We are sometimes asked if bees pollinate tomato plants. The answer is that they don’t have to, but one does: the bumblebee! Through a process called buzz pollination, the bumblebee alights on the small yellow blooms of the tomato plant (the way you see him on the borage blossom in the photo at left) and then vibrates his wings as he bites the flower. This causes the pollen to fall from the stamen into the anther, pollinating it! Butterflies, honeybees, and other pollinators don’t have the buzz power to dislodge the tomatoes’ heavy, sticky pollen — it’s only the bumblebee that can do it!

Indeterminate tomato plants continue to set new flowers all season long. These small yellow blooms mean everything to the success of your tomato crop!

Now, what did we mean by saying that bees “don’t have to” pollinate the tomato? Well, in theory the tomato is self-pollinating, because it contains both male and female flowers. The pollen falls naturally from stamen to anther when the blooms are disturbed. This is the reason behind the old wives’ tale about shaking your tomato plant. (Greenhouses often have vibrating mechanisms to achieve the same effect.) If you have ever suffered a big windy spring storm, you have probably been amazed that your tomatoes not only survived, but produced extra heavily that year. It’s nature’s own form of buzz pollination!

Our Bee Buddies Wildflower Mix attracts a good variety of buzzers!

So if you want more bumblebees in the garden, grow wildflowers (native varieties) and special pollinator mixes. We particularly like this one (image shown at left) designed especially to attract bees. But you can also plant individual varieties that bees love:

About Sappho Charney

Sappho Charney is a garden writer living in Lubbock, Texas.

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