Pollination tips for tree fruit

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.

All of the tree and small fruit crops grown in northwest Michigan (except grapes, which are wind pollinated) require insects for pollination. That’s right – wind plays virtually no role in pollination; the job is done by bees! Native wild solitary bees are present and populations likely vary a great deal from site to site, but their numbers alone are generally not adequate to provide the necessary pollination to achieve good yields. Feral (wild) honey bees used to be plentiful and greatly aided pollination, but today no feral honey bees survive the winter due to the introduced mite parasites. This all means that providing additional bees is a necessity to achieve desired yields, particularly in those years when weather conditions are unfavorable for pollination.

Honeybee recommendations
Recommended density of good quality honeybee hive per acre:

Crop
Hive density
Apple and pear
1-3
Sweet cherry & Balaton®
2-3
Montmorency tart cherry, plum, and peach
1

Newer, higher density apple plantings, with a single cultivar interplanted with a few pollenizers, require more bees per acre than the older, multi-variety traditional plantings. Likewise, use higher bees rates in sweets where one non-selffertile variety represents 76% or more of the planting.

Hive placement. Pallets of bees should be spread out to minimize flight distance to flowers, with a maximum of 300 yards between colonies. Place in a sunny location if possible.

Place bees in orchards prior to the first blossom opening. The first blooms to open in apple (king blooms) generally produce the largest fruit. The first blossoms to open in cherry have a higher percent fruit set.

Control dandelion to reduce competition for bees.

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