For many garden plants, pollination is the key to successful fruiting (the food product) and is essential for seed production if you plan to save seeds for the next year. For perennials, pollination is usually key to keeping the plant going year after year.
Interference of Pollination
Many things can interfere with proper pollination. The most common, outside of interference with pollinators (usually bugs), are improper temperatures, not enough wind, or physical barriers keeping the plants from contacting one another for pollination.
In the case of temperature, this is often a short-term anomaly in local weather that can sometimes have huge effects on a garden’s productivity. It’s a relatively rare occurrence for temperature to interfere with pollination for long, but in the case of early frosts or other plant-killers, it can be devastating.
Not enough or wrong direction wind/breeze can be another issue.
Pollination Tips: Know Your Pollinators
Bees aren’t the only critters that pollinate plants in the garden. Moths, flies, beetles and others can effectively pollinate as well. For this reason, caring only for honeybees as pollinators is putting all of your eggs in one basket and a recipe for eventual problems. Even beneficial garden predators such as ladybugs can be occasional pollinators as well.
Of course, the bee reigns supreme as pollinator, but others play a role and should be both known and protected.
Don’t Kill Your Pollinators
Keep your garden thriving with life by giving quarter to those bugs and creepies that are useful for your garden’s health. Most non-plant-eating bugs, such as those already listed, are beneficial to gardens. Using generalized poisons for killing pests also kills these bugs (not to mention the earthworms that are so crucial to good soil). The object should be to encourage the good bugs while discouraging or eliminating the bad ones.
First, if you must spray, don’t ever spray when your plants are flowering. Be careful not to contaminate potential water sources for pollinators – especially bees. Apply the pesticides you must use after dusk since most pollinators are not active at night.
Finally, encourage bees and other pollinators by giving them a good habitat. Plant the flowers or other plants that attract specific pollinators as an attractant to encourage them.
Don’t Block Wind Pollinated Plants
In most cases, not much air flow at all is required to affect wind pollination and some gardeners go to the extreme by installing fans to provide that breeze. The biggest problem is usually with structures or barriers that block the airflow itself, however. Even a trellis of green beans or hydrangeas too close to the plants needing pollination can be enough to keep it from happening. The best way to alleviate this problem is to reconsider your garden layout to remove the obstacle or move the plants in question.
When worse comes to worst, you can always do it yourself. Hand pollinating is not for the timid or impatient. You will need the proper tools for the job (often specialized cotton swabs) and a lot of time. You will dip the swab into the male flower to collect pollen and then place it into the female flower for fertilization. Some plants can be shaken or blown with fans to encourage pollination, but most will require that you do it one by one.
Want to learn more about tips for better pollination?
Pollinator Friendly Farming: Principles and Practices from Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension
Home Vegetable Garden Techniques: Hand Pollination of Squash and Corn in Small Gardens from University of Florida Extension