The "BUZZ" about bees and blooms.

Pollination isn't as difficult a concept to understand as most "newbies" think.

Bees!  All tree fruit needs to be pollinated by bees.  If you plan to grow fruit, plan to deal with bees!  While we do not recommend you go into the beekeeping business, it might be a interesting sideline endeavor, if you have difficulty finding hives to rent from commercial beekeepers, or your populations of wild pollinator bees is low.  As you may have read, honeybees in particular are facing great challenges with colony collapse and other diseases and issues.  Proper pollination and, hence, healthy bees are very inter-twined.

Pollination occurs when the blossom is open and the pollen is transferred from the anthers to the stigmas of the flowers.  Since most fruit trees require cross pollination with a different variety, this pollen transfer does not always occur in the same flower.  Often this transfer is not by a single bee visiting one variety and them going to another variety, like he "knows" that is his job.  Often is by certain bees in the hive working a single tree over, flying back to the hive to "unload" their pollen and nectar, and rubbing against their buddies and transferring pollen in the hive.  Then these bees take this pollen to another variety and to other trees.  Bees are working to collect nectar and pollen for their own purposes, and the pollination a by-product that benefits the fruit grower.  

Cultured honey bees are not the only pollinators in the world either!  There are many native, wild bees of species very different from the common honey bee that are often much more efficient pollinators than honey bees.  Learn to respect, maintain and enhance their habitats, since the commercial honey bee has many diseases and predator insects which have been affecting them in the past 15-20 years. 

Pollinator Varieties:  Many new and beginning fruit growers worry unduly about proper pollination---which varieties to plant next to others, how far apart they should be, when they bloom, etc.  It really can be simplified more and made less frustrating.

  • Apples and Pears: Almost no apple and pear varieties are self-fruitful. They all require or benefit by cross pollination with a different variety. Pollinator varieties should be chosen which bloom close to each other, so that viable pollen can be transferred by the bees from one variety to the other.
  • If you are planting a lot of different varieties, relatively close by each other, then you can worry less about whether or not you are getting proper pollinators near each other. Trees will usually bloom over a somewhat extended period of time, and there may be a lot of overlap. However, if you have large blocks of single varieties, then consider planting crab apples or other pollinator trees in the block for better pollination.
  • Some varieties of apples and pears are sterile and require pollination from another close-by blooming variety. These usually are triploid varieties, with extra sets of chromosomes which cause them to not be able to pollinate other varieties. A couple examples are Mutsu and Stayman.
  • Peaches and Nectarines are almost always self-fertile and will pollinate themselves without requiring another variety. There are very few varieties which require cross-pollination with a different variety. No pollinators will be required in 99% of peach and nectarine blocks.
  • Plums and Prunes: Almost all varieties benefit by cross-pollination and care needs to be taken to make sure there are enough pollen sources to insure a good crop. Plums and prunes come in three classes--- Japanese types, European types, and Hybrid types.
  • Japanese plums almost always require cross-pollination with a different Japanese plum. Sometimes a European or Hybrid plum will suffice, but they can be very particular sometimes, so check with your nurseryman.
  • European plums and prunes can often be somewhat self-fertile, but cross-pollination by a different European or Hybrid plum is always beneficial.
  • Hybrid plums are crosses of Japanese and European plums are usually require some sort of cross-pollination with a suitable different variety.
  • Apricots: There are a few apricots which are self-fruitful. These can be planted without pollinators, but they often set heavier crops with other pollinator varieties mixed in. For the most part, plant two or more varieties if possible, and you should have better pollination and crops.
  • Sweet Cherries: Prior to the breeding of "self-fertile" varieties, all sweet cherries required pollinators. Most varieties STILL far into pollination classes based on the genes that they carry, and they require certain other varieties to pollinate with in order to set crops. Most of the old standard varieties, and quite a few of the new ones, require cross-pollination. Ask you nurseryman when ordering trees.
  • Self-fertile sweet cherry varieties are relatively new developments. They require no other variety to pollinate with, and most will often make good pollinator varieties for the above ones.
  • Tart Cherries are usually self-fertile, but a few varieties really benefit from cross pollination.

As a general rule of thumb, if you have planted lots of variety diversity within a class of fruit in the same orchard, then you will often have adequate pollen sources, but if you have large blocks of varieties separated by 75-100 feet from each other, then plan to provide pollen sources within the blocks.