Help! My Baby Squash are Shriveling and Dying!


It’s disheartening to carefully tend your seedlings, finally spot a tiny squash, only to watch it shrivel up and die. If your little squash are getting wrinkles, and the plant looks otherwise healthy, it’s probably not your fault.

Blame the bees.

There are two types of flowers on a squash plant (this goes for cucumbers and melons too). The male flowers often bloom first, announcing their presence to any bees or pollinators nearby your garden. If the bees do not find your garden in time to transfer the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers, the squash will not grow to maturity.

This is a male squash flower. Pretty basic.

The female flowers below have a baby fruit at their base. Do you recognize the common vegetables?

female yellow squash flower

female yellow squash flower

female zucchini flower

female zucchini flower

female cucumber flower

female cucumber flower

Little cucumbers are cute and very poky. 🙂

So what do you do if the bees haven’t found your garden yet? You can transfer the pollen yourself.

DSCN4397  DSCN4398


All you have to do is take a male flower (I like to tear off the petals to make this easier) and transfer the pollen to a female flower. Some people use a makeup brush, but I don’t like to share my makeup brushes, especially with squash pollen.

Once you see lots of bees buzzing around in the mornings, this won’t be necessary.

This should solve the wrinkly squash syndrome for you. Hopefully you will soon have boatloads of zucchini!

If you are swimming in zucchini or patty pan squash, you should try some Chocolate Zucchini Apple Bread.  It’s really good and a nice way to use all that squash.


16 responses »

  1. Do you know we’re having a bee crisis? they are slowly disappearing in areas where they used to be in abundance (Europe and N America) and yet they are so important for food security, for the pollination process. Can you imagine humans taking male flowers to transfer pollens in a huge field full of squash…that would be so expensive. Thanks for the tip and great weekend to you!

    • Hand-pollinating on a commercial scale would be expensive and terribly time-consuming! Bees and worms are so important to a healthy garden. Hope you have a great weekend as well!

  2. Oh my gosh! I tried for years to grow pumpkins in my garden and they did exactly what you described — shriveled and died. Here I thought it was all me. This gives me hope that maybe I don’t have such a black-thumb afterall.

    • I like to also plant some flowers in my garden. Not only do they help attract pollinators, but they also look pretty. 🙂 I hope you try to grow squash again.

      • This makes sense… we planted Hals wooly thyme as a ground cover instead of grass. Hundreds of bees came and the Cucumbers did great and the yellow squash grew well, now that the Thyme bloom ended and the bees left, the squash is not growing well.

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  6. I keep a q-tip handy and every morning take a check around and see who is up and open and poke around, it’s worked well for me this season!

    • So glad to have you following along with me! I hope you get lots of squash. I like to let my mustard greens flower so they can attract early pollinators to my squash. It doesn’t always work, so it’s nice to know how to pollinate them myself. Happy gardening!

  7. I don’t see my neighbor down the road out in his 20-30 acre squash field doing this. He produces bushels of squash every year. What is his secret?

    • This tip is more for the small time gardener (like me) who notices that first flower with happiness and anticipation, eagerly awaits that first bite, and who may not have many pollinators coming just yet. Your neighbor has great success with his large field, and if the first few are not pollinated, it’s not a great loss. No, this tip is not practical for someone with a large field. If the first few are not pollinated, there are plenty coming along behind them, and the pollinators will be coming to all those glorious yellow blossoms quickly. Hope this helps!

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