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Help: Zucchini fruits are falling off the plant

I hear this a lot in the summer months:

"Why do the fruits of my zucchini/pumpkin/cucumber fall off before they have a chance to grow?"

Good question.

It happens to me too sometimes. Here, look at this zucchini fruit just starting out:
Vruchten courgette vallen af voor ze groeien
This little zucchini will fall off soon
See how the flower turned yellow before it opened up? In a few days, the zucchini will fall off on its own. But it's better if you remove it yourself so you skip all the rotting, mold, and other bummers.

Why does this happen?

First off, don't worry. Falling fruits are really common. There're a few reasons for it:

A lot of other fruits on the plant

Usually, it's because the plant is growing a lot of zucchinis already. Your plant thinks it has enough. 

Just look at this little cucumber:
Geel komkommertje dat niet meer rijpt
This yellowing cucumber that won't grow anymore
A little further down the vine, you can see why:
Bij veel komkommers aan een plant worden er een aantal niet rijp
Plenty of cucumbers
The plant is 100% focused on producing seeds

Another reason is seed production. Once you have a really big fruit, the plant will focus its energy on filling that fruit with seeds. It doesn't have energy for the littler ones.
Enorme courgette, barstensvol zaden. Die weerhoudt de plant om meer vruchten aan te maken
Such a huge zucchini stops new fruits from growing
If you let your zucchini or cucumbers get mega-sized, the plant doesn't need to produce new fruits. So it won't.

It's too cold and too wet

Fruits also fall off when it's cold and rainy. After all, zucchini and cucumbers are real summer vegetables. The plants feel weird about wetness and will shed some fruits while they wait for summer weather.

It's too dry

If you don't water your plants enough, your fruits won't get enough moisture. So, they'll shrivel up and fall off.

Not enough nutrients

Nutrition is another thing. Summer vegetables have a big appetite. If the soil mix doesn't have enough nutrients, the plant will struggle. Once the plant bears fruit, you need to give it some extra nutrients (MM-Plantfood) every 4-5 weeks.

So, too wet or too cold or too dry or too few nutrients? The plant decides if its fruits can handle it. If not, some fall off.

Disappointing maybe, but not a disaster: new ones will come along 😉.

Rotting fruit?

Usually the flowers fall off once they've done their job. But sometimes the dead flower stays on your zucchini. 
Een uitgebloeide bloem die op de courgette blijft zitten kan gaan rotten en ook de vrucht aansteken
This flower has seen better days, but its staying put
If it's rainy or humid, the flower can rot and that will affect the zucchini fruit. Better remove it:
Haal uitgebloeide bloemen van de courgette weg om te voorkomen dat de vrucht gaat rotten
Remove dead flowers to avoid zucchini rot


So, there's a possibility that the female flowers aren't pollinated. That means no pollen from the male flowers made it to the female flowers.

Bees usually do the pollinating, but they're having a tough time these days. There are fewer and fewer.

Read here what you can do to help the bees and attract them to your garden.

What can you do about it?

There is a solution: play the role of the bee yourself. It's not hard. 

You just need one male and one female flower.

Male flowers usually bloom first. They look like this:
Mannelijke bloemen van de courgette
The male flowers have thin stems
This is a female flower:
Vrouwelijke bloem van de courgette
A female zucchini flower has a thick bulge
You can see the difference: the male flowers have a skinny stem. The female flowers grow from what looks like a tiny zucchini. When pollinated, that mini-zucchini will turn into your zucchini fruit. 

You can see it clearly even when the flower buds are still small and green:
Bloemknoppen van vrouwelijke courgettebloemen
Young female zucchini flower budding
Pumpkin plants look really similar:
Knop van een vrouwelijke bloem van een pompoen
Female flower bud on a pumpkin plant

How do you pollinate a zucchini yourself?

Hand pollinating is simple: as soon as a female flower blooms, it's time to take action. 

Pick a male flower and remove the petals - they're delicious in salads or a smoothie.
Om zelf een een courgette te bevruchten haal je de bloembladen van een mannelijke bloem weg zodat het stuifmeel vrij komt
Remove the male flower's petals so you can get to the pollen
Then rub the male flower's stamen - sorry, I don't know any other word for it - along the pistil of the female flower. 
De vrouwelijke bloemen van courgettes kan je zelf bevruchten met het stuifmeel van een mannelijke bloem
Pollinating the female flower with the pollen from them male flower
That's it: the flower is fertilized and the zucchini can start growing. 

Same goes for the cucumbers?

Nope! They will produce fruit anyhow.
De bloemen van de komkommer hoeven niet bevrucht te worden
Cucumber flowers don't need help with pollination
In other cucumber varieties, if you were to hand pollinate, you'd get seeds in your fruits. With this cucumber, the Iznik, it doesn't matter either way. It hardly forms any seeds. 

That's all there is to it.

Good luck!

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