This is a common and frustrating question for any grower. You’ve planted your fruit tree. It’s growing. It’s living. But it’s not blooming or bearing fruit. While this can discourage a grower to the point of wanting to chop the tree down, you should go for the facts — not the axe. If your fruit tree doesn’t bloom or bear, it can happen for a number of reasons. In this article, we focus on the 6 basic requirements of fruit trees and address the most common issues/solutions related to fruit production.
If your fruit tree is still too immature, it won’t go into fruit-production mode. When you receive your tree from Stark Bro’s, it will be around 2 years old and will still need a few years before reaching its fruiting maturity. Read our article about how many years until you should expect fruit for more information about how long it takes for different trees to bear before deciding your tree has an issue.
Fruit trees require pollination to be able to set fruit. If your tree is not self-pollinating, it needs a compatible pollinator planted nearby. Also, pollination-helpers like bees, birds, and wind need to be adequately present. If your tree is missing these important elements, it may bloom profusely, but it will most likely never set fruit. Read The Importance of Fruit Tree Pollination to learn more.
Individual tree varieties have recommended hardiness zones for planting. You can find out how to determine your USDA hardiness zone by reading Fruit Tree Care: Planting in the Zone. Once you know what your zone is, you will be able to select fruit trees that are recommended to grow in your area.
There are different things to consider when you plant in your zone:
Regularly pruned trees are much more apt to producing quality fruit. Fruiting buds tend to form on limbs that have adequate air circulation and light infiltration, which is your goal when pruning. Learn about pruning tips and more in our article, Successful Tree Pruning.
You also have to make sure that you find the right balance for pruning. Heavy over-pruning can cause a tree to produce too much vegetative growth in response, and under-pruning can contribute to the development of too much fruiting wood, which is the culprit for overbearing and fruit drop.
Fruit trees that are planted too close to one another will compete for nutrients and light. If planting trees close together is part of your design (espalier and high-density plantings are two prime examples), then you will need to prune accordingly to keep them open to light and ensure the trees are getting enough nutrients from the soil.
If trees are planted too close to buildings and other structures, they will have similar conflicts with the added risk of interfering with those structures. Make sure you give your trees enough room to grow and flourish. For an easy-to-follow guide to tree-spacing, explore our article about Fruit Tree Sizes.
It is very important that your trees have the right balance of reserve food and soil elements. This is the best thing you can do to ensure your tree fruits and has energy to support its fruit. As you can see in the graphic, if this balance is off, it can have a negative impact on how your tree blooms or bears.
If a tree has plenty of reserve food but a shortage of soil elements, you may see a stunted crop of undersized, poor-quality fruit. You might even see no fruit at all. This can happen if your tree has tried to overbear, which may cause a tree to drop its fruit prematurely. It may also happen if your tree has experienced foliage-depletion, which can be caused by stress, weather, or other weakening factors (animals, pests, or disease). Identifying the stress factor and treating it will help to remedy the problem. You can have your soil tested to find nutrient deficiencies. You should implement routine control of pests and disease.
A tree can also have an excess of soil elements but not enough reserve food. The tree will appear to be healthy and lush during the growing season, but it will not bear fruit (regardless of maturity) since, in many cases, the tree doesn’t even bloom. This happens as a result of “over-feeding”. If the soil provides plenty of nutrients, like nitrogen (either naturally or by adding fertilizer), the tree develops an excess of vegetative growth that will delay the growth of fruiting buds. You can remedy this problem by holding off on fertilizing and waiting until the next growing season for results.
There are some extreme solutions that should only be attempted if all else fails: root-pruning or scoring your trees.
Root pruning: Bring a spade or shovel out to the drip line of your trees. The drip line is where the tips of the branches are, but straight down on the ground. Take the spade or shovel and push it straight into the ground and pull it straight back out. Do not dig out any dirt. Move over a foot or two and repeat the process. You are essentially creating a dotted-line circle around your tree’s root system, which will clip the feeder roots and “shock” the tree into blooming during the next growing season.
Scoring: This has the same result as root pruning, but scoring should not be your first step to getting your tree to fruit. Consider it a last resort. When scoring your trees, bring a small knife (like a pocket-knife) out to your tree. Locate a spot low on the trunk and cut a single horizontal line into the bark, only halfway around the tree. Move up several inches and repeat this, but halfway around the other direction. Do not let these lines connect to one another or you will destroy the phloem tissue and completely disrupt the vascular system of the tree, which will lead to its demise. See the animated image as a reference for examples of properly scoring the bark halfway around a tree.
If you keep these instances in mind, then you will have a better understanding of why a fruit tree does not bear. Nip a potential problem in the bud and exercise your patience (not your lumberjack-swing). Your trees will thank you!