“Why won’t my tree bloom or bear fruit?”
This is a common and frustrating question for any grower. You’ve planted your fruit or nut 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 (or nut) tree doesn’t bloom or bear, it isn’t unusual, and it can happen for a number of reasons. In this article, we focus on some of the most common issues and how you can address them.
1. Tree Development
If your fruit or nut tree is still too young, 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. Check out our article, How Many Years?, for more information about how long it takes for different trees to bear before deciding your tree has bearing problems.
Fruit and nut 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.
3. Hardiness Zones
Each variety of trees has recommended hardiness zones for planting. You can find tips to help you find your 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 and nut trees that will grow in your area.
There are different things to consider when you plant in your zone:
4. Soil Conditions
It is very important that your trees have the right balance of reserve food and soil elements. 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 like animals, pests or disease. Identifying the stress factor and treating it can help to remedy the problem. You can perform soil tests to find nutrient deficiencies. You should also consider a regular spray schedule to control 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 (even if it is mature) since, in most cases, the tree doesn’t 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 puts on vigorous vegetative growth that will delay the growth of fruiting buds. You can remedy this problem by holding off on fertilizing, pruning the roots 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. That way, your tree should be encouraged to bloom during the next growing season.
Scoring: This has the same result as root pruning. 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. See the animated image as a reference for scoring the tree.
Regularly pruned trees are much more apt to produce quality fruit. Fruiting buds tend to form on limbs that have adequate air circulation and light infiltration, enabled by 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 make a tree too vegetative, and under-pruning can contribute to overbearing and fruit drop.
Fruit and nut trees that are planted too close to one another will compete for nutrients and light. If they are planted too close to buildings and other structures, they will have similar conflicts. 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.
If you keep these instances in mind, then you will have a better understanding of why a fruit or nut tree does not bear. Nip a potential problem in the bud and exercise your patience (not your lumberjack-swing). Your trees will thank you!