University of Illinois Extension

Why Fruit Trees Fail To Bear

Getting young fruit trees to bear can sometimes be a challenge, notes Richard Hentschel, U of I Extension horticulture specialist. "Young fruit trees will normally begin to fruit once the tree has become established in your new planting site. Several things can influence how soon your trees begin to bear--weather, climate, tree variety or cultivar and pollination."

"We cannot do too much about where we live, yet we can influence the microclimate-planting site of our fruit trees in our landscapes by utilizing the sun and providing winter weather protection."

Fruit bud hardiness is another factor of whether you get fruits or not, he added. Apples seem to be the least susceptible to cold injury and apricots the most sensitive. Once a tree regularly begins to bear, fruit buds are formed each year and then only when cold weather kills the buds do we lose our crop.

"Fruit trees are typically one or two years old when we purchase young trees and most often they have been grown in containers, which is a good thing as the trees have all their root system when we plant them," he said. "Dwarf trees will take longer to come into bearing than moderate or seedling fruit trees.

"Fruit trees need to be trained during that first year to benefit from the dwarfing characteristics or your tree will end up much larger than you expected. Scaffold branch selection should also be part of that training. The common mistake made is to wait too long before we start to train the fruit tree and that the first scaffold branches should be 18-24 inches from the ground. We should not be alarmed if the fruit tree does not begin to flower heavily for the first three to five years while you are training the scaffolds and establishing the tree."

The last management strategy is making sure your fruit trees are pollinated properly.

"Most apples are self-unfruitful, meaning that you need another apple variety blooming at the same time to provide pollen," Hentschel explained. "Others that will need cross-pollination include pear, sweet cherries and plums. This is easier than you think; as every fruit tree catalog will provide you with the particular details on the variety you are interested in growing."

Fruit trees are pollinated by bees. Bees are influenced by weather just like us, staying closer to home in cooler wet weather. Better pollination occurs when the weather is dry and warm while the trees are in bloom. If you are spraying your trees, treat when the bees are not out collecting pollen.

"By choosing the right varieties for winter hardiness and pollination times, by planting in an area that has both good air and water drainage, and by starting your pruning and scaffold training that first year, your fruit trees can provide many years of gardening satisfaction and the fruits aren't bad to eat either," he said.