Home My garden Why have my courgettes only got male flowers?

Why have my courgettes only got male flowers?

Courgette Verde di Napoli, June 23
Male flower on courgette Verde di Napoli

Blog: Don’t panic – nature has a reason for this…

I have a very chequered history with courgettes. If the weather is right (ie, sunny) and set fruit, then my family gets sick of them very quickly.

However, it has made me into a sneaky and innovative cook – see how to hide them in healthy recipes for your family here.

Other years, they haven’t set a single fruit in a cool, cloudy, north-eastern summer. This season, I’m trying Verde di Napoli, a small bush (not a vine), which bears medium-sized very dark green (almost black) courgettes (www.realseeds.co.uk).

My two surviving plants – two were knobbled by birds having dust baths – started carrying flowers but no fruit a couple of weeks ago.

If you’re in the same boat, it’s fine. Courgettes (and cucumbers) produce male blooms about two weeks before the first fruits begin to form – on female flowers.

For more on growing courgettes, here’s my back-to-basics growing guide.

A tiny fruit forms on this female flower on courgette Verde di Napoli
A tiny fruit forms on this female flower on courgette Verde di Napoli

Why have male and female flowers?

The male blooms open first and their job is to attract bees and other pollinators, as they rely on them for pollination. Male flowers are held above the plants on a thin stem and they’re packed with pollen and sweet nectar.

A lot of male blooms and bee activity is what you need and ensures good pollination – the male flowers’ second job – later on.

Apparently, you can deep fry and stuff these flowers. This is purely my opinion, but if you consider actually doing this, you need to give yourself a good hard shake and question the direction your life has taken.

Courgette Parador
One I trialled in 2013 – courgette Parador

What female flowers look like

You’ll recognise the first female blooms, as they have a tiny swollen fruit at the base of the flower. Thanks to the males, there should be plenty of bees around.

Without the flush of male blooms to attract bees, the female blooms could suffer from lack of pollination. After the first female flowers, expect to see both sexes on your plants!

Courgette Cavili
Parthenocarpic courgette Cavili

What if there aren’t any bees around?

In poor summers or where bee numbers are low or absent, female flowers will appear, but you’ll need to do their job. Get a small soft paintbrush to gently move pollen from the male flowers and “paint’ it into the center of the female blooms.

If the female flower is not pollinated, the tiny fruit dies and the bloom falls off the plant.

Courgettes Parador and Cavili
Courgettes Parador and Cavili

How to get fruit in bad summers

If all else fails and you live in cooler areas, go for parthenocarpic varieties, which will set fruit without pollination by bees. Look for Cavili, Goldy, Sure Thing, Easy Pick Green, Easy Pick Gold and Parthenon – all with handy links to sites that stock them.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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