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A honeybee is a pollinator for a Red Delicious apple tree.
Your fruit trees need proper pollination to be fruitful, and they have a variety of pollinating needs.
In our new video on fruit trees, Tricia explains that part of creating a home orchard is planning for the pollination of your trees.
Before we get to the details, here’s a quick review of some fruit tree vocabulary:
Pollination means moving pollen from the stamens to the stigma of a flower. The pollen can come from the same flower or a different flower.
Pollinizer is the source of the pollen (a fruit tree blossom).
A pollinator is the instrument that carries the pollen (usually a bee but a human can do it).
A self-pollinizer or self-fruitful tree has “perfect flowers” and can pollinate itself.
A self-unfruitful or self-sterile tree has “perfect flowers” but cannot pollinate itself and needs pollen from a related variety of tree.
Some fruit trees that are self-pollinating produce more fruit when there are other fruit trees of their own species nearby. A self-pollinating apple tree, for instance, will produce its optimal crop with at least three varieties of apple trees within 50 feet. Why 50 feet? To make it most likely that a pollinator bee will make the trip from tree to tree.
Our fruit and nut tree descriptions will alert you to the pollination needs of the various varieties of trees, and it’s also good to consult your local Master Gardeners. For example, Bartlett and Comice pears are self-fruitful in California, but in the Pacific Northwest they are self-unfruitful.
If there is a range of bloom times within the fruit tree species you could run into trouble if the pollinizer tree is not blooming at the same time as the other variety of tree ready to be pollinated.
Many land grant universities offer helpful charts of good pollinizer matches between fruit trees, based on bloom times. Our favorites are from the University of Missouri, Washington State University, and Colorado State University.
For more information on planning and maintaining a small orchard, read our blog articles that are linked to the fruit trees you’re interested in. We also recommend the University of California’s book The Home Orchard.