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Make Barren Fruit Trees Bear

Updated on March 25, 2010

How frustrating it is to have a fruit tree just sitting there year after year, and not bear the luscious fruit pictured in the catalog where you purchased it.

When this happened to me, I researched methods to bring fruit trees into bearing, and found that contrary to my natural kindness toward my plants, some fruit growers get violent trying to get fruit from their trees. If you are tenderhearted, perhaps you shouldn’t read on.

Drastic Means to Cause Fruit Trees to Bear

When fruit trees didn’t bloom, an old country remedy was to shoot them. Yes, they actually blasted away at the trunk with a shotgun! Oddly enough, this often worked if the patient survived the treatment, because it reduced new leaf and limb growth, and this encourages blossoming and fruit setting. Even so, I’m not tempted to go out and buy a shotgun.

Another brutal practice was to pound limbs that were at least 1½ inches thick with a hammer to bruise the bark. This beating was said to stimulate hormones and shock a lethargic tree into blooming. Of course if you only beat up the branches you can reach while standing on the ground, you’d never have to climb a ladder to reach fruit on higher branches.

Working at the other end, some fruit growers root-pruned lazy trees by digging a narrow trench two feet deep all around the tree just inside the drip line. Severing the roots this way also seemed to frighten the trees into production. This method is too much work for me though.

A less drastic method is scoring, making cuts through bark but not into the wood, completely around  limbs two or three weeks after flowering. This shuts off the downward flow of carbohydrates, so they accumulate in leaves and twigs to form flowers. These methods have all led to fruiting in the following year.

Another problem is that some fruit trees blossom but they don’t set adequate fruit. Two main factors cause this, lack of flower pollination and low temperature.


A bad mistake that ensures you won’t get much fruit is to spray while fruit blossoms are open. Spraying kills bees, which pollinate the flowers. The most frequent cause however is that most trees require a compatible variety that blooms at the same time, for cross-pollination. Your nurseryman or nursery catalogs list and supply trees that pollinate popular varieties.

    If your garden is too small to plant pollinators for all of your fruit trees, a clever trick is to drape flowering branches from pollinating trees in your trees at bloom time. No, I don’t mean that you stalk the neighborhood, loppers in hand, some time after midnight; you have to have permission. A better way is to inspire your neighbors with the joy of growing their own fruit, and you can all cross-pollinate each other.


Most fruit trees will survive at 20 degrees below zero or lower. But peaches, being less hardy, usually expire at minus 10 degrees. Flower buds and blossoms die at temperatures less than 27 degrees.

    If your area often has late spring frosts, you may be plagued with fruit trees that always bloom too early. If you often have this problem consider planting dwarf fruit trees in pots or half-barrels and moving them into the garage for the winter. Of course if you have a lot of trees this may mean having to convince hubby to park his car outside all winter.

Non-blossoming fruit trees

If you have a fruit tree that doesn’t even blossom, here are some possible reasons. If possible, find out at what age the variety is expected to start bearing and the age of the tree, and also determine if the variety is suited to your region.  Fruit trees should get at least six hours of sun each day and preferably more.  They shouldn’t have to suffer from competition for water and nutrients from nearby trees or shrubs.

Large branches can be forced down to horizontal with lathing strips
Large branches can be forced down to horizontal with lathing strips
Smaller branches can be forced more horizontally by tying them to bricks or to the trunk of the tree
Smaller branches can be forced more horizontally by tying them to bricks or to the trunk of the tree

How to bring fruit trees into bearing

I don’t shoot, hammer, or cut my lazy trees to straighten them out. I use a gentler, kinder method a month or so after normal bloom time.

In this method you force branches down to horizontal or below, because upright growth prevents carbohydrates from remaining where they’ll form fruit buds. I used two techniques, spreading and tying. In an older apple tree I used lathing strips to force limbs downward from the main trunk.

On younger trees I tied the tips of long slender branches to a brick lying on the ground. I tied shorter branches to the lower trunk.

My tying and spreading worked miracles, because the trees I treated bore fruit for the first time the following year.

I hope I’ve convinced you that it is time to stop cussing your nonbearing fruit trees and get them producing. All it takes is some lathing strips or a little rope and some bricks, and you can have the miracle of fruit-bearing trees.


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