Did you accidentally prune your fruit off?

A lovely healthy peach tree – with almost no fruit!

Do you have any fruit trees this year that don’t have fruit on them?

Not sure why?

It might be because of how you pruned them. One of the principles of pruning is that the harder you prune, the more the tree will respond by growing, as you can clearly see in these pear trees that have been hedge pruned, leading to a massive growth response at the tops of the trees.

Pear trees that have been hedge pruned
Pear trees that have been hedge pruned

The risk is that if you prune a tree too hard it will divert all its energy into growing wood instead of producing fruit, and it’s one of the most common (but by no means the only) reason your tree may not have fruit.

With mature fruit trees the aim with winter pruning is to keep the tree in balance, so that it keeps growing some new wood, but also stays nice and settled and produces plenty of fruit.

A President plum tree showing a good growth response to pruning
A President plum tree showing a good growth response to pruning

This photo above shows a President plum tree with lovely strong new shoot growth in response to last winter’s pruning.

The photo below shows that it also has a nice crop of fruit – success!

A nice crop of President plums on trees that were pruned in winter
A nice crop of President plums on trees that were pruned in winter

However for young trees, the balance between shoot growth and fruit production needs to be very one-sided – it’s all about growth!

A young cherry tree showing strong growth in response to pruning to create new branches in the tree
A young cherry tree showing strong growth in response to pruning to create new branches in the tree

We’re often asked how quickly a fruit tree will start producing fruit. In fact they’ll often flower and bear fruit the year you plant them (depending on what type of tree they are) but we reckon it’s better to NOT let them have fruit until the tree’s grown enough branches.

If you’re trying to grow a vase-shaped tree (which is a great shape for most backyards), it usually takes at least two to three years to prune the tree into the right shape.

Three year old apricot trees of different sizes
Three year old apricot trees of different sizes

In the photo above of three year old apricot trees, you can see that the tree on the left has grown well, and has grown enough branches to make the shape we want, so it’s been deemed mature enough to bear fruit.

However the tree on the right hasn’t grown as well for some reason and is much smaller. Any fruit that set has been removed to allow the tree to continue putting its energy into growing new branches for at least another year before it’s allowed to have fruit.

Learning when and how much to prune your trees is one of the strategies in the How to Look After Fruit Trees in the First 3 Years short course, but as you can see, the principle still holds good with your mature trees, and may just help to solve the problem of why your tree has no fruit!

8 thoughts on “Did you accidentally prune your fruit off?”

  1. Ok.Still not sure what is happening to 2 apricots now into
    Their third year and have produced 4 -6 apricots in total. They have been pruned by our experienced gardener and even he is baffled. They are otherwise healthy in a small orchard that has abundant fruit
    Would like your opinion please?

    1. Hi Robbie, other things that can cause lack of fruit are (1) frost, (2) lack of pollinators or pollinisers, (3) blossom blight or other diseases. But also, they’re still very young trees, and are putting most of their energy into growing, so it’s way too early to call it as a problem yet. Give them another couple of years to settle down, and in the meantime pay particular attention next spring to whether or not they flower, and what happens to the flowers.

      1. Many thanks.. we keep bees so expect they are pollinated.. we do experience light frost and I know they didn’t have blight.. I don’t think they are flowering well.. but will do as you say..

  2. I have a pear tree that is 6 years old and it has never flowered. I have tried pruning it hard, moderately and not at all and still no flowers. I’m about to give up on it, any advice?

    1. My friend, Richard, has plum tree which would be 8 or 9 years old. When he bought it they said it needed a pollinator, so he got a second one. The “pollinator” died in the drought and the other plum bore fruit for the first time! Go figure, as they say. So don’t give up

      1. Thanks for sharing this story Eleanor – it just goes to show that it really can take some trees a few years to properly settle down and start fruiting – maybe it just needed a little stress!

    2. Hi Tania, we’d recommend leaving it only lightly pruned for another year or two to see if it settles down and starts flowering – if you’ve pruned it hard at times it can take a year or two to recover, and it can take young trees a while to settle down and start cropping well. Also continue with soil improvement – make sure you add some really good quality compost once or twice a year, plus worm castings if you can get them.

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