5 Solutions for Unproductive Fruit Trees

, written by gb flag

Apple tree with a single fruit

If your fruit trees are proving to be mystifyingly unproductive this year – whether it’s a case of no flowers, flowers but no fruits, or only tiny fruits – then it’s time to put on your deerstalker and get out your magnifying glass, because a little detective work is required. The game’s afoot!

1. Pollination problems

The prime suspect in most cases is a lack of pollination. This can happen for a number of reasons, the most common being a lack of insect activity.

Bees and other pollinators are reluctant to go on the prowl for nectar when the weather is windy, rainy or cold. During bad weather insects are more likely to be active within a sheltered garden than an exposed one. If you’re able to provide screening – for instance by planting a hedge – then this is worth trying.


Frosts can kill off blossom. If frost is forecast when trees are flowering, cover them if you can with horticultural fleece overnight. Remove the covering during the day so insects can get in to pollinate.

Most fruit trees need a pollination buddy to set fruit successfully, so make sure your tree has a compatible partner-in-crime nearby.

It goes without saying that avoiding the use of pesticides will greatly improve your trees’ chances of successful pollination.

2. Soil conditions

Fruit trees tend to be tolerant of most soil conditions so, while it’s tempting to give them a boost of fertiliser to encourage a bumper crop, this often has the opposite effect. Quick-release fertiliser can result in weak, soft growth that is produced at the expense of flowers and fruits, and that can prove attractive to opportunistic pests.

Homemade compost, or manure from a trusted source are the best options for building soil fertility. They release nutrients at a steady rate and improve soil structure, promoting good, honest growth and fruiting. You can cloak the soil surface around your trees with compost or manure at any time, but the best time to do this is in spring or autumn.


Grass and weeds will compete with your trees for water and nutrients, so keep them clear of the trunk for the first few years after planting to give your trees time to properly settle.

3. Pest attacks

Some insect pests such as winter moth can cause flowers and fruits to fail. Grease bands on trees over winter can prevent the wingless female winter moth from gaining access to the branches to lay its eggs. The best defence against all insect pests, though, is to cultivate a garden that encourages biodiversity, so that beneficial bugs can police the pests for you.

Hungry bullfinches and other birds will sometimes steal the developing buds of fruit trees such as pears, plums and cherries in winter and early spring. If your trees are small enough, some jail time may be in order – for the trees, not the birds! Use canes or stakes to support netting and prevent it from touching the foliage. Make sure it reaches the ground so that birds can’t get in from underneath.

If your trees are too big to net, Barbara Pleasant has some great ideas for deterring birds from bothering your plants.

4. Pruning errors

Pruning is often regarded with some trepidation, but a few judicious cuts can really invigorate a struggling tree.

Over-pruning stimulates lots of lush new growth at the expense of fruits. The key is to only cut out what are known as the 3Ds – diseased, dying and dead wood – plus any crossing branches or branches that point inwards.


The aim is to encourage the tree to grow into an open structure that allows air and light to reach all parts of the plant. This will encourage good fruiting and ripening, and reduces hidey-holes for nefarious pests to lurk in.

5. Biennial bearing

Gardeners often complain that their trees fruit exceptionally well one year, and then produce nothing for the next year or two. This is not unusual. It’s a phenomenon known as ‘biennial bearing’, where a tree exhausts itself from fruiting so extravagantly one year – sometimes to the point where branches snap under the weight of the fruit – that it needs to take a complete break the following year.

The secret to avoiding this feast and famine situation is to thin fruits by hand every year. It feels wrong, but it’s for the best – and it’s really just an extension of the natural process commonly known as the ‘June drop’, where trees shed excess fruits to reduce the strain.


If your young trees have never fruited, it may simply be the case that they are still not quite mature enough to do so. Even in ideal conditions, it’s normal to wait two to four years after planting for your trees to begin producing fruits.

Diagnosing fruit tree productivity problems is far from straightforward, so there’s unlikely to be a silver bullet for this often tricky issue. The great thing about fruit trees, though, is that you have years and years to get them on the straight and narrow. By considering the points above you can deduce which culprits are responsible, and can put in place measures to improve matters next time round.

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Show Comments


"i planted fruit trees 7 years ago but they hardly make fruit I fertilize them and water them once a week in hot summer days but it is useless what shall I do . I have an orange tree planted 5 years ago it makes lots of flowers and buds but all fall not even one fruit stays on the tree. I don't know what to do it is frustrating. another apricot tree 8 years old no fruits I cut it and planted a new one last year . Please I need your help "
EVELYN SOUSOU on Friday 1 June 2018
"Hi Evelyn. It's hard to diagnose this without knowing more about your growing conditions, climate and management routine, but if you experience very hot or cold temperatures at flowering time this could be the cause of the problem. Also it's worth making sure that there are plenty of pollinators present in your garden - avoid using any pesticides, which will kill beneficial bugs as well as pests. Make sure you're not using too much fertiliser, particularly ones that are high in nitrogen (the N on your fertiliser packet) - it's better to build up the soil with organic matter than to use lots and lots of fertiliser. Only prune what really needs to come out, otherwise you could be removing fruiting buds. I hope that helps!"
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 19 June 2018
"Frankly I don't know anybody in the Seattle area who grows oranges or apricots unless they use a greenhouse. If I'm wrong plz. give me some clues where I can find some or how to plant one. Thank you."
boufaris on Monday 16 July 2018
"My orange tree only beared 3 small oranges compared to other years they were full of oranges the size of softballs. Would epsons salts help the growth for next year. I am in Australia in extreme heat and cold"
Helen Garske on Thursday 19 July 2018
"Hi Boufaris. Oranges and apricots do prefer warm temperatures, so are probably best grown under cover I'm afraid."
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 21 July 2018
"Hi Helen. It's hard to diagnose the problem without seeing your trees and knowing in detail their growing conditions, your maintenance regime etc. However check out point 5 above - biennial bearing. Sometimes fruit trees just need a year off to gather their strength if they've been cropping heavily. Epsom salts are often used to correct a magnesium deficiency, which would show up as yellow patches on the leaves. I'd recommend applying a good mulch of compost to help feed the soil, or if it's in a container repot into a larger one."
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 21 July 2018
"I have two dwarf apple trees that I planted at the same time. I really wanted the Granny Smith and bought a Red Roma only because it was the recommended pollinator. They are both 5 years old. They are in similar soil and planed the recommended spacing. The Granny Smith is substantially larger now. Both trees have the same conditions and both will be covered with blooms. The Red Roma has set fruit the last three years, I have yet to have a single Granny Smith produced. Is there something I should do while they are blooming to help it set fruit."
Amy Theisen on Tuesday 7 May 2019
"Hi Amy. Since you mention that the Granny Smith is the larger of the two, I'm wondering if your trees are grafted onto different types of rootstock? Apple trees on more dwarfing rootstocks tend to be more 'precocious', that is, they usually start to bear fruit quite early in their life. More vigorous rootstocks, which produce a larger tree at maturity, can take a little longer to get going. "
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 7 May 2019
"I planted a cherry tree 4 years ago. It is quite healthy and bearing fruit but is not growing any need wood/canes at all. What can I do to stimulate growth?"
Frank Farnsworth on Tuesday 21 May 2019
"Hi Frank. Does the tree have enough light, or are the roots too wet or too dry? Is there competition from other plants around the base of the tree? If all looks good, I'd first try mulching it with compost a few inches thick (but don't let it touch the trunk) and see if that helps it to put on some growth. "
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 28 May 2019
"I planted 3 cherry trees in 2013, 2 sweet cherries and 1 sour cherry tree. They are about 8 feet apart with the sour cherry planted in between the 2 sweet cherry trees. The smallest of the 2 sweet cherries hasn't really grown very much, ( short and skinny trunk) but produces a whole lot of cherries. The taller of the 2 sweet has really taken off and is growing taller and the trunk is getting thicker but only produces about 2 dozen cherries. They both get the same amount of water, in the same soil, and get about the same amount of sun each day, and both had a lot of blossoms this year. Any idea as to why the taller healthier looking tree isn't producing as much fruit? I live in the California bay area about 30 miles east of San Francisco. Cherry trees thrive in this area. ( Our sour cherry also produces a lot of cherries and hasn't really grown that much over the years."
Jessica Hunt on Saturday 1 June 2019
"Hi Jessica. Sorry for the delay in replying! Are you growing two different varieties of sweet cherry, and if so, are they grafted onto different classes of rootstock? It could be that the one that is growing larger, but is less productive, is grafted onto a more vigorous rootstock - this usually results in a larger tree but it takes longer to reach its fruiting potential. Six years is a long time to wait for a good harvest, but not unknown. It would also be worth making sure that the two varieties of sweet cherry are compatible pollination partners. Alternatively, it could simply be that the larger plant is of a variety that is less suited to your growing conditions."
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 18 June 2019
"Hi, My name is Sande Robert and I live in Rwanda/Africa around the equator. I planted an avocado 4 years ago and it grew very tall because I applied organic fertilizers. However up to today it doesn't bear fruit. I need assistance so it can bear fruit. SANDE "
SANDE Robert on Thursday 18 July 2019
"Hi Sande. Avocado trees can take some time to bear fruit - 10 years or more from seed! I'll assume however that you planted a tree from a nursery that should take three or four years to fruit. You might find that next year it's finally ready to fruit. But in the meantime, it would be worth making sure that the tree is receiving plenty of sunlight, and that your soil conditions are right - avocadoes prefer light, sandy soil that is never waterlogged. Mulching with organic matter such as well-rotted compost will encourage good all-round growth. Make sure the fertiliser you're using is a balanced one, or at least not high in nitrogen. I hope that helps!"
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 27 July 2019
"Sir I do not know the name in English but they called it Neeli fruit in India. Tropical climate. I have put enough manure and the tree is in good condition but it does not fruit after eight trees. The tree is very health not one but five of them. They are 40 feet apart from one another. I have got some advice but not helping Can I put some salts around the tree. Please advice"
Raja on Monday 9 September 2019
"I have three Bramley apple trees that have always been productive and were never pruned until last year when many low hanging branches were cut off each tree in order to create a globe shape. There is no fruit at all this autumn but the trees still look healthy. Can I expect the fruit to return next year?"
Ginny Davis on Saturday 21 September 2019
"Hi Raja. Unfortunately I'm not familiar with neeli fruit, although they do sound interesting! It would be worth making sure that the soil conditions are the same for all the plants to rule out an issue with growing conditions. If some areas of your garden become very dry, or waterlogged, this may cause the plants in those areas to struggle."
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 21 September 2019
"I would expect the trees to start fruiting again next year Ginny. It sounds like they just needed a rest to recuperate after major surgery! They'll appreciate a mulch of compost to help them regain their strength."
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 21 September 2019
"Thank you so much Anne Marie"
Ginny Davis on Saturday 21 September 2019
"Hi I planted two pear trees about 9 / 10 years ago in a small orchard with other trees. Since I have had them they have never fruited and I don't know why. Any ideas? All the other trees in the orchard produce a lot of fruit each year - it's just the two pear trees. Any advice would be welcome."
Caroline Simons on Tuesday 21 April 2020
"Do your pear trees flower Caroline? If they flower but don't fruit, it would be worth checking that they are compatible pollination partners. They'll need another pear tree flowering at the same time in order to set fruit successfully."
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 21 April 2020
"Hi. We had blossom on the Bramley apple tree but no fruit has appeared on the tree. Why Also a lot of plums have drop of the tree the tree is so healthy looking it's about 4 years old Can you please tell us why. Dawn "
Dawn on Saturday 30 May 2020
"Hi Dawn. Could your Bramley's blossom have got frosted? Alternatively, it could be a pollination issue - either if weather conditions were poor at flowering time, or due to pesticide use. Depending on what the weather conditions have been like in your garden over the last couple of months, your plum tree may have been stressed (for instance by dry soil) and decided to get rid of the fruits to save its energy. Your plum is still young, so any environmental stress is likely to affect it more than a mature tree. I'd make sure to keep it well-watered and mulched with organic matter to give it the best chance of starting to fruit successfully in the next year or two. "
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 30 May 2020
"I have several fruit trees of several varieties but, they dont flower or produce fruit. I live in RI and the top soil is good loam but under is sand and rock. Some of the trees dont grow at all and some are taking off like rockets. I have never pruned but do fertilize and water. The oldest tree was planted 4 years ago and most of them have a very thin base. I have tried the spikes without much luck now I am trying a 10-10-10 granulated fertilizer. Any recommendations? I have pear, peach, apple and cherry (in all 21 trees) spaced about 20 feet apart. Any help would be greatly appreciated!! thank you in advance"
John A Marshall on Wednesday 15 July 2020
"Hi John. Your trees are still relatively young so may just need more time to settle in before they're established enough to produce fruits. In the meantime, mulching with organic matter such as compost would be the best way to give them fertiliser - it will release nutrients slowly for strong, steady growth, and help to improve the soil at the same time."
Ann Marie Hendry on Friday 17 July 2020
"We had lots of blossoms and fruit on our sweet cherry tree but are now getting more blossom growing . Should we cut this off please. Thankyou for any help you are able to give."
Sheila Pow on Sunday 26 July 2020
"Sheila, your tree could be blooming again in response to stress or if it has experienced unusual weather conditions that have confused it into thinking it's been through winter again. You could remove the flowers if your tree is very small but otherwise it's probably not worth the effort. I'd simply treat it to a mulch of rich organic matter such as compost, make sure the soil isn't too wet or too dry, and enjoy the show."
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 28 July 2020
"Wondering about dwarf peach trees. We recently downsized to a small yard from acreage. I would very much like to have fruit bearing trees along with some of my garden vegetables. We live in MI near Lake St. Clair. We have planted two Red Haven Dwarf peach trees and one Elberta. The Elberta has lost all its leaves but is still flexible. The Red Haven have retained all the leaves. We are wondering the best way to winter over. We have mulched with wood. What is the best protection from our winters. Thank you. "
Diane on Sunday 13 September 2020
"Hi Diane. It sounds like your Elberta is stressed - is it getting enough water? Peaches should cope with your winters, and the mulch will help. However what you will need to be careful of is any spring frosts that could damage the flowers. Peaches are often grown against a sun-facing wall to benefit from radiated heat and reduce problems with the blossoms being frosted, and it also makes it easier to rig up covers for additional protection."
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 15 September 2020
"I have a gratefruit tree small. The first year it had 2 grapefruit the next year nothing not even blooms. It seems to be growing ok . Why is it not blooming and getting fruit?"
Karen ShirleyKaren368QR on Sunday 7 February 2021
"please i have many palm trees and cola nut trees that does not bear fruit what will i do.Thanks"
nnadi on Thursday 29 July 2021
"Thanks for this"
Genevie L on Thursday 9 September 2021
"Hi. I hope u can help! I have two apricot trees, under 10 years old and around 3 -4 metres high and wide, that have produced an abundance of fruit yearly so far. This year, they flowered prolifically and appeared healthy and happy, but only produced less than 20 fruit each! I use the seeds medicinally [my 6 months left to live ran out over 6 years ago!] and am desperate to rectify what's wrong, to ensure fruit for next year... if I'm still alive! No weather conditions appeared to majorly change and the enormous blanket of flowers promised big things for this year. Is there something I can do to attract pollinators, if u think that this might have been the problem? Please, This is a genuine plea for help, Susan. PS: Sorry for the random occurrence of capital letters !"
Susan Ransom on Sunday 21 November 2021
"Hi Susan. If your apricots flowered but did not produce fruits then it's likely they didn't get pollinated. Because they flower early, sometimes there aren't enough insects around, especially if the weather is colder than usual. You can help draw pollinators in by planting perennials and shrubs that flower around the same time as your apricots, by providing year-round insect habitat, and avoiding pesticide use. (Use the search box at the top of this page to find our articles on attracting pollinators to your garden.) You can also hand-pollinate apricot flowers by gently brushing the insides of the flowers with an artists' paintbrush to distribute the pollen."
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 27 November 2021
"Hi, thanks for your article. We have various fruit trees that haven't fruited after a decade or more. If you only have one of a particular species in your garden, is it impossible for insects to pollinate it because there needs to be another one around?"
Ray Leon on Friday 29 July 2022
"Hiya Ray. Most fruit trees need a pollination partner of the same species, but a different variety, to be able to successfully set fruit."
Ann Marie on Friday 29 July 2022
"About 15 years ago I planted some trees I got at a box store. All but one died. the one that lived was an apple tree. Over the years it only grew leaves. In 2019 for the first time it produced blossoms, but no fruit, and in early July one day half of the tree went brown. The next day that part of the tree was bare and the other half brown and bare the next day. In 2020 again it was only leaves. In 2021 blossoms again, but only one lone apple growing. Early August again on one day half the tree was brown, the next day the other half brown (took longer for the leaves to leave the tree than the one overnight). This year again it is just leaves. Any suggestions?"
Kevin H on Thursday 1 September 2022
"Since most of your trees died and the remaining apple has never been particularly healthy, I'd first look at the soil conditions. It could be lack of water that is causing the problem, since it seems to be going brown in summer. "
Ann Marie Hendry on Thursday 1 September 2022
"Bees are required to have happy fruit trees with fruit. Hummingbirds are also very effective. Planting flowers that bloom year round or sets of flowers that maintain flowers most of the year will naturally bring bees and hummingbirds are needed to pollinate your fruit trees. Also if you treat for insects you may be killing your bees. I do not spray for insects at all. My trees had fruit the second spring after planting them as bare root specimens. The more fruit trees the better is my view. I pour potting soil around the base of the trees and allow the hose water spread out the nutrients from the soil. Reliable flowers for a heavy bee and humming bird garden are nasturtiums, geraniums, poppies and marjoram . The birds and the bees in your garden are very important. "
Juli K on Thursday 22 June 2023
"Great tips Juli. Keeping pollinators happy is definitely a top priority when growing fruit trees!"
Ann Marie Hendry on Friday 23 June 2023

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