What you need to know about pollination for a robust harvest

Flowers are so diverse and so beautiful. There's a good reason we love them! But did you know that flowers house the reproductive organs of plants? If you think about it, it makes sense. There are girl flower parts (pistils) and boy flower parts (stamens). And pollination is the process by which pollen from the stamen is transferred to the stigma (which leads to the ovary) of the pistil, resulting in fruit (see the picture provided by Splash for some clarification). The principles are pretty simple.
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The tricky part is that not all flowering plants function the same. Some plants are self-fertile, others not so much. For instance, blueberries do best if you plant more than one variety because they are only partially self-fertile. If you plant a single blueberry variety, you'll end up with a much weaker harvest. Keep reading for what else you need to know about plant reproduction to give your garden a boost! Tomatoes, squash and peppers all make the list.
Terms you should know:
(It's going to get a little scientific, but it's worth it!)
1. Monoecious: Plants that are monoecious have both female flowers and male flowers present on every plant.
2. Dioecious: Plants that are dioecious have either male flowers or female flowers, not both.
3. Hermaphroditic: Hermaphroditic refers to "complete" flowers, which include both female organs (pistil) and male organs (stamen).
4. Staminate: Staminate refers to a flower that has only male organs.
5. Pistillate: Pistillate refers to a flower that has only female organs.
6. Self-fertile: A "complete" flower has the ability to pollinate itself, producing viable fruit.
Now that we know the definitions, take a look at the list below to see how they come into play for getting the most out of your edibles!
Garden favorites:
Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant
Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are all in the same plant family (Solanaceae) and are considered self-fertile. Every plant houses flowers with both male and female organs. That means tomatoes, eggplant and peppers can be pollinated by the wind, and you will likely get some fruit even in the absence of pollinators. However, pollinators increase your chances for an even larger, healthier harvest. For the best tomato harvest possible, "buzz" pollination is ideal. The University of Minnesota Extension says buzz pollination is when bumble bees vibrate their wings while collecting pollen, which results in more effective pollination.
Squash, zucchini, pumpkins and cucumbers
Squash, zucchini, pumpkins and cucumbers are all cucurbits and are not self-fertile. Rather, these plants are monoecious (housing both male and female flowers on the same plant). Female flowers typically have a tiny little fruit-shaped ovary at the base of the flower just waiting to turn into a fruit. Male fruits do not have this. The picture above, provided by Missouri Botanical Garden, displays a female and male flower of a squash plant. So in the case of cucurbits, pollinators are key. You can also look into hand-pollinating your plants.
Asparagus
You might be thinking that plant reproduction shouldn't matter for asparagus since we eat it before it even flowers. But it does matter. Asparagus plants are dioecious, which means each plant has either male flowers or female flowers. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach says male asparagus plants produce larger spears since they don't have to put any energy into producing fruit. So it's helpful to know whether you're planting a male or female plant.
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Blueberries
Blueberries are potentially self-pollinating. Every flower has both female and male organs. However, NC State University Cooperative Extension says that the pollen of blueberry flowers is heavy and sticky and not easily moved by the wind. If self-pollination does occur, SF Gate says the berries are usually smaller and don't taste as good. Also, blueberries benefit a ton if you plant more than one variety so that cross-pollination can occur. This refers to pollinators moving the pollen from one flower to the stigma of another flower located on an entirely different plant. The best pollinators for blueberries are native bees (no surprise there), so include native flowers in your garden to attract as many bees as possible.
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