Improving Apple Tree Fruit Production

By: Jennifer LaMontagne – Horticulturist – Bloch’s Farm – Green Lake, WI

            Have you ever waited in great anticipation for that first juicy apple to bite into only to feel terrible disappointment at your tree’s lack of blossoms or fruit? Having an apple tree can produce many rewards, but there are a few challenges as well. Here are some considerations to keep in mind for your apple trees to produce a healthy annual fruit crop:  age, cross-pollination, pruning and training, over-fertilization, and pest and disease management.

The age of an apple tree can affect how much fruit production occurs. Newly planted trees take time before they set fruit. During the first year, trees put more energy into establishing their roots instead of producing fruit. New apple trees start to bear fruit anywhere from 2 to 5 years of age, and some don’t produce a substantial amount of fruit until they are aged between 5 and 10 years.  

Apple trees need cross-pollination to produce fruit. This means that more than one apple variety or a crabapple tree is needed for pollination. However, different apple tree varieties blossom at different times, so it’s important to make sure that their bloom times overlap for pollination to be successful.  Apple tree varieties that are self-pollinating also benefit from having another tree nearby.  

To keep trees healthy and productive, pruning and training branches on a regular basis should be implemented. This allows branches to have ample space and light requirements needed for maximum fruit production. Prune apple trees in late winter or early spring. Avoid pruning older wood as much as possible because apple trees produce fruit on old “spurs”. Train the branches to grow at 60-degree angles for maximum fruit production. This is done by manually manipulating the way a branch grows by spreading, tying, or weighing it down. While annual pruning is necessary for a healthy tree, be sure to avoid heavy pruning as this can cause overly vigorous branch growth thereby inhibiting flower and fruit production.    

Over-fertilization can create problems as well. Excess nitrogen in the soil causes the tree to produce excess wood and fewer blossoms. If you haven’t been fertilizing your apple trees but suspect that this may be an issue due to excessive branch growth, consider the fact that lawn fertilizer can unintentionally reach the tree roots through rain water.  

            Pests and diseases should be monitored all year long and can be managed in a preventive or curative measure. Apple scab and fire blight are the most common diseases of apple trees. Cedar apple rust is a common fungi and various insects can affect apple trees. There are numerous methods of managing pests and diseases, ranging from trapping insects to spraying organic insecticides or fungicides.

Bloch’s Farm is now closed for the season but feel free to call 920-294-6000 or e-mail jlamontagne@blochsfarm.com with any questions. Don’t forget to visit our website online at www.blochsfarm.com and our Facebook page!

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