How & Where Fruits Form on Squash PlantsJune 11, 2009
Robert from New Smyrna Beach, FL recently wrote in to garden help about problems he was experiencing with his zucchini plants. This was a great reminder to share a little bit of detail about the often confusing flowers put out by some of our favorite edibles including melons, cucumbers, squash, pumpkin and all the curcurbits in our veggie gardens. Robert writes:
“my zucchini plants seem to be small to begin with, but they are blooming and the blossoms fall off but no fruit is producing. my yellow and acorn are doing fine, please help. thanks “
Robert, thanks for writing in.
First, your zucchini plants may be small because they are young. Or, they could be planted in an environment that isn’t quite right for them. Have you tested the soil? Are they getting enough sunlight and enough water? Were they planted properly? Are there any pests attacking them? Any of these things could be contributing to their size.
Second, it is important to know that zucchini and other curcurbits (like squash, pumpkin, melon, cucumber) produce both male and female flowers, separately. Many other plants don’t separate their boy and girl parts in different flowers, so this confuses many gardeners. The flowers males are the big ones that usually appear first on the plants. These have no sign of fruit at their base. They are particularly important in attracting the pollinators to the garden and they produce important pollen for pollinating the fruiting flowers. However, they will never provide a fruit. The female flowers form with a tiny fruit at their base (by fruit, this means a zucchini in your situation). When this flower is pollinated, the fruit fattens up and becomes your dinner. So here’s hoping your boys will open at the same time your girls do!
If your plant is young, immature it may be that is not ready to produce fruit. Fruiting requires a lot of energy from the plant. Sometimes squash will put out male flowers long before females. These will open but then wither and die, fruitless. Once your plant becomes more mature, it will likely start forming more female flowers.
All of this said, curcurbits can form female flowers that never form viable fruit. A multitude of pests and viruses can attack your plants, taking down your harvest. Squash blossom end rot can take out forming fruit. Squash mosaic virus can destroy your plants. And, of course, powdery mildew is yet another nasty problem — particularly here in my own garden.
And, if your plant forms loads and loads of male flowers, consider harvesting them to eat. There are loads of fantastic stuffed squash blossom recipes out there. Just don’t harvest the girls for this purpose or you won’t get any fruit!