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Help! Our tree does not bear fruit

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It is planting season. Our nurseries and especially our gardeners are working at full speed. Luckily our customers are, too. They have been ordering diligently and sometimes writing emails even more diligently! And some of these emails make us feel really good: recently, one customer was pleased to note that all of our Lubera® trees, though only planted a year ago, are bearing fruit, but the old varieties purchased elsewhere would not flower or even bear fruit...the question was asked: what can be done to make this situation better…?

Why our trees bear fruit faster

Of course, for a Luberian, this is what we have been waiting for: that our trees bear fruits and not the others. There are quite a lot of reasons why a tree does not want to bear fruit and this can be really quite often, even if there are of course exceptions. We also get emails from customers whose trees bear no fruit, or only rarely. When breeding, selecting varieties, during the cultivation, at the tree nursery and with the rootstock, we always make decisions FOR a faster and better fruit set, and thus usually a decision against stronger, larger young trees. Bigger is not necessarily better among fruit trees – rather the opposite is the case. An apple tree on a strong growing rootstock looks stronger in the garden centre, but it will hardly bear fruit in the first few years as it only grows and grows and keeps growing. Our trees on M9 or especially the one-year-old Easytrees® actually bear fruit immediately, sometimes already in the year of planting, certainly a year later. Accidents and crimes excluded, of course, our trees are not immune to that.

Video (in German): Good and bad fruit trees

10 reasons why fruit trees do not bear fruit

After this little bit of self-praise (sorry, gardeners just need it during the busy season) I want to systematically list the reasons and explain why trees cannot bear fruit. I came up with 10 such reasons, but there are certainly more. There are actually things between heaven and earth (and that's exactly where the trees are located) that we cannot explain. Fruit trees are stubborn, sometimes even puzzling...but if your tree does not bear fruit, the reason for it will almost certainly be found in my list of reasons. And please, do not be deterred by the many possibilities of failure, as success will again come and there will be a successful harvest of fruit.

1. The tree has not flowered yet. Yes, of course, then it cannot bear fruit...When I ask customers who complain about the absence of fruit, about the bloom, I often only get a  shrugging of the shoulders. They somehow missed the flowering period. The question about bloom is crucial. Because when the tree has flowered, the reason for the lack of fruit can be limited very quickly. But first, let’s talk about non-flowering trees.

2. The tree does not bloom and does not bear fruit because it is too juvenile, too young. This is systematically the case for a few, mostly older varieties, e.g. Gravensteiner and the damson Fellenberg. Sometimes they are pubertal forever, and do not want to grow up and bear fruit. Incidentally, this also applies to all fruit seedlings: if you sow fruit seeds and then wait hopefully for the fruits, you often need between 6 and 10 years of patience. The seedlings have to grow up first; they have to leave the juvenile stage behind them before they become sexually mature. As we know, growing up can take a while. Very often one also finds this delay effect with old varieties, which were selected for training as standards. Above all, a standard must grow in the beginning and it should bear no fruit; however with its hyper-growth, it should be possible that a stable and 100-year-old crown can be trained. And there, the fruit yield has to stay in the background at the beginning. Fruit set and shoot growth compete with each other.

3. The tree does not bloom because it grows like crazy. In the above point I have already mentioned varieties, older varieties, originally selected for growing standards that first systematically grow at the beginning. But this growth can also be man-made. In all fruit trees, we see the competition between vegetative and generative (flower) growth. If a tree grows very strongly, it will produce less, sometimes almost no flowers.

4. The tree does not bloom and does not bear fruit because it has been over fertilised or severely cut and now reacts accordingly by producing wild growth. There is no power, no thought left for flowering. The tree feels so vital and virile that for the time being – and so to speak against nature – it renounces the production of offspring.

5. I wanted to do without this point because it is not quite fair, but I cannot resist: if you have your tree cut by a landscaping company, there is also a chance that it will not bear fruit or not enough. Horticulturists tend to cut trees too hard and they lean towards aesthetic standards that primarily encourage new growth. Of course, this also follows an economic logic: they are dead sure that they will be called again to do the tree trimming next year. And of course the tree, the climate, the soil, the year, the tree’s age and at worst the apprentice are to blame for the lack of fruit.

6. And now we come to the trees that are blooming and yet bear no fruit or too little fruit. This can have a very simple and logical cause: the tree has flowered and the flowers froze. As already mentioned, the flowering fruit, as spectacular as it is, is often overlooked. The tree blooms, very lonely and alone, and of course nobody sees the frost damage. And everyone is surprised when there is again no fruit. Maybe Lubera also has some advice for this. ;-)

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Picture: Apple tree in full bloom

7. If fruit trees are blooming and fruitless, it often has to do with the pollination. It just did not happen. The question of the pollinator is also a veritable horticultural obsession that is actually discussed too often. An English gardener, for example, asks about the appropriate pollinator long before the discussion of the variety characteristics and the flavour of the fruit. Somehow the trust in nature got lost. Even plant sex must be organised. The right consideration is this: part of the fruit trees, especially pome fruit is NOT self-fertile, meaning it needs a pollinator and that the pollination only works with the pollen of another variety. This is a very natural and naturally beneficial property because it promotes diversity (as opposed to self-pollination, inbreeding). And if no pollinators, i.e. no other varieties are present, then there are no fruits. However, one has to limit the fact that the problem with pome fruit almost never shows up because the insects always carry enough apple and pear pollen during the flowering season. The natural result of cross-fertilisation, the diversity, in turn promotes diversity. It is a really nice loop! In the case of somewhat less or only regionally planted fruits such as cherries, plums and sometimes apricots, self-infertility is more likely to lead to a loss of yield. Then the question about the pollinator is justified.

8. If the tree is blooming and a pollination trial is taking place, it is far from certain if fruits will emerge. For example, if the weather is very wet and too cold for pears after pollination, the pollen tube cannot grow into the flower, the actual pollination fails and the development of the fruit as well. Especially pears can react unpredictably to such situations, and then still bear fruit – so to speak in defiance, so-called parthenocarpic fruits such as the long, seedless variety Conference that you'll find every few years in the supermarket. Parthenocarpic fruits grow chaste, without pollination.

9. In June, the fruit plant decides whether it can feed its fruits at all, how many are desired, and then it simply drops the surplus in the June crop. This regularly triggers alarm conditions for home gardeners and a wave of emails for us, but is a logical regulatory mechanism. Incidentally, the plant – from our rather limited view – can sometimes decide wrongly, so to speak, because of stress and drop all of its fruits. However, such a false reaction is rather rare, since the tree decides in case of doubt, rather for life, for the reproduction of the species, and under death and death threats it bears even more fruits. The crippled standard, which will depart this life next year, bears countless fruits again in its last year of life...so if a younger tree strikes, it usually has good, but unfortunately not always accessible reasons.

10. That is admittedly a bit far-fetched, but somehow we must get the 10 reasons filled. Edible fruits become a pure adornment. The harvest and the enjoyment of the fruits is lost. Allow me to go further: for some years now, customers have been seriously asking me if they really can eat the beautiful citrus fruits on the citrus trees. The fruit becomes an ornament in the post-garden society, just as the apple has become a glass ball on the Christmas tree. But there is one difference: with the lemon, I can still bite into it; I can still enjoy the juice of an orange, the peel of a Kumquat – biting into the Christmas ball is not necessarily advisable…to prevent a misunderstanding: of course, you can and should eat the citrus fruits and enjoy them! With the fruits we do not have to decide laboriously and with the help of lifelong experience between good and beautiful, we get both for free. Fruits are beautiful AND good. And that should not be forgotten.

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The miracle of the fruit

There were quite a few reasons why a tree does not bear fruit, actually far too many. In all these horror scenarios (frost, hail, dryness, senility, lack of sex, no pollinators, the disregard of humans) you have to be quite surprised that fruit trees still bear fruit in most cases. Only if one thinks of the opposite, the loss of fruit, one knows how to really appreciate the wonder of the fruit. But of course, the gardener also has some influence, which can be used quite successfully, when properly dosed, to bring the non-fruiting tree to bear fruit. So let’s get going and bring the lazy, oblivious tree to work and help it bear fruit!

8 tips so that your tree can finally bear fruit

1. Do not prune, especially not when the tree is not flowering, still has not bloomed or no longer has flowers.
2. Do not fertilise, especially not when the tree is growing very fast and does not bloom or only hesitantly.
3. Wait and be patient, that's the cardinal virtue for gardeners anyway. Patience brings fruits. The patience of the gardener should basically be equal to or greater than the patience of the trees. That's not easy.
4. Sorry for lovers of old varieties…but plant rather modern, new, resistant varieties than old ones. The latter have been bred for cultivation on standards (see above), and there the initially strong growth is just as important as the fruit yield. Without strong branches, numerous amount of hanging fruit cannot be kept.
5. Plant trees on weak growing rootstocks, quince e.g. for pears, and M9 for apples. No, such a tree does not have a trunk that is as thick as an arm during planting, but it immediately bears fruit...
6. Bring on the pollinators! Do not be ashamed to partake in matchmaking services. Flowers without fruit usually indicate missing and insufficient pollination. Are there insects, are there enough bees and where should these diligent helpers get the appropriate pollen? The solution to this problem is usually quite simple: cut some flowering shoots of another variety (the same species of fruit) from a garden friend or neighbour and place them in a bucket of water next to the unfertilised tree.
7. Mens sana in corpore sano – this phrase pertains to people. But it also applies to the fruit tree: it is only capable of safe, natural reproduction and thus of regular fruit yield if it is reasonably healthy. So keep your tree vital – and it will reliably bear fruit. Note: more is not automatically more; over-fertilisation and excessive pruning on the contrary cause wild growth and yield loss, which we have already discussed.

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Picture: Apple tree with fruit

8. And what if everything seems to be of no use, if the tree simply does not want to bear fruit? Then remember the brutal method that the Arabs practiced on their citrus trees more than a thousand years ago: scold the tree, threaten it with the impending unnatural death, whip out the knife, axe and chainsaw – and be (almost) sure, it will think again of its fruit strike and finally start to die in fear of death! Anyone who does not dare such a fake, but absolutely real-looking threat of murder, must get into action and really deal with the living parts of the tree, but only a little bit.

 

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