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Pollination needed to grow squash

Nancy Brachey

Q. All of my plants in the garden are doing well, except for yellow squash and zucchini. Instead of being prolific producers, as they have been in the past, they are slow growing and the initial fruits are growing only about an inch or so before they are just withering on the vine. I had some trouble last year with the zucchini that I chalked up to lack of pollination, but my squash have never had problems. Any advice?

The flowers on these plants are not being pollinated, and you can blame that on the continuing lack of honeybees in the U.S. You will have to do the work of the bees, but it is not difficult.

Look at your plants, including the zucchini, and you should see two similar, but different kinds of flowers. These are the male and female flowers. The female flower will have a tiny squash at the base of the flower.

With a cotton swab, lift the pollen from stamens on a male flower and touch this to the tip of the pistil in the female flower. This is pollination, also known as sex in the garden. Other crops, including melons and cucumbers, which have separate male and female flowers, may also require this treatment.

It is possible that your first crop of flowers were all male flowers, and there were no female flowers yet. By this time, however, that is unlikely and the problem is probably due to the lack of bees to pollinate the flowers. The recent heat wave could also have made the pollen ineffective, as it did on some tomato plants.

Look to mid-July for plums

Q. We have a plum tree that is full of plums. They are a little larger than a cherry. How long will it be before the fruit is ready to eat?

You should probably have plums about mid-July, perhaps a bit earlier or later depending on the type of plum you are growing. It is important to observe the developing color and remember that the fruits continue to mature and develop their best taste after they begin to show the distinctive red or purple color.

Give one a taste test to make sure they are ripe and ready to pick and eat. All these plums will not ripen at once. Good rainfall over the next month will help develop high-quality fruits. Here's hoping.

Nancy Brachey: The Charlotte Observer, P.O. Box 30308, Charlotte, NC 28230-0308; nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com; 704-358-5224.

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