We have a heatwave in the Pacific Northwest and, literally, some busy bees, so this is the first year I have been able to make a go of growing peppers. I am thrilled every morning to see the blossoms and resultant fruit, but in years past, I was never able to get any fruit set. Maybe I should have tried hand pollinating my peppers.
Pollination of Peppers
Some veggie plants, like tomatoes and peppers, are self-pollinating, but others such as zucchini, pumpkins, and other vine crops produce both male and female flowers on the same plant. During times of stress, these blossoms (regardless of whether they are self-pollinating or not) need some assistance in order to produce fruit. Stress may be due to a lack of pollinators or overly high temperatures. During these stressful times, you may need to hand pollinate your pepper plants. Although time consuming, hand-pollinating peppers is simple and sometimes necessary if you desire a good fruit set.
How to Hand Pollinate a Pepper Plant
So how do you hand pollinate pepper plants? During pollination, pollen is transferred from the anthers to the stigma, or the center part of the flower, resulting in fertilization. Pollen is fairly sticky and composed of a multitude of tiny grains covered with finger-like projections that adhere to whatever they come in contact with… like my nose apparently, as I have allergies.
In order to hand pollinate your pepper plants, wait until the afternoon (between noon and 3 p.m.) when the pollen is at its peak. Use a tiny artist’s paintbrush (or even a cotton swab) to gently transfer the pollen from flower to flower. Swirl the brush or swab inside the flower to gather the pollen and then gently rub onto the end of the flower stigma. If you are having a difficult time getting the pollen to adhere to the swab or brush, dip it in a bit of distilled water first. Just remember to be slow, methodical and extremely gentle, lest you damage the blossom and, hence, the potential fruit.
Avoid cross-pollination when you have multiple types of pepper plants by switching out the paintbrush or swab when hand pollinating.
You can also shake the plant lightly to aid in the transfer of pollen from bloom to bloom.