With proper fruit tree care, you should be enjoying the literal fruits of your labor—but any gardener knows that’s not so simple. One of the most common complaints from fruit tree owners is that their trees “look” healthy and vibrant, but they don’t bear fruit or only do so every other year. You planted that apple, cherry or other fruit tree with visions of enjoying your bounty pesticide free. There were some serious yard to table aspirations, so what went wrong?
Most often there’s a lack of “tree vigor,” even if everything seems fine. Your trees are working hard simply to be alive, and actually bearing fruit takes a lot more energy or “vigor” than growing wood. Two of the most common causes of lack of vigor are too much pruning and too much fertilization. If you have an abundance of nitrogen, your tree will grow a lot but you’ll stunt the flower growth.
On Fertile Ground
What’s that? You don’t fertilize your trees? Even fertilizing the ground near the tree can cause fruit bearing issues. Your trees can’t tell whether you mean that nitrogen just for the grass, just for them or for every plant in the area. Keep fertilization at least five feet away from branches, but don’t err too much on the side of caution—too little fertilization can also be a problem. The only way to get the Goldilocks of fertilization is with soil testing and keeping an eye on annual shoot growth (about 15 inches per year is ideal).
If your fertilization is up to snuff, you might have a heavy pruning hand. Remember that over-pruning in the winter can stimulate too much growth, but fruit trees still demand winter pruning. If you “head” too aggressively, that will delay fruiting and flowering—heading cuts are the biggest problem area for home pruners.
Types of Pruning
Every type of fruit-bearing tree has “best practices for pruning.” You need to know where flowers are produced and what type of pruning matches the flower production. Generally speaking, thinning cuts encourage flower production while heading cuts delay the flowering process. Once you’ve researched the best pruning for your type of tree and made sure fertilization is being done properly, the next thing to check out is frost damage.
Fruit tree flowers are vulnerable, especially with spring frosts, and if temperatures dip lower than 29 degrees, fruit formation can be stunted. There’s also the issue of last year’s crop, pollination issues and simply the age of the tree. No wonder fruit tree care is best left to the professionals! If you really want to maximize your bounty, let the experts take care of your trees so you can kick back and enjoy that uber local fruit salad stress-free.