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Fielding Questions: Squash can be hand-pollinated if necessary

Q: This spring, I planted squash, which are growing well with many blossoms and more beginning to open. However, there is no fruit on the vines and dried blossoms have fallen off. There are no bees in the area, and I am wondering if they are required for pollination of squash. Perhaps I am a bit hasty.

– Genevieve Tougas, Fargo

A: Great question. Nature gave squash its showy golden blossoms to attract the necessary pollinators. Sometimes lack of bees or cloudy, cool weather at bloom time can reduce fruit set. Adding a plant of the herb borage to the garden is a great way to attract bees.

But that might not be the only problem. While a student, I worked summers for NDSU squash breeder Neal Holland. One of our tasks was to hand-pollinate fields of squash. Squash contain male and female flowers born separately. The outer flower petals look identical, except male flowers contain pollen-holding anthers, and female flowers have what looks like a tiny, miniature squash at the swollen flower base.

The first blossoms on squash are commonly all male, which just fall off after blooming. Soon both male and female flowers form, and if pollination occurs between blossoms, the miniature squash on the female blossom begins to grow.

Bees sometimes do their work unnoticed. If you are curious about hand-pollinating, you remove a just-opened male flower from the vine, remove the outer petals, and using the flower stalk as a handle, brush its inner pollen-containing part onto the inner structure of a female flower. There, I said it all without blushing.

Q: After seeing someone’s flower garden with a pretty stand of Lythrum (purple loosestrife), I wondered about its current status. We previously removed all of ours after talk of city/county action against people having it. Have the restrictions lessened, or are they not being enforced? You probably cannot buy it from nurseries any more, but someone might be willing to share plants.

– Bruce Johannes, Fargo

A: During our greenhouse years, we sold lythrum by the thousands. Rose-pink flower spikes are born on sturdy, long-lived plants that bloom from early July on. The varieties sold in the trade were reportedly sterile, however they apparently began intercrossing with wild types and produced seed that could spread beyond control. Where lythrum escapes, it can choke wetlands and drainage ditches while crowding out the natural ecosystem of plants and wildlife.

It was declared a noxious weed by the North Dakota Department of Agriculture in 1996, joining 10 others weeds such as Canada thistle and leafy spurge. It is still on the statewide list, and North Dakota law requires “every person to do all things necessary and proper to control the spread of noxious weeds” contained on the list.

Now I doubt Aunt Erma will be taken away in handcuffs and leg irons for possession of lythrum, but county or city weed control boards would certainly be within their rights to ask for its removal, unless lythrum is deleted from the North Dakota list. Too bad we lost a great perennial flower.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city, and state for appropriate advice.