Fruit trees are like the best utility infielders: they do everything! They feed the eyes with their graceful shapes and lovely blossoms and feed your family with apples, pears, plums, apricots and more. If they fruit, that is.
There are many reasons your fruit trees might not set fruit. Understanding these can help you get the most out of your home orchard. Here are eight reasons why you may not be getting fruit on your trees–and what you can do about that.
1. Too Much Fertilizer
Most fertilizers boost the nitrogen in the soil, which in turn stimulates growth of foliage versus flowers and fruit. Even if you aren’t directly overfeeding your fruit tree, any fertilizer you apply within five feet (1.5 m) of the tree’s trunk (for example, lawn fertilizer) can wash down to its roots.
2. Too Much Pruning
Make sure you study up on how the different types of fruit trees need to be pruned to maximize fruit production.
- Peach trees, for example, only fruit on year-old wood, so vigorous trimming might wipe out the new season’s crop.
- Apples and pears, on the other hand, do best if you prune branches right back to their point of origin, rather than cutting in the middle of a branch, which stimulates leaf growth and suppresses flower and fruit growth.
3. Not Enough Sunlight
Fruit trees need at least six hours of sunlight a day. Without this, they may produce some fruit, but it will be of poor quality and will not ripen.
4. Late Spring Frost
A frost covering your fruit tree spring blossoms may make for a lovely photo, but it also means you probably won’t be getting fruit this year. Make sure the varieties of fruit tree you want to plant blossom after the last average frost date for your region.
5. Inconsistent Winter Temperatures
It’s not just the spring frosts that can damage your fruit blossoms. As early as December, a warm spell followed by a return to winter weather can kill off next summer’s crop, even though the buds are dormant at the time. In this case, the flowers may still appear come spring, but the trees will not set fruit.
6. Missing Pollination
Some fruit trees can self-pollinate, but many others need one or two different types of fruit trees to cross-pollinate and set fruit (read more about fruit tree pollination needs). Also, if something like extreme weather or insecticides disrupts the honey bees and other pollinators, your trees may set little or no fruit.
7. Age of Tree
Most trees do not start producing fruit until they’ve matured, from two to six years depending on their type. Dwarf trees may start fruiting earlier than full sized varieties.
8. Biennial Fruit Bearing
Many fruit trees, if they’ve had a very good harvest the previous season, won’t bear fruit in the current season. Think of it as a gap year for your tree.
Fruit trees are one of the great joys of the garden. Read on to find out more about the pollinators–the bees, bats, and butterflies–that put fruit on our trees and food on our tables.