Tomatoes, pollination, bees and the like don’t always go together. While tomato flowers are usually pollinated by wind, and occasionally by bees, lack of air movement or low insect numbers can inhibit the natural pollination process. In these situations, you may need to hand-pollinate tomatoes to get pollination going so your tomato plants will bear fruit. Let’s look at how to pollinate tomato plants.
Can a tomato plant pollinate itself?
Many plants are self-fertilizing or self-pollinating. Edible plants such as fruits and vegetables with self-pollinating flowers are also considered self-fertilizing. In other words, you can plant a single variety of the plant and still harvest some.
Tomatoes are self-pollinating because the flowers have both male and female parts. A tomato plant is capable of producing a crop of fruit by itself, without the need to plant another.
Nevertheless, nature does not always cooperate. While wind normally moves pollen around these plants, when it does not or when other factors, such as high temperatures and excessive humidity or moisture, occur, poor pollination can result.
Tomatoes, Pollination, Bees
Honey bees and bumblebees can be sufficient substitutes for moving pollen to tomato plants. While planting a myriad of brightly colored plants in and around the garden can attract these helpful pollinators, some people prefer to keep hives nearby. This practice depends on your personal needs and preferences.
How to pollinate tomato plants by hand
Another option is to pollinate tomatoes by hand. Not only is this easy, but it can be very effective. Pollen is normally shed from morning to afternoon, with noon the best time to pollinate. Warm, sunny days with low humidity are ideal conditions for hand pollination.
However, even if conditions are not ideal, it never hurts to try anyway. Often you can simply shake the plant(s) gently to distribute the pollen.
However, you can get better results by giving the vine a little vibration instead. While you can buy commercial pollinators or hand-held electric tomato pollinator devices, a simple battery-powered toothbrush is really all you need. The vibrations cause the flowers to release pollen.
Hand pollination techniques vary, so use the method that works best for you. Some people simply place the vibrating device (toothbrush) just behind the open flowers and gently blow or shake the plant to distribute the pollen. Others prefer to collect the pollen in a small container and use a cotton swab to carefully rub the pollen directly onto the end of the flower stigma. Hand pollination is usually done every two or three days to ensure pollination. After successful pollination, the flowers wilt and begin to fruit.