Reduced Fruit Yield

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We’re in sight of full-blown spring, which means steady, warming temperatures, an explosion of plant growth, and dreams of summertime fruit. Sometimes, though, where we had dreams of a fruitful bounty, we end up empty-handed. So what could cause a tree to not bear fruit?

There are several reasons for a lack of fruit, ranging from tree age, to pruning and nutrition, to weather and pollination. 

For starters, most fruit trees won’t bear fruit until 3 to 5 years after being situated in your yard. Trees need time to grow and develop the framework needed to support fruit. Rather counter intuitively, you may even need to remove fruit during the first couple of years until the tree is ready to support fruiting.

Secondly, nutrition and pruning can affect your fruit harvest.

A lack of nutrients can lead to decreased fruit bearing, but excessive fertilizer can also turn into a case of missing fruit. Before making any fertility decisions, get a soil sample box from your local Cooperative Extension office and use the report to determine fertilizer requirements. Excessive fertilizer will push leaf and stem growth at the expense of fruit.

There are two ways pruning can disrupt your plans for an abundant harvest: not pruning enough and pruning incorrectly. Failing to prune on a yearly basis will create a dense canopy that won’t receive enough sunlight. You’re likely to see fruit only on the ends of branches where they can get enough sunlight. When pruning, you should aim to thin out branches by cutting back to a branch collar; if you simply head the branches back to a random point, you will encourage heavy leaf and stem growth during the time of the year you want your trees to be flowering and fruiting.

Another key reason for a lack of fruit is weather and pollination.

At this time of the year, it’s not uncommon to have warm spells followed by cold snaps that tear into newly opened flowers and reduce yields. Once a flower is open, damage occurs at temperatures at or below 28 degrees Fahrenheit.

Weather also plays a role in pollination. Just as bad weather make us want to stay inside, pollinators rarely want to be out in cold, rainy conditions. Bad weather at key times of the blooming period will discourage fruit set and decrease yield. 

Another aspect of pollination is knowing whether your fruit tree needs another variety to cross-pollinate with. Peaches, tart cherries, and many plums are self-fruitful and don’t need a partner to bear fruit. Other fruits, such as apples and pears, rely on a second variety to ensure pollination and fruit set. 

 Of course, disease and insects can also play a role in a reduced harvest. If you suspect that to be the case, scout your trees for disease symptoms and signs of insect activity on leaves, bark, or fruit. You can contact your Cooperative Extension office who will help you determine the pest or submit a sample to the Plant Disease Insect Clinic at NC State.

For more information about fruit trees, contact your Cooperative Extension office. 

Selena McKoy is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.