6 Natural Ways to Hand Pollinate Tomatoes (How To)

So, you need to hand pollinate your tomatoes.

Maybe you have no bees in your area.

Or you don’t have enough insects to help pollinate your plants.

Perhaps you’re growing them indoors (or a greenhouse).

You’ll be glad that you can easily self-pollinate your tomatoes by hand using a few natural home remedies.

Tomatoes are a rich source of essential nutrients and can make a wonderful addition to your yard- whether you plan to eat them or not!

Some conditions like drought, famine, high humidity, cool weather, or simply no pollinators present can all affect your tomato yield.

Thankfully, every single tomato flower has everything you need to pollinate them. The male and female parts are present.

So, that makes the process very easy.

In this guide, we’ll talk about:

  • How the pollination process works
  • 6 ways you can hand pollinate tomato flowers
  • How to tell when the pollination is complete
  • And more

Sound good? Let’s dive right in.

This page was last updated on 11/10/21.

Can you self pollinate tomatoes?

Yes, you can self pollinate tomatoes.

And it’s super easy to do. You probably already have all the materials needed to do this lying around at home.

There are multiple ways you can hand pollinate and even cross-pollinate this popular garden vegetable, and we’ll cover some of the most effective ways you can accomplish this.

For gardeners who don’t have a plentiful source of birds, bugs, or bees to help pollinate their crops, hand pollination is sometimes the only choice.

Thankfully, it’s easy to do and doesn’t require too much work.

And you’ll be harvesting some big, juicy tomatoes soon enough.

How does pollination work in tomatoes?

All tomato flowers have both female and male parts, known as being monoecious.

Bugs will visit the flower and transfer the pollen from the male part (stamen) to the female part (pistils).

The stamen looks like a small filament with pollen at the tip. The yellow part of the flowers with the small tube is the male part. The pistils are the female part and have those small hairs found in the centerpiece of the flower.

After the flowers are self-pollinated, the pistils change color and quickly wilt. The flower center also has the style, ovary, and stigma.

All of these should be pollinated by hand when you attempt to do so.

Do tomatoes need bees to pollinate?

A young tomato plant.
Bees can be a pollinator, but they’re not necessary.

Tomatoes, like any other vegetable, pollinate through the work of bees, birds, or insects.

This is why they bloom those bright yellow flowers. It makes the plant attractive to bees and bugs so they’ll feed on it and help transfer pollen between male and female flowers.

This is the “normal” and a natural way of doing it.

But for those that live somewhere where bees and bugs are far and few, you can hand pollinate to accomplish the same thing.

The whole point of pollination is to get the flowers fertilized on the same plant. If the pollen is transferred between different tomato species, you’ll end up cross-pollination, which many people will avoid since they want pure tomato variants.

Whether you do this by spreading the pollen using a toothbrush, cotton bud, or paintbrush, it doesn’t matter.

Some people grow tomatoes in a greenhouse or indoors next to a window, so that’s why bees aren’t always present to pollinate them.

This is when you can do it yourself to simulate a bee and pollinate by hand.

How do you hand pollinate tomatoes?

A fresh harvest of tomatoes.
No need for bees and birds.

There are a few techniques you can do at home to hand pollinate tomatoes. No need for beads and birds when you can do it yourself.

Here are some of the proven methods that are popular amongst gardeners.

Use these when you don’t have the regular assortment of bugs and insects to help you pollinate your tomatoes.

Shake the plant

Did you know that simply grabbing your tomato plant by the stem and then gently swaying it back and forth is enough?

That simulates the gentle breeze from the wind that pollinates the tomato flowers.

You don’t have to go crazy, but you can accomplish this by either shaking the stem if it’s a smaller plant or blowing on each flower if it’s a large plant. The pollens will release and pollinate other flowers.

Do this a few times each day to hand pollinate your tomato artificially.

Be gentle. Don’t damage the flowers and don’t go crazy with it. Just pretend you’re nothing but a burst of wind.

Use a paintbrush

You can use a small paintbrush to “paint” the pollen and cross-pollinate the flowers.

Any brush will work, but you’ll have faster results with natural woven bristles. Plastic bristles don’t attract pollen and hold them between flowers as easily as woven ones do.

The process to pollinate by brush is simple:

  • Pick up a flower by hand and brush the petal of it slowly.
  • You should be able to see some pollen stick to the brush- it’ll look like yellow powder.
  • Rub the brush over the petals, pistil, and stigma of the flower. Try to at least brush over each part of the flower once. The pollen will stick to the brush.
  • Brush another flower with the same paintbrush to complete the pollination.
  • Repeat between each flower. Get as many flowers to spread their pollen amongst each other for the best results.

If you want to cross-pollinate, you can brush one plant and then another to produce hybrid tomatoes.

But if you want to avoid cross-pollination, use different sets of brushes between different tomato species.

Use a cotton swab (Q-Tip)

A cotton swab, cotton ball, or Q-Tip can all be used to hand pollinate the flowers.

The bud’s cotton picks up the pollen easily due to the fibers and can transfer them to other flowers on your tomato without a sweat.

Dab your applicator of choice and get it saturated with pollen, which should be barely visible on the white fabric. Touch it on each flower’s stigma and petals. Then rub it on another to pollinate.

This method is extremely easy and you should have these materials lying around already. Repeat as necessary, but it should work the first time around.

Pollinating with an electric toothbrush

An electric toothbrush proves to be an awesome tool that you can use to hand pollinate your plants.

A basic, battery-powered toothbrush will do the trick!

Just use an old toothbrush and run it gently on the stigma of select flowers. Then run it over others to pollinate them.

Repeat this 3-4 times a week at peak noon over a few weeks. Use different toothbrushes so you can avoid cross-pollination.

Alternatively, you can dip the bristles into some rubbing alcohol to clean the pollen if you want to use the same brush.

This will clean off the pollen between different tomato plant variants.

And here’s a video that shows off the process:


Tomato pollination spray

There are tomato sprays you can buy that help pollinate your plants.

Tomato flowers produce a hormone called auxin after being pollinated which gives rise to the fruit.

When you buy tomato spray, it’s a fake version of auxin so the plant tricks itself thinking that it’s been pollinated.

When you spray them with artificial hormones, they can bear fruit without ever being pollinated, known as parthenocarpy. Tomato sprays are widely available and may also be called “blossom set” sprays.

Try hand pollinating first. You can save yourself some cash by refraining from buying pollinating sprays if the basic DIY remedies work.

Electric tomato pollinators

There are some pollinators that are made specifically for manual pollination.

They’re powered by electricity and sold on the market advertised precisely for fruits and veggies.

There’s no real reason to buy these when you can do ti yourself for free. A paintbrush, toothbrush, or cotton bud will do the trick.

However, if you’ve tried and nothing worked, they may be worth considering if you’re in the market for a product like that.

They’re designed with materials that stick to pollen and make spreading the pollen a lot easier than doing it by hand.

So there’s definitely a trade off.

Decide if you absolutely NEED it, or if it’s just another tool that’ll be used once before storing away forever.

How to tell if a tomato flower is pollinated

The easiest way to tell if your hand pollination was successful is a noticeable change in the plant 72 hours afterward.

Some telltale signs are that you’ll find the plant stem below the flower swells up and a small tomato bump appears at the blossom end.

The flower will also wilt within a day or so and fall off the plant. It no longer needs the flower anymore because it’s been pollinated successfully. The flower’s hairs will also turn white to a darker color after being pollinated.

Further reading

You may find these references useful for more tips:

Did you pollinate your tomatoes?

A freshly harvested tomato that was hand pollinated.
A freshly harvested tomato that was hand pollinated.

There you have it.

Everything you need to know to grow some rich, luscious tomatoes- without the need for bees and bugs!

If you have any questions, drop a comment below. Use a paintbrush, Q-Tip, or electric toothbrush.

Whatever you want to do, pollinating takes only a few seconds and you can have yourself a bountiful harvest of ripe tomatoes soon enough!

Were you able to pollinate your plant? Let me know in the comment below.

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