Fruit trees sometimes need to be pampered to bear fruit

Maybe this has happened to you. You buy a new fruit tree from your local nursery and do whatever it takes to plant, fertilize, and water properly. You might have even talked to your tree a little bit.

When the time came to bloom, either it didn’t flower at all, or it bloomed and then … crickets. Nothing happened. What didn’t go well? This is not an uncommon problem for fruit trees or plants in the landscape and there are actually several potential causes.

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One of the possible reasons is that your tree may be alone. While some plants are self-fertile, meaning they have all of the parts needed for pollination on their own, some plant species need more than one tree around for cross-pollination.

Simply put, cross pollination occurs when the pollen from one plant travels to another plant to fertilize or pollinate it and make it fruitful. These plants will not bear fruit without another plant of the same species close enough to share its pollen.

Pollen can be spread by wind, insects, and even animals. While there are always exceptions, in this case some varieties and cultivars, many plums, apples, apricots, cherries and pistachio trees require cross-pollination. Other than likely plum trees, this is generally not a problem in Florida, as most of the commercial and garden fruit trees available in production pipelines are self-fertile.

However, even self-fertile plants will produce better if there are others nearby with which to cross-pollinate. The plant that “gives” its pollen in this case is called a pollinator. It can get even more complicated when we learn that certain plant species produce male and female structures on separate plants, essentially making male and female plants!

Hemp, asparagus, holly, ash, and ginkgo are all examples of dioecious plants, where male and female plants exist separately. But to keep it simple, check your species and see if it is self-fertile or requires a pollinator.

Another common reason that a fruit tree may not bear fruit is the lack of cold weather. Many trees and fruit plants require a certain number of hours of refrigeration or refrigeration units to set fruit. Because Central Florida doesn’t have a very cold weather, varieties have been developed for just about any fruit species that requires fewer cooling units.

Alachua County, blueberries, frozen, jellies, watering with sprinkler irrigation.  UF / IFAS Photo: Josh Wickham.

These are called low cooling varieties. Cooling units in the Central Florida area last approximately 200 to 400 hours. So, aim to buy varieties well suited to your area with similar requirements for cooling units. A blueberry that requires 700 hours of cooling may never bear fruit if planted in South Florida and can only get 150 cooling units, while a variety that only requires 200 hours of cooling would be too much. sensitive to freezing temperatures planted in Maine.

Other factors may contribute to absence or poor fruit set. These factors could be maturity. Some plants will not produce fruit, or at least good fruit, until they reach a certain age. Peach trees, for example, can take 2 to 4 years to start producing fruit. Poor environmental conditions and stress can prevent plants from producing as well.

Limited nutrients, low light levels, or not enough water can prevent plants from bearing. Often, too, fruit crops will produce a high fruit load one year, followed by a low fruit yield the following year. This is called biennial or alternate rolling and is common in many fruit trees. They will have “on” and “off” years. However, in this case the fruit is still produced during the “off” years, it is just a reduced amount.

Of the Central Florida fruit crops that a homeowner could plant, plum trees would be the most likely to have fruit set problems due to a need for cross-pollination.

But, before you dig up that frustrating peach or plum tree, dig into the information a little bit first and you might find a solution to make it grow.

Brandon White is the Fruit Crops Sales Officer for UF / IFAS Extension Lake County. Email him at [email protected]

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