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How to get your fruit trees to produce

By Darrell Blackwelder
For the Salisbury Post
It can be frustrating when fruit trees fail to bear fruit. Now that the season is over for many fruit bearing plants homeowners may be able to correct problems associated with nonbearing or poorly bearing fruit trees or shrubs.
Here are some things to consider to increase fruit production.
– Too much shade: Fruit trees and small fruit need be located in full sun. Reduced light reduces the amount of flowering hormones within the plant. Peach and apple trees are more susceptible to insects and diseases in shady areas. Prune trees back to allowing ample sunlight to the trees or relocate trees to a sunny location.
– Plants are not mature: Fruit trees such as peach and apple trees need four years of optimum growth to produce an appreciable crop. Early fruiting in most situations weakens tree growth. Newly planted trees should be thinned to allow good fruit set. Pecan trees may take up to 12 years of growth for an appreciable crop. Grapes, blackberries and some strawberry varieties may take from two to three seasons to produce a crop for harvest. Be patient. Some dwarf fruit tree cultivars produce fruit at an early age. Home gardeners should consider these types of trees before planting or when replacing older trees.
– Plants are located in a frost pocket: Fruit trees and small fruit located in low lying areas are often subject to late spring frosts. Peaches and apple trees should be located on upland areas that receive wind movement from prevailing winds. Wind movement stirs pockets of warm and cold air, often reducing chance of late frosts. Never locate a spring flowering fruit crop in a low area or valley.
– Improper pruning practices: Plums, peaches, nectarines and other stone fruits should be pruned as late as possible, even when the buds are showing color. Pruning stimulates growth. Early pruning forces trees to bud early, especially in unseasonably warm winters. Prune as late as possible, from late February to mid-March. Early spring pruning does not damage fruit trees.
– Poor soil: Soils low in phosphorus will not produce adequate blooms. Highly eroded fields or cleared topsoil from a construction site reduces the phosphorus index in the soil. Low pH will also impede growth and reduce blooms. Have soil tested before planting trees to ensure proper fertility requirements.
– Poor pollination: Some tree fruit varieties do not produce adequate pollen or enough pollen to produce fruit. “Red Delicious” apples require a pollinator, usually a “Golden Delicious” apple, to complete the pollination process. Some muscadine grapes only produce male or female flowers. Grapes with a complete flower must be planted near to provide pollen to complete the process. Some pecan trees produce pollen, but produce it too early. Some pecan species produce pollen six weeks before the female flower is receptive. Different pecan varieties planted nearby ensure proper pollination. Honey bees are important pollinators. Cloudy, cold, weather often limits bee flight, therefore reducing fruit set. Protect not only honey bees but all pollinating insects by reading instructions of all pesticides before application. Sevin is deadly to bees and other pollinating insects.
– Drought: Prolonged droughts seem to have little affect on some fruit set, but can be devastating on others. Reduced humidity and moisture produces fruit with less disease, but can also reduce quality in terms of size and in some instances quantity of fruit. Pecan trees suffer from lack of moisture.
Darrell Blackwelder is an Extension Agent in horticulture at the Rowan County Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension. Call 704-216-8970.
Web sites:
http://www.rowanmastergardener.com
http://rowan.ces.ncsu.edu
www.rowanextension.com

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