Why is there no fruit on my tree?

At the nursery we start getting a lot of question about fruit production, or the lack of, right about now. Either a tree is producing few fruits or no fruit at all. And it can be particularly perplexing when a tree seems to be growing healthy and vigorous. Here are a few things to check for and what my be the cause of lack of fruit production.

The tree produced few or no blossoms. Healthy,
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mature trees will normally produce an abundance of blossoms. Although it can take trees several years (up to seven  years for avocado trees) to mature, mature trees will produce more blossoms than the amount of fruit the tree can support. If the tree is producing few blossoms, but otherwise seems healthy, it might be the wrong variety for your area. In warm winter areas like the Central Coast, trees that need more than 700 chill house (see selecting a fruit tree for more information about chill hours) won’t produce many blossoms. If you know the variety of your tree, research how many chill hours it needs. If it needs more than your area consistently has, you might want to consider getting another variety of tree.

The second reason trees produce few blossoms is that they are either old or unhealthy. Older trees start to have problems with splitting bark or branches or complete branch die-off. If the tree is over 10 years old and it starts to have problems like those mentioned, you can try giving it some TLC (a good pruning, proper watering, fertilizing and mulching) and see if it produces more the following year.

Don’t be too hasty in assuming a tree will not produce. I like to give fruit trees a year or more to recover if they haven’t been properly taken care of. Here is a comparison photo of my peach tree taken a little over a year apart. It had been neglected while the house was empty for over two years and the photo on the left is how I found it. It produced one peach that year. A year later, after some pruning to remove dead growth, feeding with Dr. Earth Organic Fruit Tree Fertilizer, mulching and watering, it is loaded with fruit and growing.

peach tree comparisonYou also want to look for evidence of disease or insects. Are there tiny holes in the bark? Do they ooze sap? These can be signs of insect problems that will need to be treated. If you see signs of blackened or softened bark, a disease may be the culprit.

Also it’s a good idea to do a little research on your tree. Some trees, apricots for example, will produce heavy one year and light the next and that’s normal.

The tree produced tons of blossoms, but then no fruit.The biggest reason for blossom drop is normally lack of pollination. This can either be from a tree not having a nearby pollinator (another variety of tree in the same family that is required to pollinate a tree) or lack of bees. If you know the variety of tree you have, check to see if it requires a pollinator. Adding a pollinating variety to your yard will greatly increase the pollination of your original tree. If you don’t have room for two trees, you may want to replace the tree with one that is self-fruitful (does not need a pollinator for production).
Lack of bees can be caused by two things, the weather and few bees in your area. Here late winter storms can keep bees in their hives during bloom periods. If it was cold and rainy the entire time the tree bloomed, bees won’t be around to pollinate the flowers and they will drop. If you have few bees in your area, work to increase their visits to your yard by planting other bee friendly plants.

The tree bloomed, tiny fruit formed, but then it all fell off.
Late freezes, heatwaves or strong drying winds can all cause fruit drop. There isn’t too much you can do about the weather. This is where keeping a gardening journal can really be helpful. What you need to determine is if the weather occurrence is normal or unusual for your area. If you always get a late freeze just after the fruit has formed, looking for a variety of fruit tree that sets fruit just a bit later can mean missing that last chilling frost. Her on the coast, heatwaves seem to becoming more frequent. Making sure a tree is well mulched so moisture at the roots stays more consistent can help but sometimes a dramatic swing in temperature is just too much for trees to handle. If strong winds are always a problem, perhaps there is a better location for your tree or you can put up some form of wind block (either permanent or temporary) to protect your tree.

Improper watering can also be a culprit when it comes to fruit trees and it can either be too much or too little. I wish I could give you an exact schedule on when to water your trees, but there are too many variables. Weather, soil type and how you water are all factors in figuring out when to water. There are some things to keep in mind, however, that may help. Trees want less frequent, but deeper waterings than smaller bedding plants. The root system of a tree is about the same size as the upper growth of the tree. Your goal is to make sure that root system is consistently hydrated during it’s growing period. Plants need both a mixture of moisture and oxygen in the soil so my use of the word hydrated is important. You want your soil to be moist, but not soggy wet for extended periods of time.  This means you want to water slowly and deeply so that water reaches the lower portion of the root system. If your soil is a heavy clay, you will water less often than if it is light and fast draining. You want to avoid frequent, shallow waterings which is why it’s best not to hook up your tree to the same drip line as your lawn or bedding plants. Watering three times a week for only 10 minutes not only doesn’t allow the water to reach the lower portion of the roots, but also can cause the upper root system to rot out from remaining too wet. A good layer of mulch around the tree helps maintain soil moisture, especially during warm weather. It also helps reduce weeds which can compete for water. The most crucial time in making sure your tree is properly hydrated is the period from when the tree blooms until the fruit is a bit bigger than a grape. Most fruit drop due to lack of moisture happens during that time.

Sometimes fruit drop can be perplexing and can take a bit of detective work. If you still can’t figure out what is going on with your fruit tree you might want to check with your local Master Gardeners or trusted nursery person to see if they can help guide you. Take some photos of your tree, make some notes on what you see it doing (or not doing) and be prepared to answer questions about soil, water, light and fertilizing habits.

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