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Cucumber plants produce some beautiful yellow flowers and some varieties produce both male and female flowers. You usually have to remove the male flowers to keep the plants producing fruit for as long as possible, but how can you tell which cucumber flowers are male and which are female?
The easiest way to tell if a cucumber flower is male or female is to look at the base of the flower. Female cucumber flowers have tiny cucumber fruits forming at the base, whereas male flowers don’t. Instead, male flowers have a small stem that connects to the stalk.
I have photos of both male and female cucumber flowers in this article so you can easily see the difference. I also explain why it is important to know the difference, why removing male flowers is usually a good idea, how to do it without damaging the plant, and much more in this article.
Differences Between Male and Female Cucumber Flowers
It can be tricky to tell the male and female cucumber flowers apart if you don’t know what to look for. Once you learn the difference, though, telling them apart is easy.
The reason why it is important to know how to tell male and female cucumbers from each other is that you often have to remove the male flowers from your plants to get the best fruit, although that isn’t always the case. If you aren’t sure what to do in your specific situation, I recommend that you read the article on this link.
I will go into more detail about precisely why it is important to know the difference between male and female cucumber flowers a bit later in this article.
First, though, here are photos of both male and female cucumber flowers including a description of each, so you know precisely what to look for.
Easiest way to identify male cucumber flowers
This photo shows a male cucumber flower. Notice the small stem at the base of the flower, which connects it to the stalk. This is what you need to look for.
Male flowers don’t appear on all cucumber varieties, which I will get more into later in this article, but on the ones that do produce male flowers, they will typically start appearing before the first female flowers.
As I wrote above, the best way to make sure that a cucumber flower is male is to look at the base of the flower. Male cucumber flowers have a small stem at the base that attaches them to the stalk, whereas female flowers have small fruits.
It can be easier to tell them apart if you also know what a female cucumber flower looks like. Luckily, I also have a photo of one of those.
Easiest way to identify female cucumber flowers
Female cucumber flowers are what end up producing the fruit that we get to harvest and enjoy. Here is a photo I took of one of my own cucumber plants.
The easiest way to identify a female cucumber flower is to look for a small immature fruit at the base of the flower. Male flowers only have a small stem at the base, but female flowers have an easily recognizable small immature cucumber fruit at the base.
The flower in the photo above is a female cucumber flower from my greenhouse. You can clearly see the immature fruit at the base of the flower when you compare it to the photo of a male flower earlier in this article.
Why Knowing if a Cucumber Flower Is Male or Female Matters
With some garden plants, it doesn’t matter much if flowers are female, male, or both. With cucumber plants, however, it matters a lot. That’s because the male flowers can pollinate the female flowers and when that happens, the plant stops producing tasty fruit.
Female cucumber flowers that become pollinated by male flowers produce yellow, bitter-tasting fruit. This happens because the plant will shift its focus from producing fruit to producing seeds.
Cucumbers are annual plants, which means that they only live for a single growing season, so it is important to keep removing the male flowers as early as possible to keep the plants growing and producing. I share some other tips that can help you keep your cucumber plants alive for as long as possible on this link.
By continually removing male flowers from your cucumber plants before they pollinate any of the female flowers, you will keep the plant in the production stage and it will most likely keep producing fruit until it gets too cold in the fall of winter.
If even one male flower gets to pollinate a female flower, you might as well pull out the plant and plant a new one, because it is done producing fruit that tastes good.
Not all cucumber plants produce male flowers. A lot of the modern varieties don’t, which means that you don’t have to do anything when your plants are flowering. If you aren’t sure what to do in your specific situation, I recommend reading this article.
There are, however, also a lot of cucumber varieties that do produce male flowers. As I explained here, if your goal is to pick a lot of cucumbers to eat, you should remove the male flowers from your plants as early as possible. I will explain the safest way to do that without damaging the plant below.
Safest Way to Remove Male Cucumber Flowers Without Problems
As I explained above, removing male cucumber flowers as early as possible is crucial if you want to keep harvesting fruit from your cucumber plants.
Removing male cucumber flowers is easy, but if you aren’t careful, you risk damaging the plant.
The safest way to remove male cucumber flowers without damaging the plant is to use pruning shears to cut the small stem at the base of the flowers. Do not cut the stalk since that can change how the plant grows. Always make sure to use clean, sharp pruning shears to reduce the risk of pests and diseases.
The only time you should cut the actual stalk of the plant is if you want to prevent it from getting too tall. You can read more about that here.
If you don’t already have some pruning shears, I highly recommend these from Amazon. I bought them recently and even though they are relatively cheap, they are probably the best pruning shears I have had.
The red line on the photo above shows precisely where you should cut. Only cut the small, thin stem behind the male flower. Avoid cutting anything else.
You can also just pinch off the flowers with your fingers, but be careful if you do that, because the risk of damaging the plant is higher than if you use pruning shears.
It can be much easier to see all the male flowers so you can remove them in time if you grow your cucumber plants on a trellis. You can also grow cucumbers on the ground, but you have to look extra carefully for the flowers since they are often covered by leaves. This is one advantage of growing cucumbers on a trellis but there are a lot more, which you can read about in the article on this link.
If you prefer to grow your cucumbers on the ground instead of using a trellis, that’s absolutely fine too. In that case, I recommend that you read the article on this link where I share some easy tips that can help you get more from your plants and avoid certain problems
Not all cucumber plants have both male and female flowers. Sometimes there are only male flowers and sometimes there are only female flowers. The reasons are very different and if your cucumber plants seem to only have one type of flower, I recommend you keep reading because there is a very good explanation, which I get into now.
Sometimes There Are Only Male Flowers on Cucumber Plants
It is far from uncommon that a cucumber plant only has male flowers or has far more male flowers than female flowers. There is a very simple explanation for that.
Male flowers form before the female flowers on cucumber plants according to this article from New Mexico State University and this article from Iowa State University.
So if there are only male flowers on your cucumber plants, the most likely explanation is that it is just too early for female flowers to have formed yet since male flowers form first.
One of the first summers I grew cucumbers, I was in the complete opposite situation. Two of my cucumber plants didn’t produce any male flowers but had a lot of female flowers. I reached out to an expert to ask why and he had a very simple explanation, so keep reading if you are in the same situation.
Not All Cucumber Plants Produce Male Flowers
If you have some cucumber plants that only produce female flowers and you are wondering where the male flowers are, there is a very simple explanation. I found myself in that situation some time ago, so I called a very experienced gardener who has given me good advice in the past to ask him and this is what he told me.
Most modern cucumber varieties do not produce male flowers. This means that you don’t have to worry about pollination. That said, it is still a good idea to keep an eye out for male flowers, because several varieties still produce them.
I did precisely what I was told and kept looking for male flowers so I could remove them as soon as they appeared but they never did. My two cucumber plants only ever produced female flowers and gave me lots of fruit throughout the summer and early fall.
If you’re in the same situation, chances are you have one of the newer cucumber varieties that don’t produce male flowers.