If all you’re getting from your fruits trees is beautiful spring blooms, you’re only getting half of the possible benefits from the fruit tree. Unfortunately, this scenario plays out quite often in landscapes every spring. After a full season of watering, feeding and pampering a fruit tree, the fruits from your labor never seem to manifest.
What went wrong? Could be one thing, could be a combination of several things. Let’s examine the common causes of no fruit production and get some tips to increase fruit production from fruit trees.
Water Less Often
Fruit trees don’t need to be watered often. The factors to judge when to water are current growth rate of the tree (fast growing trees need a bit more water), temperature (hot/dry weather needs more water), soil type (sandy soils need more water while clayey soils need less), and any mulch you may have applied. A thorough soaking every other week is better than a shallow watering every few days. A newly planted fruit tree can be watered once a week until it becomes established. A general rule of thumb is water only when the soil is on the verge of becoming dry.
Feed Less Often
We tend to think that if we feed the tree more, it will produce more fruit. This is not true. The increased amount of food, whether from chemical or organic fertilizer, will go directly into trunk and branch growth. None of the excess food will go into fruit development, it will just make the tree bigger. Feed the fruit tree less often, and sparingly. Feed fruit trees once a year in early spring.
Also note that fertilizer put on the lawn around the fruit tree will also be absorbed by tree roots and cause trunk and branch growth. For fertilizer, use home-made compost if possible; this way you know they are organic and safer. The best times to apply fertilizer are spring and autumn.
Give Them Space
The saplings we plant are small, plus a mature fruit tree is not huge, so it’s easy to place them too close together at planting time. But don’t make that mistake of planting them too close. There are generally 3 basic sizes for fruit trees (standard, semi-dwarf, and dwarf). Standard is the largest, and dwarf is the smallest. Here are some very general yardsticks below, although for standard size peaches, pears, and plums which are smaller by nature, they can thrive with about 20 feet of space between each individual tree. Citrus fruits can make do with just 8 feet of spacing because they tend to be the smallest.
- Standard size – 18-25 feet tall/wide (30-35 feet spacing between them)
- Semi-dwarf size – 12-15 feet tall/wide (15 feet spacing between them)
- Dwarf size – 8-10 feet tall/wide (10 feet spacing between them)
Fruit trees need space between them so that each tree can receive enough direct sunlight and plenty of air circulation. If fruit trees are espaliered or trained to grow along a trellis, then they can be planted closer together.
Increase fruit production with a yearly pruning. After the tree has gone dormant in the early winter is the best time to prune. Use sharp pruning shears and remove branches back to the point of origin to increase fruit production. If you only remove a small section of existing branches, it will encourage branch growth instead of fruit production. So make the removal more evenly spread out over the entire crown, but do not over-prune. Over-pruning will also have the effect of encouraging more twig and branch growth rather than the fruits you desire. Remove mainly the diseased and dying or dead wood.
Plant two different cultivars or varieties close together to encourage cross pollination. This is a must for trees that do not self-pollinate with their own type, such as most apples and pears, and some plums. Cross pollination helps increase fruit production compared to self-pollination. Bees are the best agents for this, so help look after the bees too by planting lots of plants that attract bees, or actually rearing a nest yourself if you are up to it.
A wide variety of pests love the pollen-rich blooms and sweet fruit of the fruit trees, so be diligent with pest control. Most aphids or scale insects can be controlled with dormant oil, applied before the trees start sprouting flower buds. Inspect fruits trees often and treat a pest infestation quickly. Keep the surrounding landscape well maintained and weed-free as dead branches, yard debris, and weeds often attract a variety of harmful insects or pests.
Thin Excess Fruits
Fruit trees often will fruit heavily for one year and then rest and recuperate the next year by bearing little or no fruit in a process called biennial bearing. Pick off excess fruits while they are still developing to prevent this from happening next year. You can choose those runts, malformed, or otherwise suspect-looking fruits to start with. Make use of secateurs and deft hands to do the job. Lessen the strain on your fruit trees and they will surely thank you for it.
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