Squashing Your Hopes Again
A recent "Grumpy Gardener" page in Southern Living featured a common gripe about squash and zucchini. You plant the seeds, vines sprout and carpet the ground with healthy, green foliage, flowering commences and fills you with hope, and yet, no squash or zucchini ever forms. Why? Is there dark magic at play? Is there a curse upon the land?
At the root of this conundrum is the fact that the squash and zucchini (cucumbers and melons too) bear separate male and female flowers (in the photo above, the male squash flower is on the left and the female on the right). Male squash flowers are large and showy with anthers in the center covered with yellow pollen. Female squash flowers possess a baby squash on the stem end. For that baby to grow up, pollen from the male must make it to the female, usually carried by bees.
And here is where everything typically goes bonkers. Plants produce only male flowers first. Nobody knows why, but it may be to prime the pollinating insects to show up later when female flowers finally appear. Only on your plants, no females ever open. Only males for no apparent reason. While male flowers are edible and good in salads, that's not why you planted squash and zucchini, is it?
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Any time something goes wrong with plants that can't be explained by insect, disease, or critter attacks, I suspect growing conditions – most often, weather. And that just might be what's going on here. High temperatures and dry soil stress out plants. Stressed plants drop flowers and fruit prematurely or the pollen dies. When this happens, you don't get a crop.
Because female flowers occur later in the growing season as days heat up, it makes sense that plants will be more stressed then. I therefore suggest you plant your squash seed as early as you can in your area. This gives the plants more time to get established before the summer swelter sets in and female flowers pop open. Keep the soil moist while plants are flowering and fruiting.
Wait until next spring to try this. It's too late to plant a fall crop now in most areas.
Of course, not everyone struggles with squash and zucchini. Look at this harvest shot sent in by faithful reader, Peggy Salk. AHA! Now we know where everyone else's squash quota has been going! Maybe she'll share.