Can tomatoes cross pollinate?

Bill Shoemaker wshoemak at
Fri Apr 19 09:14:58 EDT 2002


    Tomatoes (as are peppers) are, in general, self-pollinating plants. But there is enough pollen drift in nature ( both wind and insects can do this) that some cross-pollination can occur. If you are saving seed, you should select a few flower clusters from each plant, cover them carefully prior to their opening, and then assist pollination when they open by gently shaking the plant. Use a labeling tag (paper tags with a string attached) to label the cluster. Once it's clear that fruit have set, remove the cover and select two fruit on the cluster, remove the others, leaving the labelling tag on the cluster. Once they've fully ripened, harvest the fruit, remove the seed, wash them thoroughly and dry them on a screen, being careful to maintain their identity. Once they are thoroughly dry, put into small coin envelopes and label the envelope with crop/variety names and year of production. Keep them in a cool, dry place until the next season.

    As for what to use as a cover, consider the hair nets made out of spun-bonded polyester (Reemay). They breath, let light in and can be drawn around the whole tomato cluster. Someone in the resaurant trade should be able to help you find them locally.

    Also, make sure the plants are healthy, especially free of bacterial diseases. They can be carried into the next generation on seed and are difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate from seed. This is a problem the commercial seed industry struggles with so home seed savers need to be aware of it.

Bill Shoemaker
Sr Research Specialist, Food Crops
Univ of Illinois - St Charles Hort Research Center
  Instead of throwing out my off type plants, I'm thinking of planting them in their own section this year and marking them as such so I can observe their fruiting.

  I have always thought of tomatoes as a self pollinating plant when grown under natural conditions (no deliberate hand cross pollination).  Has anyone else seen things like this happen in tomatoes?

  Marlin Burkholder
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