The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Why Fruit Trees Fail to Bear

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

The catalogues inspire visions of juice dripping down your arm with each bite of that fresh peach right out of your orchard. Fruit trees can be rewarding. However, they require annual care and a degree of preparation and patience. Sometimes fruit trees do not bear as well as we would like. Here are a few reasons why.

Young fruit trees will normally begin to fruit once the tree has become established. Dwarf apple trees can take 2 to 4 years after transplanting to begin to bloom. Apricots and plums, both standard trees, will take 3 to 5 years. Both standard and dwarf peaches require 2 to 3 years to bear. Dwarf pear will bloom in 3 to 5 years. Sour cherries, such as North Star, Meteor and Suda Hardy take 2 to 3 years.

Adequate tree health is also necessary to promote good fruiting. Proper fertilization and annual pruning will promote good fruit development. Weak or diseased trees produce poor quality fruit or no fruit at all. Diseases such as scab on apple, brown rot on peaches, leaf spot on cherry and fire blight on pears are just a few that can reduce yields by 20 percent or more. Insects such as fruit tree borers, apple maggot, plum curculio and scale insects can damage the fruit and weaken the tree.

Growing fruit trees organically in this part of the country is difficult. However, educating yourself as to the diseases or insects present and selecting disease resistant varieties can reduce the need for pesticides. Spray program schedules for fruit trees are available through the University of Illinois Extension offices. Remember the timing of sprays is critical.

We are entering a time to think about applying dormant sprays. Dormant oil sprays can reduce some insect and disease problems. Dormant spray should be applied before buds swell and only when temperature will not drop to freezing for 24 hours. Dormant fungicide spray of captan or multipurpose fruit spray will help to control peach leaf curl. This is the only spray that controls this disease. Be sure to read and follow all label directions.

Site location is critical. Fruit trees need full sun and well-drained soil. If possible, protect trees from strong winds and low areas. Resistance to cold temperatures varies among fruits. The most sensitive are apricots and sweet cherries, next come peaches and nectarines. Plums, pears and sour cherries are only moderately sensitive, while apples are the least sensitive.The stage of flower development is also critical. The more the flower is open the more sensitive it is to cold temperatures.

Flower pollination is a critical factor in fruit development. The availability of pollinators such as bees is also crucial to adequate pollination. With the loss of many wild honeybees, the native bees have had to take over the process. Fruit trees in full blossom won't guarantee fruit if the orchard does not contain the correct varieties.

Some fruit tree varieties are self-fruitful. They will set fruits when pollinated by pollen from their own flowers or by pollen from another tree of the same variety. Self-fruitful trees can be planted alone and include most peach, nectarine and sour cherry varieties.

Other fruit tree varieties have varying degrees of self-unfruitfulness. A self-unfruitful tree will not set a normal crop of fruit when pollinated by its own pollen or by the pollen of another tree of the same variety. Self-unfruitful trees include most apple, pear, sweet cherry and Japanese and American plums.

So be sure when selecting fruit trees to do your homework. For more information contact the Champaign Extension office for a list of recommended tree fruits for our area and the publication "Growing Tree Fruits in the Home Orchard."

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