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Native Bees Key for Southern Blueberry Pollination

Scientists with USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have found that pollination by native blueberry bees or managed honey bees increases fruit set in rabbiteye blueberries in Mississippi and Louisiana from 0-30% without bee pollination to 70% or more. The bee-pollinated berries also are bigger and mature earlier. Researchers found the southern blueberry bee was the best pollinator, and they say a small grower with one to three acres of blueberries can probably get by solely with pollination by native bees, especially if they provide attractive habitat. However, a grower with 25 acres or more should probably consider supplementing pollination with honey bee colonies. The researchers say blueberry growers can promote pollination by providing woodland habitat on the edges of their fields that encourages native blueberry bee populations to grow. “They are ground-dwelling bees that like shade and leaf litter but don’t like wet [soil] or soil heavy with organic material,” explained research entomologist Blair Sampson.