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Pollination in a Nassau County Garden

by Jean Mueller, Master Gardener

 

 

Another spring and summer gardening season is behind us, and soon it will be time to set out plants for the fall.

During our scheduled Monday Master Gardener Plant Clinics at the Extension Office on Pages Dairy Road in Yulee, we routinely field questions from area vegetable and fruit home gardeners.

We are often asked why certain plants produce flowers but no fruit. The answer is almost always due to poor pollination. Inadequate pollination reduces crop yields, results in inferior flavor, produces small, misshapen fruits with fewer seeds, slows fruit maturation and increases disease in fruit.

Let's take a quick refresher course on plant biology.

Plants produce one of three types of flowers: male flowers, which produce pollen; female flowers, which produce fruit; and complete flowers which have both male and female characteristics within a single flower.

In order to produce fruit, the pollen must move from the male parts to the female parts. Animal pollinators perform this function in 90 percent of flowering plants and one-third of human food crops as they move from plant to plant, collecting nourishment for themselves.

Bee on flower

Who are these animal pollinators? Butterflies, birds, moths, flies, bats, beetles and the most widely recognized pollinator of all, the bee. In recent years, farmers and scientists have become alarmed by what is called "colony collapse disorder," a term that describes a marked decline in honey bee populations, speculated to be due to mites, pesticides, genetically modified crops and consecutive wet summers.

There are many things the home gardener can do to support a healthy pollinator population:

- Plant a variety of bird- and butterfly-attracting plants, especially natives and old-fashioned, single-blossom flowers that bloom from spring to fall. Avoid hybrids and those with double flowers, as bees have great difficulty reaching the nectar and pollen of flowers with multiple petals. For specific plant suggestions, go to pollinator.org/guides.htm and enter your ZIP code.

- Plant in clumps so pollinators can easily identify and locate the plants they desire.

- Plant herbs such as dill, fennel, thyme and borage to attract bees.

- Ideally, reduce or eliminate pesticides. When you must use chemicals, use the least toxic. Read the label, and spray in the evening when pollinators are not as active. Opt for liquid over powder, as powder will adhere to the hair on bees and be transported back to the hive.

- Add a hummingbird feeder to your garden. Leave out slices of overripe fruit to attract butterflies.

- If you have a dead tree limb on your property, and it isn't a safety hazard, consider leaving it as a nesting site for native bees. A patch of bare ground also makes an attractive spot for ground-dwelling bees. Contrary to popular belief, most bees are gentle creatures simply searching for food and water for themselves and their young. They are not out to sting you.

The University of Florida hosts a Bee College each year in March. For more information go to http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/honeybee/

 

Master Gardener Jean Mueller lives in Fernandina Beach and is an active volunteer with the Nassau County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. Master Gardener volunteers are trained by County Horticultural Extension agents and are required to serve 75 volunteer hours in the first year of their accreditation and 35 volunteer hours annually in all subsequent years to maintain their certification as Master Gardeners. For information on the Master Gardener program and application requirements, contact Becky Jordi, horticultural extension agent at 548-1116, or rljordi@ufl.edu

 

 

 

 

 

Jean Mueller

Jean Mueller lives on Amelia Island and is an active Master Gardener volunteer.