Fruit tree pollination
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Pollination is the process of pollen from one flower being transferred to another, required for certain plants, in this case fruit trees, to produce seeds with surrounding fruit. The material required for tree reproduction comes from separate flowers to allow transfer of genetic material from separate fruit trees. The pollination process requires a carrier, which can be animal, wind, or human intervention. Plants can be manually cross-pollinated to make seeds that can produce trees and fruit with desired attributes. Some tree species cannot be self-pollinated.
Most Apples are self-incompatible and must be cross pollinated. A few are described as "self-fertile" and are capable of self-pollination, although even those tend to carry larger crops when cross pollinated. A relatively small number of species are "Triploid", meaning that they provide no viable pollen for themselves or other apple trees. Apples that can pollinate one another are grouped by the time they usually flower so cross-pollinators are in bloom at the same time. Pollination management is an important component of apple culture. Before planting, it is important to arrange for pollenizers - varieties of apple or crabapple that provide plentiful, viable and compatible pollen. Orchard blocks may alternate rows of compatible varieties, or may plant crabapple trees, or graft on limbs of crabapple. Some varieties produce very little pollen, or the pollen is sterile, so these are not good pollenizers. Good-quality nurseries have pollenizer compatibility lists.
Growers with old orchard blocks of single varieties sometimes provide bouquets of crabapple blossoms in drums or pails in the orchard for pollenizers. Home growers with a single tree and no other variety in the neighborhood can do the same on a smaller scale.
During the bloom each season, commercial apple growers usually provide pollinators to carry the pollen. Honeybee hives are most commonly used, and arrangements may be made with a commercial beekeeper who supplies hives for a fee.
|number of honey bee
hives per acre
for optimal pollination
|Apples (semi dwarf)||2|
Orchard mason bees are also used as supplemental pollinators in commercial orchards. According to Christopher O'Toole's The Red Mason Bee, Osmia rufa is a much more efficient pollinator of orchard crops than the honeybee. Home growers may find these more acceptable in suburban locations because they do not sting. Some wild bees such as carpenter bees and other solitary bees may help. Bumble bee queens are sometimes present in orchards, but not usually in enough quantity to be significant pollinators.
Symptoms of inadequate pollination are small and misshapen apples, and slowness to ripen. The seeds can be counted to evaluate pollination. Well-pollinated apples have best quality, and will have seven to ten seeds. Apples with fewer than three seeds will usually not mature and will drop from the trees in the early summer. Inadequate pollination can result from either a lack of pollinators or pollenizers, or from poor pollinating weather at bloom time. Multiple bee visits are usually required to deliver sufficient grains of pollen to accomplish complete pollination.
Pears are similar to apples, with the notable exception that pear blossoms are much less attractive to bees, due to lower sugar content than apple or contemporaneous wildflower nectar. Bees may abandon the pear blossoms to visit dandelions or a nearby apple orchard. There are two possible methods used to compensate. One is saturation pollination, that is to stock so many bees that all area blossoms are worked regardless of the attractiveness to the bees. The other is to delay the movement of the beehives into the orchards until there is about 30 per cent bloom. The bees are moved into the orchard during the night and will usually visit the pear blossoms for a few hours until they discover the richer nectar sources. The recommended number of hives per acre is 1.
Many citrus varieties are seedless and are produced parthenocarpically without pollination. Some varieties may be capable of producing fruit either way, having seeds in the segments, if pollinated, and no seeds if not.
Citrus that requires pollination may be self-compatible, thus pollen must be moved only a short distance from the anther to the stigma by a pollinator. Some citrus, such as Meyer Lemons, are popular container plants. When these bloom indoors, they often suffer from blossom drop because no pollinators have access. Hand pollinate by a human pollinator is a solution, though it is important to learn A few citrus varieties, including some tangelos and tangerines are self-incompatible, and require cross pollination. Pollenizers must be planned when groves are planted. This last group generally requires the addition of managed honeybee hives at bloom time for adequate pollination.
Improving pollination with suboptimal bee densities 
Today growers’ demand for beehives far exceeds the available supply. The number of managed beehives in the US has steadily declined from close to 6 million after WWII, to less than 2.5 million today. In contrast, the area dedicated to growing bee-pollinated crops has grown over 300% in the same time period. To make matters worse, in the past five years we have seen a decline in winter managed beehives, which has reached an unprecedented rate near 30%. At present, there is an enormous demand for beehive rentals that cannot always be met. There is a clear need across the agricultural industry for a management tool to draw pollinators into cultivations and encourage them to preferentially visit and pollinate the flowering crop. By attracting pollinators like honeybees and increasing their foraging behavior, particularly in the center of large plots, we can increase grower returns and optimize yield from their plantings. ISCA Technologies, from Riverside California, created a semiochemical formulation called SPLAT Bloom, that modifies the behavior of honeybees, inciting them to visit flowers in every portion of the field; with SPLAT Bloom the bees pollinate flowers both close and far from their hives, increasing fruit setting. SPLAT Bloom is long-lasting semiochemical tool that increases pollination of flowering crops by honeybees, benefiting growers by enhancing on-farm environmental and economic sustainability.
- Christopher O'Toole, The Red Mason Bee, ISBN 0-9539906-8-0, page 26