Do Indoor Plants Need Pollination


Bee pollinating houseplant hovering above pollination

Bees do so much for us, including pollination, but does that extend to your indoor plants as well? Even if, let’s say, your houseplants did need pollination, it’s not like there are any bees in your home to do it. What would you even do to get pollen?

Do indoor plants need pollination? While most indoor plants do not need pollination, a few that do need pollination include: cucumbers, peppers, squash, tomatoes, & more.  Remember, it’s possible to pollinate houseplants by manual hand pollination, vibrating & shaking the plant.

Wait, how does shaking your houseplant make pollination happen? Are there other houseplants out there that need pollination, too?

Keep reading, I’m going to answer those questions and more in this article.

Understanding Pollination

We’ve established that yes, certain houseplants do require pollination. What exactly is pollination though and how does it happen? Let’s start with an explanation of that first.

When pollination occurs, pollen travels from the stamen, or male part, to the stigma, or female part of a flower. Lots of flowers have these male and female parts, but not all.

Pollen, as we’re sure you know, is commonly a yellow substance that comes from pollen grains or gametophytes. It may cause allergies in some of us, but it’s crucial to the health of a flower. Without it, fertilization cannot happen.

Pollination methods differ depending on whether the flower in question is an angiosperm or a gymnosperm. Here’s an explanation of both.

Angiosperms

Grasses, shrubs, many trees, and herbaceous plants are considered angiosperms. When the gametophyte arrives to the stigma in angiosperm flowers, a pollen tube is created. This tube moves along the style or gynoecium to the flower’s ovary. Next, the gametes (of which there are two) continue along the pollen tube to meet the female gametes. These are within a carpel, which is part of the gynoecium as well. This carpel stays closed for seed production.

Single fertilization is much more common in angiosperms, but in some instances, double fertilization can occur as well. With this, a male nucleus goes through the micropyle or ovule via the ovum cell. It then becomes one with polar bodies. What results is both an embryo and endosperm tissue.

Gymnosperms

The process of pollination is somewhat different for a gymnosperm. If you’re not familiar, gymnosperms include gnetophytes, cycads, and conifer trees. The carpel does not contain the ovule for gymnosperms. Instead, the ovule grows on a cone or scale, which is referred to as a support organ.

Self-Pollination

Yes, some plants and flowers can pollinate themselves. This can occur in one of two ways: geitonogamy or autogamy. With geitonogamy, a flower’s anther or stamen sends the pollen to a flower within the same plant. With autogamy, the stigma moves the pollen along where it’s needed. In some self-pollinating flowers, they may not fully open to ensure successful self-pollination.

Making Pollination Happen

What if the flower can’t pollinate itself? In that case, the flower is reliant on the pollen arriving to the stigma via other means. Wind can send the pollen on its way, as can water. Live animals can also take care of the job, with bats, birds, and many insects renowned for doing so. Yes, bees are one of them.

Pollination and Its Role in Indoor Plants

If you’re growing fruits or vegetables as part of your indoor garden, then pollination is something you’re probably going to have to concern yourself with at some point. Lots of tasty produce needs a source of pollen to trigger growth, but the way they do it is not universally the same.

In this section, we’re going to talk about which indoor plants thrive best with various pollination methods.

Insect Pollination

The first group of indoor plants has both female and male flowers. Thus, the best way to get fruit from these houseplants is to rely on an insect pollinator. Bees are the most common insect pollinator, including bumblebees and honeybees. Other insects that can move pollen are butterflies, mosquitoes, hoverflies, moths, bee flies, ants, and pollen wasps.

These are the houseplants that require insect pollination:

  • Plums
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cucumbers
  • Pumpkins
  • Squash
  • Watermelon

I often include the far away lands a particular plant is native to so you’ll have a rough idea of the conditions the plant would ideally thrive in.

Interesting Fact

Wind Pollination

Since not all the indoor plants on this list necessarily have female and male flowers, there’s no need to use insect pollinators for these. Instead, with their more complete flower, the wind is the best means of getting the pollen to its destination.  

These plants include oats, wheat, corn, and strawberries. Like with watermelon, while it’s not particularly easy to grow indoor corn plants, you can do it if you really wanted to.

Self-Pollinators

As we talked about before, self-pollinating plants can take care of their pollination themselves. Wind can aide in the process, as can pollinating insects and animals. In fact, you may notice a bigger yield if you got some outside help for your self-pollinating plant.

These houseplants are:

  • Okra
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Tomato

Non-Pollinators

With so many indoor fruits and veggies undergoing pollination, a beginner indoor gardener might make the mistake and think all produce needs pollen to grow. That’s not true. Some indoor plants will grow the old-fashioned way, via roots. While pollinating them won’t cause any adverse effects, it’s really not necessary here.

Those indoor plants are:

  • Thyme
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Lettuce
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes

How to Get Your Own Indoor Plants Pollinated

Throughout the last section, we talked about the various means that plants use to get pollinated. As you’ll recall, there are pollinating insects and animals as well as water and wind. A plant grown outdoors has no shortage of wind, plus it’s always in the sights of helpful insects and animals that want to step in and pollinate.

What about when you grow your plant indoors? Sure, a light breeze might get in if you keep the window open, but is that enough to trigger pollination? Even if it was, it that sufficient? It’s not like you’re letting in bats or bees into your home, office, or apartment. Well, at least not willingly.

What should you do to pollinate a plant you’re growing exclusively indoors, such as the fruits and veggies we covered above? You still want a healthy yield so you can harvest your own produce and have that sense of pride (not to mention save some money on your grocery bill).

You can induce pollination even if your houseplant never goes outside. Here are some methods to try.

Use a Fan

If your indoor plant is one that pollinates best with wind, you can always replicate the effects with an oscillating fan. This is ideal in the winter or during any other cold seasons when you might not want a window open.

You want to set the fan so it doesn’t oscillate, but rather, blows in one consistent direction. We recommend turning the fan on low. While winds can be unpredictable, your houseplant has never gotten a taste of the wind. Running the fan on high could be too much for your poor indoor plant to handle. A gentle force of air should be enough to cause pollination.

Let in a Breeze

You can also just pollinate your houseplants the way nature intended, with the wind itself. By opening a window and positioning your houseplant near it, the breeze should cause pollination to occur. This is a great option for any indoor plants you’re growing in the spring and summer.

There are a few things to watch out for when putting your houseplant by an open window. For one, you want to make sure you don’t leave it there all day. Many indoor plants have specific lighting requirements, and too much direct light could cause burns and scorching.

Also, while you only want to open your window on a windy day, make sure it’s not too windy. The worse the winds, the higher the likelihood a strong gust could tip your plant off the windowsill. This can crack your pot and cause damage to the houseplant itself, neither of which you want.

Try a Vibrating Device

Be the Bee Pollinator is a device made specifically for pollinating indoor plants like strawberries and tomatoes. You use it directly on your houseplants. The bristles will begin shaking and moving pollen where it needs to go. You might get much bigger yields for your efforts.

If you don’t have a Be the Bee Pollinator handy, you can always try a similar device like an electric toothbrush. Just make sure it’s clean and you never use it for any other purpose than pollinating. Also, if you have someone in the house with a pollen allergy, seal up the vibrating device in a bag when not in use.

Shake up the Plant Yourself

What if you don’t even own an electric toothbrush? That’s okay. You can act as the vibrating device yourself by creating movements to the houseplant via your manual effort.

You might choose to shake up specific flowers or the entire plant. You can do this every day without harm to your plant, provided, of course, that you’re not being too rough. Never jostle the plant, but rather, give it soft but firm shakes.

Do Some Manual Pollination

If you’re growing an indoor plant with separate female and male flowers, the above options might not be enough to ensure pollination. Instead, you have to do it yourself. Remember, you want to take the pollen from the male flowers to the female ones.

To the unacquainted, all flowers just look like, well, flowers. To point you in the right direction, it’s good to know that of the two, male flowers tend to appear first. If that’s still not enough to help you out, here’s how to identify both male and female flowers.

Male flowers will contain what looks like dust if you get close enough to them. This isn’t just any dust, but the pollen. They’re also the smaller flowers compared to the two. The bases of female flowers may contain what will become your fruit once it’s fertilized. Sometimes the fruit looks like what you’d expect it to, such as with cucumbers. Other times, it’s harder to distinguish.

Now that you know the differences, you want to take a cotton swab and go to your male flower. Get some pollen on the swab and then transfer it to the female flower. We recommend you start with a little pollen and then add more if you think it’s necessary.

As you continue growing pollinating indoor plants like fruits and vegetables, you’ll become more familiar with how much pollen is required for germination. At the beginning, though, it might feel more like a long game of trial and error. Be patient and keep at it!  

Related Questions

Do indoor pepper plants need pollination?

You love the zest of peppers, so you’ve decided to grow your own indoors. Should you pollinate them? Peppers are one of those vegetables (or fruits, depends on who you ask) that can pollinate themselves, fertilizing the main flower so you get a bountiful pepper harvest. That said, animals, insects, and the wind can help. You can also use the above methods like a fan or a vibrating device if you want.

Why do tomatoes flower but produce no fruit?

Also in your indoor garden are tomatoes, but they’re not growing quite right. They have yet to produce fruit that you can harvest. Why is this? One reason could be due to what’s known as blossom drop.

Blossom drop occurs if you’re not growing your tomato plant at the correct temperatures or if you’re fertilizing more than you should. Should you accidentally stress out your houseplant, that’s another way to induce blossom drop. The reason this affliction has the name it does is to due to how tomato blossoms behave.

Healthy tomato blossoms receive pollen to grow fruit, a process known as setting fruit. Tomatoes with blossom drop will have their blossoms, well, drop, but without any fruit. Make sure you keep your thermostat set at 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit when growing tomatoes indoors.

Fred Zimmer

I'm a lover of plants, animals, photography, & people, not necessarily in that order. Currently, I'm focused on photographing indoor plants & chachkies. I write & rewrite articles about creating an environment where indoor plants can thrive. I'm good at listening to music but bad at shopping to muzak.

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