Bees buzz tomato flowers for pollination

Tomato flowers don't require pollinating insects, but bumblebees can be a big help.

Credit: Walter Reeves

Credit: Walter Reeves

Q: We’ve gathered lots of tomatoes and green beans even though I have not seen many bees. I have planted coneflowers nearby to attract pollinators. Do all plants have both male and female blooms like a pumpkin? Ellen Nowicki, email

A: All members of the squash family (pumpkins, gourds, cucumbers, etc.) produce male and female flowers along the vine and require pollinator visits. Tomatoes and beans, however, have male and female parts inside each flower. Pollen moves between the male and female parts with a just bit of vibration or wind action. Visiting insects help take pollen from flower to flower, but they are not absolutely necessary for pollination/fruiting to occur on these “perfect flower” plants. Carpenter bees, native bees and bumblebees, not honeybees, are the heavy hitters for tomato pollination. Normal tomato flowers hang down from a stem. The pollinating bee will grab the center of the flower and “buzz” it, shaking lots of pollen loose. The bee takes the pollen back to its nest, the tomato gets pollinated and you have the main ingredient for a summer sandwich!

Q: I found a volunteer tomato plant next to my townhouse which has become huge and filled with cherry tomatoes. Should I prune it? Camille Mackool, email

A: I don’t know who planted it, but you are welcome to manage the vine any way you like. In my experience, these unexpected volunteer tomatoes are almost always the cherry type. This is probably because the seeds came from a hybrid tomato, whose ancestors included a cherry tomato. As a class, cherry tomatoes tend to be wild and vigorous. When I have them in my garden, I let one or two grow freely and snack on the small tomatoes as they ripen.

Q: I have several Green Giant arborvitae that have grown beautifully. I would like to top them, in an effort to force more growth toward the middle. Mel Wilinsky, email

A: Pruning out the top of a tree doesn’t force growth to occur in the middle of the tree. Pruning causes “nearby” dormant buds to sprout, but “nearby” means somewhere between 2 and 12 inches away from the cut, not 2 to 12 feet away. The only other thing that causes growth to occur in a certain vicinity is increased exposure to sunshine. Sunshine triggers photosynthesis in dormant buds and makes them sprout. The best way to control the shape and size of an arborvitae is to prune when the need is seen, not years later.

Listen to Walter Reeves’ segments at 6:35 a.m. on “Green and Growing with Ashley Frasca” Saturday mornings on 95.5 WSB. Visit his website,, follow him on Twitter @walterreeves, on Pinterest, or join his Facebook Fan Page at for more garden tips.