Are Tomato Plants Self Pollinating?

Talking about pollination, the first thing that comes to our mind is bees. And this is for good reason, as these are the most common pollinators along with birds and butterflies. But do tomato plants need these pollinators, or tomatoes are self-pollinating?

tomato plants self pollinating

Tomato plants have perfect flowers and are able to self-pollinate. What this exactly means? Tomato plants can grow fruits by themselves, and they don’t need another tomato plant to pollinate its flowers and produce fruits.

And now you might ask what perfect flowers are? The term “perfect flower” does not refer to the perfect shape or color of the flower. Perfect flower means that the flower contains male and female parts, these don’t need another flower to grow fruit.

In this article, I will talk about what self-pollinating means, also about what can prevent pollination and what to do in this situation.

Do Tomato Plants Self-Pollinate?

Tomato plants are able to self-pollinate and grow fruits by themselves. Their flowers are fertilising by autogamy because these are perfect flowers.

As I stated above, perfect flowers do not mean that they look perfect, or smell perfect, but refers to the structure of the flower. Tomato flowers contain male and female parts, and this makes possible self-pollination.

Autogamy means that the flowers’ male part sends the pollen to the female part of the flower; therefore, the tomato plant can grow fruits without being in touch, in any way, with other tomato plants.

So, if you grow a single tomato plant in a greenhouse or your home, you will still get tomato fruits from it. However, for self-pollination, the plant still needs certain conditions, because self-pollination does not mean automatic pollination.

If you pay attention to your plants and watch them closely, you will notice the changes on the flowers, and you can identify which one has been pollinated and which one have not.

Why Does My Tomato Plant Not Setting Fruits?

If you see plenty of flowers on your tomato plants, but you don’t see any fruits, or you see only a few, then you should start to think that there is a problem.

Many flowers but few, or no fruits, can be the consequence of poor pollination. There are few factors that can affect pollination.

One of the factors is high or low temperatures. The ideal temperatures for tomato plants are 65° to 85°F/18° to 21°C in the daytime and 60° to 70°F/ 16° to 21°C at night. Anything out of this temperature range can compromise pollination.

High or low humidity is another factor that will affect pollination. High humidity stops the pollen to be released from the male part, while low humidity will stop the pollen to stick to the female part of the flower.

The stress of the plant will compromise the pollination as well. If the plant has pests or is lacking in water, this will get stressed and can even drop its flowers.

What Are the First Signs of Pollination?

To see a difference between a pollinated and not pollinated tomato flower, you need to monitor them constantly. I do check mine daily, and I noticed that it takes 1-3 days to observe any obvious change in the flowers after pollination.

So, when you notice that bees or other pollinators are flying around your tomato plants, you can then expect that changes are going to happen because this is a sign that your tomatoes have been pollinated.

The flower usually will wilt 24 hours after the pollination. The white center of the flower will change to dark and will die such as an “old” flower, but will die much quicker.

Then, the stem behind the flower will begin to swell and then you can notice a very small-sized tomato at the end of the flower, and this will fall off the plant in 2-3 days, leaving behind only the little green tomato.

How to Pollinate Tomatoes?

As I said earlier, tomato plants are self-pollinating but this doesn’t mean the pollination will happen automatically. Tomato plants still need certain circumstances to self-pollinate. If these circumstances are missing, the flower will just wilt because it will get old and will not set fruit.

There are three methods of pollination: by wind, buzz or by hand.

Wind Pollination

Wind helps in the pollination of your tomato plants. This shakes the plant and the pollen particles will be released by the male part of the flower onto the female part of the flower.

If your tomato plants are growing in a greenhouse or your home, you can open a window to create a breeze, or use a fan for this, so your plants can get some wind. This way, the flowers will pollinate and you will have many fruits.

Buzz Pollination

This type of pollination is done by the insects such as bees or butterflies. The buzz of the insects’ wings will help the pollen to be released and land on the female parts of the flower.

If your plants are growing in a greenhouse, you can keep a hive inside, so you make sure that there are enough pollinators for your tomato flowers.

Hand pollination

If you want a high yield on your tomato plants, you can also help in the pollination process. Each flower can grow fruit if they are pollinated. So, you can pollinate by hand to ensure that no flower is left behind unpollinated.

How to Pollinate Tomato Plants by Hand?

You might ask “why do I need to pollinate my tomato plants by hand if this can be done by nature”? Well, you don’t have to, but it helps.

Pollinating your tomato plants by hand will speed up the process of producing the tomato fruits. If you live in a cold climate with a short growing season, you can ensure that all the fruits will ripen before the frost by speeding up the production of the fruits.

Pollinating by hand also helps with having more tomato fruits. This way, you can pollinate all of the flowers on the tomato plants, while the wind or the insects might not pollinate every single flower.

Pollinating with An Electric Toothbrush or A Tuning Fork

The main thing to focus on, in this situation, is the vibration. I chose these two tools because it is easy to generate a vibration with them which imitates the vibration of a bee’s wings.

The toothbrush can be an old electric toothbrush, which still vibrates, but you are not using it anymore. You just turn it on and touch the back of the flower to help the male part to release the pollen.

The tuning fork works in the same way. Tap the tuning fork on a piece of wood or metal to make it vibrate and then touch this to the back of the flower. This will release the pollen from the male part.

You can repeat these tricks every day, or several times during the season. If you can, do it at different times of the day, because temperature and humidity can affect the pollination process.

Pollinating with Toothpick, Pencil, Q-Tip or Stick

Using a toothpick, pencil, stick or Q-Tip is the cheapest way of pollinating, however, this takes more time. You only need one toothpick (or pencil, or stick, or Q-Tip) and gently push it into the flower and move it out of space.

When you let go of the flower and starts to springs back into place, it will release the pollen from the male part.

Pollinating with a Paintbrush or Makeup Brush

If you pollinate your tomato plants’ flowers with a paintbrush or makeup brush, you must ensure that these are clean and have no residues. The best is to have them new.

Swirling around the brush in the inside of the flower, helps the pollen to be released and the bristles of the brush will also help the pollen to find its way to the female part of the flower.

Pollinating with a Leaf Blower

If you can use a fan to produce a gentle breeze in your home or the greenhouse, why shouldn’t you use a leaf blower to imitate the wind in your garden?

You can use a leaf blower to produce a strong wind that can shake your tomato plants. The movement will make the flower release the pollen; therefore, this will get pollinated.

Pollinating with Tomato Blossom Set Spray

If you are an organic gardener, then this trick is not for you.

A blossom set spray does not really cause pollination, yet, this will cause the flower to start producing fruits.

The drawback of using blossom set spray is that although your tomatoes will be perfectly formed and matured in time, the seeds will remain immature and will be unsuitable for replanting.

Wrap Up

Tomato plants have self-pollinating flowers, which means these have male and female parts as well. Tomato plants can produce fruits on their own, and they don’t need other tomato plants for this.

The fruit production of a tomato plant depends on pollination. Every single flower can produce fruit. To help the pollination you can encourage bees to come to your garden, or you can also pollinate by hand.

Remember, the weather can also say its word in terms of pollination. If the temperatures and humidity are too high or too low, the pollination will be compromised.


2 thoughts on “Are Tomato Plants Self Pollinating?

  1. European Honey Bees do not have the “BUZZ” ability to pollinate tomatoes! In Mainland Australia, only the Solitary Blue Banded Bees and similar “Amegilla” Bees have that ability. In Tasmania, where there are no Blue Banded Bees, the introduced “Bumble” Bee (Social Bee) pollinates using the Buzz technique.

    1. Hi Keith!
      Thank you for so many information about different kind of bees! I am sure it will help out many readers. Thanks again and happy gardening!

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