Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

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Why do my fruit trees fail to produce fruit?

Fruit trees may fail to bear for a variety of reasons. Some of these include inadequate pollination, tree age, poor climatic conditions and improper cultural practices.

Inadequate pollination can be the result of many factors. A common reason is lack of a proper pollinator. Apple, pear and plum trees most often require cross pollination. That means you need two or more varieties which bloom at the same time. Other fruit trees such as sour cherry, peach, nectarine and apricot are self-fruitful. These do not require cross pollination, therefore, a single tree will set fruit well. Some plums are self-fruitful, however cross pollination improves fruit set. This is true of most of the European plums. When planting any fruit tree check on the pollination requirements of the tree. Pollination problems can also result when insecticides are applied while fruit trees are flowering. This can kill pollinating insects.

The age of a tree can also affect fruiting. Most trees bear fruit 2-6 years after planting. So you may have to wait a few years. Standard or full size trees also take longer to fruit than do dwarf trees. Dwarf trees are grafted onto a root stock which will reduce the size of the tree. Grafted Dwarf trees produce full-sized fruit typical of the variety and usually begin bearing at a younger age than standard trees. Select dwarf trees when possible for earlier fruit production.

Weather extremes of cold, wet, or dry may also adversely affect fruiting. Trees which flower early in the spring such as apricots and peaches are very susceptible to early spring frosts. This damage often ruins or seriously reduces the crop. Cold winter weather may also damage flower buds especially on fruit varieties that are marginally winter hardy. Wet, cold, windy weather during blossom time can also reduce fruiting because it keeps bees and other insects from pollinating trees or hinders the release and growth of pollen.

Cultural practices also have definite effects on tree growth and fruit production. Proper planting in a deep fertile soil in an open area with full sun is necessary for best results.

Other cultural practices include proper pruning and spreading of the limbs when the trees are young. Developing wide branch angles early in the tree's life also helps promote earlier fruiting. It is also advised to remove any fruit which forms the first 3 years. This helps promote vegetative growth of the tree which can then support heavier crops in the future. Be careful not to over fertilize as this can also delay fruiting.

Sometimes apple trees bear heavily one year and sparsely the next. This is called biennial bearing. It occurs when the tree has so many fruit on it that it is unable to store food reserves for producing a crop next year. It is common and can be corrected by thinning the fruit during the heavy bearing year.