Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why are my Squash Dying?

This is one of the most common gardening questions i hear. New and sometimes even experienced gardeners often panic when they see their plants flowering but not producing any squash or when they see the tiny fruits yellowing and falling off.

If you are experiencing this problem, don't panic.

Squash blossoms are a familiar sight if you grow any kind of squash. However, did you know there are two different kinds of blossoms? Each plant produces both male and female flowers. In order for your plant to produce fruits, the male flowers must pollinate the female flowers. The male flowers will open up, and then eventually fall off without ever producing any fruit. The female flowers if pollinated, will grow into a squash.

Why do i feel like i'm giving a lesson on the birds and the bees?? :)

This looks like a tiny baby zucchini that is just beginning to grow. What it actually is, is a female flower. This little zucchini is actually the 'ovum' and is not yet pollinated. If it is successfully pollunated it will grow into a full sized zucchini. If it fails to be pollinated, it will turn yellow, shrivel up and die. This does not mean your zucchini are dying, it means your zucchini are not getting pollinated.

It's really easy to tell the difference between the boys and the girls, if you know what you are looking for. Here's an example of the female and male pumpkin blossoms. The photo on the left shows a female pumpkin blossom, with the pumpkin ovum at the base. The male flowers (on the right) are on long stalks, and do not have an ovum attached.

It is not uncommon for the plants to produce lots of boys, before it starts producing girls.

So if you are seeing lots of blossoms, but no fruit.... don't panic. It just means your plant is producing lots of boys, be patient and the girls will follow. If your getting a lot of boys, this is a great time to make some stuffed Squash blossoms. You just need to make sure and leave a few blossoms incase your female flowers appear and begin to open.

If you are getting all female flowers and no boys, you are probably seeing your baby squash turning yellow and dying. Again, be patient. Once the boy flowers appear, you will start getting fruit. This is a good reason to grow more than one plant, and plant several varieties of squash. Right now my zucchinis are producing only girl blooms and my pumpkins are producing boys. So as long as the bees do their job (transfer pollen from one to the other) my zucchini should be pollinated.

Now if you have both male and females flowers, and your baby squash are still falling off and dying you may want to hand pollinate.

All you need for hand pollination is a q-tip. Use the q-tip to collect some of the yellow pollen from the male flowers, and dab it on the stigma (the yellow center) on the female flowers. You can also just pick one of your male flowers, remove the petals and touch the pollen covered stamen to the stigma on your female flowers. That's it!

Hopefully this post will help out a few folks who are wondering why all their squash are dying or are producing flowers but not fruits.

Happy gardening!


  1. All of mine have died this year, because of squash bugs. We didn't have any last year, but this year there are hundreds. I've tried killing them one by one - the squish method. I've tried daily cayenne treatments. I've tried vinegar. I've even resorted to Sevin. But still, the squash bugs won :-( I'm so sad we won't have any summer squash or zucchini this year.

    1. It's not too late to plant more! Zucchini is a really fast grower!! They will typically be ready to harvest in 45 to 55 days. i like to stagger my planting, and plant new seeds about every 4 weeks. So as th older plants are dying back, i have new plants starting to produce. i'm just starting seeing squash bugs, and removed a bunch of eggs this morning. My biggest threat are the vine borers. You can use the floating row covers to control the squash bugs and borers. That's my pln every year, and i still haven't purchased them yet. lol.

  2. That is very interesting! I found some squash bug eggs on my zucchini plant and thought that is why maybe they were not doing well. This is new insight.

  3. Hello I have squash plants and they were just starting to bloom but yesterday we got a big storm and it almost ruined my plants the main stems aren't broke,just a few of the other stems were so do you think its possible for them to recover?this is my first little garden and I've been excited and patiently waiting to see some thing to harvest.

    1. Yes, your squash should be fine! Depending on where you live, you may still have time to plant more. Squash are very fast growers, usually ready to harvest in about 50 days. i like to plant it every three weeks, so as older plants are dying back i have new plants just starting to produce!

  4. Today only i have noticed the lil zucchini (like the one seen in picture above) on my plant only to know it it the female flower :P. Eagerly waiting for them to bloom and start to produce fresh zucchini.