Blueberries have to be my favorite fruit. Whether I am picking them for a fresh blueberry pie or just grazing, you cannot beat them for flavor and ease of picking. However with our cool Oregon springs, it is sometimes difficult to get a good fruit set on the early blooming varieties. Many pollinators such as honey bees need warmer temperatures to be fully active. However, bumblebees are active at much cooler temperatures and planting heather with your blueberries will attract these hard workers in droves.
There are many insects that pollinate blueberries including honey bees, solitary bees and bumblebees. But as mentioned earlier, the bumblebees work at much lower temperatures. They will be pollinating your blueberries earlier in the year, when days are overcast, cool and a little breezy. In addition, they are active earlier in the day and later in the evening.
The Benifit of Buzz Pollination
Add to that the fact that bumblebees are ‘buzz’ pollinators and that makes them the perfect ally. Bumblebees are capable of sonicating the pollen from the blueberry anther which makes them efficient pollen distributors. Honey bees do not have this capability.
The Benefit of Companion Planting Heathers
In order to attract more bumblebees I planted heather in between the blueberry plants. I specifically picked an earlier variety called Erica carnea ‘Adrienne Duncan’. This compact heather is on 6-12 inches tall and is hardy to 10F. It has clusters of single reddish purple flowers that bloom from winter to early spring. Adrienne Duncan has beautiful dark green foliage. Having this heather planted with my blueberries, provides a nectar source for the queen bumblebees when they first emerge in early spring. And it keeps them around until the blueberries go into bloom.
I companion plant one heather between each blueberry plant and I position them on the path side of the row. This gives the heather plenty of light and makes it easy for the bumblebes to find them. And because it is short, this heather does not get in the way of harvesting.
So pair up some heather with your blueberries for a bountiful harvest.
Note: Never use insecticides while blueberries are blooming. Refer to the Pacific Northwest Extension Publication “How to Reduse Bee Poisoning from Pesticides” for more information.