Manual Pollination: How to Pollinate Plants without Bees


Honey bees are the world’s best pollinators for a large number of crops. However, they are not always available in every area. Different areas have different insects, which are not generally accessible because we need to pollinate our plants. That is where manual pollination comes in.

Manual Pollination is a pollination technique done by home gardeners. They take the pollen from one flower to another instead of bees doing this normally using a paintbrush—the transferring of pollen from one flower to another aids in the fertilization and growing of fruits.

In this article, we will be talking in-depth about the process of pollination, its types, and how to do it on your own to promote the growth of flowers and crops from plants.

What is Pollination?

Pollination is when pollen grains from the male flower or the anther are transferred to the stigma or the female flower. This process is more popularly associated with bees doing the pollination job, wherein the pollen grains get stuck to their body when they go to the flowers and cause the transfer as they flit amongst the flowers.

We are developing all sorts of technologies based on what we have learnt from birds, animals and soils. Pollination is worth £billions. But it also highlights how nature is so interconnected.

Tony Juniper

Of course, pollination thru bees is not the only pollination process out there. It can also be done by wind, insect pollination, and other types of the pollination process.

Types of Pollination

To understand the types of Pollination, you need to determine if your plant is self-pollinating or if it cross-pollinates. Even though all flowering plants depend on pollination to reproduce, it is still best to read on and consider the different types and what you can do in your own garden.

Self-pollination

This is the basic type of pollination because this depends on and involves only one flower. In addition, each flower contains both male and female parts; these are necessary to plant parts to make fruit.

Examples for famous self pollinating plants are the strawberry flowers as well as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.

This type of pollination happens when the pollen grains from the anther fall directly on the stigma of the same flower, which is called self-pollinating.

Self-pollinated plants produce better crops if the wind gently shakes them. But, of course, you yourself can aid too in this process by gently shaking the stem of the plants if need be.

But that does not mean that your plants don’t need insects, bees, and wind for self-pollinating.

They can definitely help, and an example of this would be bees buzzing over the flowers. The buzz shakes the flowers, which also helps to shake the pollen off into the stigma.

Aiding in self pollination

You can also do the same by placing an electric toothbrush against the plant and turning it on. This much vibration is the same as the buzz of bee wings. You can try this with a tomato plant. 

Aside from the toothbrush method, one can also experiment with using the paintbrush to transfer the pollen easily.  

Cross pollination

This happens when one plant pollinates a plant of another variety. This process is sometimes intentionally used within the garden to create new plant varieties.

The two plants’ genetic material mix together, and the resulting seeds from that pollination will have characteristics of both varieties with a different new variety.

Manual pollination

Sometimes our plants grow but seem to be unable to produce fruit. Manual pollination would be something to look into to solution that. This helps your flowering plants set fruit, and the process is directly connected to the different sexes of flowers.

The human race and all the Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems would not survive without pollination practices since over 80% of the whole world’s flowering plants need a pollinator to reproduce.

In this article, you will know how to pollinate your plants without bees manually. Be a bee to your flowers and help them set fruit. Increase your garden yields with manual Pollination. 

Why should you learn Manual Pollination

Doing manual pollination may seem to be a scary process, with us literally dabbling with the creation and growth process in plants. But though it may be a daunting task, this can also ensure that the plant and its seeds will grow well and boost their growth and yield.

You can use manual pollination to help plants when they don’t set fruit

There are times when we wait for plants to grow, and they do but end up not setting fruit.

This often happens to fruits like strawberries and tomatoes and plants like cucumbers, squash, and corn. They grow their branches and flowers but no fruit which rather unfortunate. Instances happen, too, wherein the flowers bloom but die before maturing.

Using to manual pollination to create a new variety of plant

To cross-pollinate two species to create a new different variety of plants. Typically this process when there are specific genetic qualities and results that the gardener wants.

Hybridization is the process wherein two different varieties of plants are created from the same kind of fruit.

There will always be times when we want to grow or have a specific trait in a plant, may it be a new colored flower or having better resistance to diseases. Manual pollination can help aid with this when there is an absence of pollinators.

When there is a lack of insects and bees in your area, utilize manual pollination

Suppose you don’t see bees or other insects hovering around your flowering plants.

Manual pollination is beneficial for circumstances like this, especially when growing plants in greenhouses, indoors, or on a screened-in porch. Doing so is essential for the health and productivity of your plants.

Manual Pollination can increase the likelihood of a successful pollination

Most of the time, this is done in the absence of bees and other pollinators. For instance: pumpkin can produce good fruits after manual Pollination. Home gardeners typically use the manual pollination method to ensure that the corn grows well and has a full ear when it grows.

How to do Manual Pollination

As said in the cases above, there will be many times when manual pollination is one of the best ways to grow your fruit or crops. This may be because of the insufficient male plants nearby, which is the only way to foster their growth.

This section will be going into the step-by-step procedures on pollination itself and how the process can differ for plants, trees, vegetables, and even self-pollinating plants.

Things You’ll Need for Manual Pollination

There are several things which you will need to pollinate plants without bees as seen in the table below:

Plants in flowerPlastic bags
Cotton swabsTwist ties
TwineLabels

Process of Manual Pollination

First of all, examine the plant you need to be fertilized. Male flowers will appear on plants first and then in large numbers than female flowers.

Male flowers contain a stamen with pollen and its counterpart, and the female flowers have a little knob at the bottom of the flower, which shows a baby fruit type or vegetable.

There are many ways to pollinate manually, where one can remove a flower and pull back or strip off the petals and then rub the inside of another flower. But the essence of it all is the pollen transfer.

Collect as much pollen (which may look like a powdery substance) that you can from the male flowers and place them into the female flower petals. It is best to get the pollen on the very first day when the flowers bloom and also consider using either a paintbrush or cotton swab for the best results.

Process on Manual Manipulation of fruit and crop bearing plants and trees

In some countries or areas, pollinators such as honeybees, bumblebees, and mason bees are insufficient; instead, you can treat and fertilize some food-bearing tree/plant blossoms yourself.

Some of the unfruitful types, such as apples, pears, and cherries, need to be fertilized with another cultivar (which means the plant produced through cultivation and selective breeding) of the same fruit. Again, we recommend you do this process early in the morning.

The previous steps apply, but for food bearing plants and trees, these steps may be more detailed, so consider looking into them.

Plant or tree typeProcess of Manual Pollination
Dwarf treesHold up until you’ve had a good weather condition in your area and the trees are in full blossom. Then, utilize a little paintbrush for blooms that can be captured from the beginning, like those on dwarf trees.
Taller treesYou can gather pollen from larger trees by brushing the duster on a pole from the main centers of flowers on the first or pollinating tree. Now carry the pole to the second tree and drag and drop the pollen-filled duster into the centers of the blooms on that tree. Keep fertilizing your trees for the next few days as more blossoms will open.
Self-fruitful tree blossomsCollect pollen from the anthers of self-fruitful tree blossoms. You can collect the pollen with the help of a brush or a cotton swab and apply it to their stigmas. Use a paintbrush that is made of camel hair. You can also look into using Q-tips or feathers. The swabs of your brush need to be clean and dry.
Dwarf self-unfruitful treesYou can also snip some blossoms from the pollinator for dwarf self-unfruitful trees and drop them into a plastic pack. Combine them and shift them to the trees you wish to fertilize. Finally, you can apply pollen from the anthers of the flowers and store them in the pack to the stigmas of the flowers in the second tree. This whole process needs a paintbrush, cotton swab, and plastic bags.

For vegetable crops, some of the plants are male and female, so it would be helpful to do previous research if the vegetable you are growing also has these characteristics. For instance, in squash-family plants, like zucchini, the female flowers can differ from the male ones by a swelling (the immature fruit) behind the flower.

Manual pollination process for Self-Fertile Plants

Self-fertile which are also known as “self-pollinating” / “self-fruitful” plants include:

BeansPeppers
EggplantsStrawberries
PeasTomatoes

These plants and their flowers have got all the essential characteristics to produce fruit. If you are growing your plants outdoors, there is no need for manual Pollination. A slight gust of wind can sometimes fertilize the plants.

However, there are typically two ways with which you can fertilize self-fertile plant:

  • Gently shake the plant or gently blow on the top of flowers to stimulate pollen release.
  • You can also swab the inside of each flower with a little paintbrush or cotton swab. This can help transfer pollen into the middle part of the flower.

How to Boost Pollination as a whole

Without some pollination, your plants might feel healthy, but they will not produce fruit. As a result, yields of fruiting vegetables and some other crops like sweet corn would tumble.

Insect pollination is one famous way of making plants flower and growing into crops, especially honey bees being the forefront insect. Studies have also been looking into the possibility of either using wild pollinators (using the genuine ecosystem and insects) or through commercial services (usage of domesticated bees, for example) and the combination of both. However, there are barely any existing studies on which process yields better and more crops, especially for large-scale farming (source).

There are three simple techniques that you can do to make the pollination process easy and boost the pollination process. First, attracting pollinators, harnessing wind, and if it fails, you can go for manual Pollination, which we already explained in detail above.

Pollination through wind

An example of a plant that relies on pollination through wind is sweet corn. They shed pollen from their tassels to land on the female parts, which are known as silks.  When pollination does not happen for sweet corn, the ears of corn will fail to develop any kernels.

Due to this, it is best practice to plant corn in blocks rather than rows to increase the chances of wind-blown pollen grains landing on the silks of an adjacent plant.

Attracting bees and pollinators

If you plan to get a wide variety of flowers with different types of flowers, you need to attract the bees and other pollinators.

Grow different types of flowers frequently in your garden to attract bees and pollinators.

Your garden will attract bees if you have enough flowers in it, but it also depends on the climate and region you reside in. Bees will be attracted to your garden by flowers, and they will pollinate your crops simultaneously.

Ensure to avoid double-flowered cultivars as they can be difficult for insects to access, containing some or no pollen.

Plants that attract pollinators and bees

You can take different approaches to attract pollinators, and they can be done by planting perennial flowerbeds or shrubberies near your vegetable plot or fruit garden.

Types of plantsSpecific plant that can attract pollinators
Flowers and shrubsBuddleia, witch hazel, dandelions, spiraea, honeysuckle, and mahonia,
HerbsChives, thyme, lavender and oregano
Herbaceous perennialsPulmonaria, yarrow, hardy geranium (also known as cranesbill), echinacea, sea holly, and foxgloves
BulbsSnowdrops, crocus, squill, and other bulbs
Annual plantsPoached egg plant and marigolds

Make sure to plant those that grow with ease with the plants that you really need to pollinate. It is also important to note that the annual plants listed above grow well with other vegetables, so consider growing them.

Conclusion on Manual Pollination

Depending on your climate really, the variety of plants you have, and the scale of your garden, Manual pollination is something to greatly consider doing rather than waiting for pollinators to come and risk your plants not growing fruits and crops during the waiting process.

While our buzzy friends can be the greatest help in pollination, you yourself can be a bee to your plants! So take the chance by using this article and the tips in it to do manual pollination for greater yield and possible growing of different varieties of plants.

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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