, for the purpose of fertilizing seeds so the plants can reproduce more of its species. However, most indoor plants don’t even need flowers and seeds to reproduce. This is because they are masters of vegetative reproduction.
This means they are usually reproduced from various parts like stems, roots, and leaves. Most of the houseplants are propagated from stem cuttings or tissue culture.
But certain plants are going to need pollination in order to produce fruits or seeds. Pollination is a part of the reproductive cycle and a necessary step to produce fruits or seeds as it brings together male and female cells.
Let me discuss a little bit about the concept of pollination before moving to how to pollinate
What is Pollination?
Pollination involves moving the pollen grain from the stamens ( male part of the flower) to the pistil ( the female part) where it can travel down to the ovule and fertilize the seeds.
When you look inside a typical flower, you will see several delicate filaments. There should be one in the center and several smaller ones around it. The center one is the stigma, the female part that leads to the ovaries inside the flower.
The other ones are the stamens, where the male pollen is produced. The pollen itself is like fine yellow dust or powder.
Technically, pollen ( male) needs to be introduced to the ovary (female) of a flower, and that is consistent with all plants. Sounds simple but there is a bit of a catch. Not all plants have exactly the same pollination needs.
True self-fertile plants will produce flowers where the pollen can stay within the blossom and pollinate its own stigma. In such cases, there can even be pollination before the flower opens up.
There is one variation in self-fertile plants in which the pollen needs to be moved from its source to another flower on the same plant.
In all other cases, you will just need to transfer pollen from the flower of one plant to another flower on a different plant. It does need to be the same species of plants. For example, trying to cross-pollinate a geranium with philodendron isn’t going to work.
There is one more situation, where the plants produce completely separate male flowers and female flowers. Most indoor plants are not designed this way. Some examples of this situation are squash and melons grown in greenhouses.
Let us now discuss how to hand pollinate indoor flowers
How to pollinate Indoor plants
Now that you have decided that your indoor plants need to be pollinated, let us understand how to go about it.
Plants in this category include peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants. In these plants, pollen just needs to be released from one part of a flower to another part in the same flower in order for pollination to occur.
Outdoors a gentle breeze or wind is enough to shake them up a bit and get the work done. Indoors you got to gently shake your plants by hand holding on the stem near the flower.
The vibration by bees also does the job. To simulate the vibration of bees, use artificial bee vibrator or any kids’ electric toothbrush as a vibrator and place on the stem.
The vibrations are strong enough to loosen up the pollen without really making much movement in the stems or leaves.
Gently shake or vibrate the plant or individual flowers a few times a week ( although daily is best) after flowers appear.
Another superb tactic is to direct a fan at your indoor garden. This will automatically lead to increased pollination.
Plants in this category include cucumbers, melons, and squash. These plants produce both male and female flowers.
For pollination to occur, pollen must move from the male flower to the female flower. Generally, this is accomplished by insects flying or crawling from one flower to another.
Indoors, for plants that produce male and female flowers, we need to move the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers.
Many plants will produce a large number of male flowers first, then the female flowers start to appear. You can tell the difference between male and female flowers by studying them closely. Male flowers are smaller and you can often see the pollen as “dust” inside the flowers.
Female flowers tend to be larger and often have small unfertilized fruit at their base.
In the case of cucumbers, you can actually see a small half-inch long cucumber at the base of the female flowers. If left unpollinated, this will drop off. If pollinated, it grows into full-sized fruit.
To pollinate, use a cotton swab or small paintbrush to move pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. Dab from the stamen of one flower to the central stalk called stigma inside another flower. Lightly brush the collected pollen from the male bloom to the interior of a female bloom.
Female flowers can also be pollinated by removing male blooms from the plant and rubbing the stamen directly on the pistil of the female bloom.
Pollen from one male bloom can be used to fertilize several female blooms.
Squash plants have both male and female flowers. The male flowers are the first to appear and each lasts only a couple of days. A week later, female blossoms appear. They have a tiny fruit at the bottom of the blossom. As soon as the blossoms open, use a small watercolor paintbrush.
Gently swirl it inside of a male flower to pick up pollen, and then brush it lightly inside the center of the female blossoms.
Experiment and create your own hybrids
This is another level of your pollination plans. Combine the genes from two healthy strong plants to develop your own personal strain. Your aim can be to achieve bigger flowers, bigger fruits or whatever traits you find the most appealing.
This way you can also avoid poorly performing plants in your breeding schedule to weed out weak genes.
You don’t have to be a genetic engineer, just experiment and keep notes about which plants you are cross-pollinating with others. Keep a rough track of the results.
Before you get excited, be realistic in your pollination goals. You are not going to create a magnificent new hybrid with just one cross-pollination between a couple of flowering houseplants.
Another thing to understand is that while you are trying to breed plants with a purpose, it will only have an effect on the resulting seeds, not the immediate fruit. Expect a few generations to pass before you start to notice any differences in your plants.
How to figure out if pollination was a success and causes of failures
That will depend on the plant. Soon after you pollinate a flower, it will die back and drop its petals. Keep a close eye, and you should soon start to see fruit develop at the base of the flower.
If the flower drops off with no further development, your pollination attempts did not work. While it’s disappointing that you will get no fruit or seeds from that flower, the plant itself won’t suffer and will continue to grow just fine until the next flowering cycle.
When your fruiting crops sprout flowers and the petals curl back, it is time for you to pollinate. It is better to pollinate at midday when the humidity is the lowest. This increases the chances of successful pollination.
Sometimes, tiny fruits appear and dry up or do not appear. This can be due to stress. Stress can cause the plant to conserve energy and forget about bearing fruit.
Some reasons for stress for indoor plants can be inadequate moisture, lack of light, nutrient deficiencies, high or low day and night temperatures. All of which can cause fruit-drop.
Some other causes include pest infestations, excessive pruning, diseases and poor root health leading to weakening of the plant. It can cause the plant to drop its flowers and fruits.
You need to correct the stress-causing factors and soon you will see new male and female flowers appear. Successful pollination is what follows.
Sometimes small fruitlets form and don’t develop further or develop and fall from the plant. These fruitlet drops may also stem from causes not related to poor pollination. This is because the plant aborts fruitlets when it is already carrying a heavy fruit load which can sufficiently support and grows till maturity. Example- cucumbers, capsicums, and melons
Misshapen fruit is another common pollination issue. For example, a misshapen condition known as ‘cat face’ in tomatoes is caused by cool temperatures during pollination. This happens due to one or more locules (compartment within the fruit containing seeds) that have not been fertilized and produced sufficient seeds, its growth will be restricted and the final fruit deformed.
Another deformity is puffy fruit. This is common in tomatoes wherein the tomatoes are large, lightweight, soft, watery and puffy. This is due to excessive nitrogen levels given to the plant, the use of hormone setting sprays etc that are the cause of poor pollination.
If misshapen fruits develop on your plant, these should be removed while still as small as possible so that the plant can redirect its energy into other fruits.
Pollination of fruiting plants in an indoor garden environment is not a complex or time-consuming task, but it yields huge results. You are rewarded with a good-sized, well-shaped fruit.
All that is required is understanding the specific requirements of different fruiting plant types, methods of indoor pollination and attention to timing with a keen and focussed observation. And you have a perfect degree of fruit set. Happy pollinating!
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