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Cross-Pollinate Fruit Trees

The key to growing productive fruit trees is pollination — and that's something you have to plan before you plant. Every type of fruit tree has distinct requirements for pollination.

Orange Tree.

Pollination Basics

Bee Pollinating Flowers.

Here are some of the basics of fruit tree pollination:

  • Most fruit trees require pollination between two or more trees for fruit to set.
  • Pollination occurs when the trees blossom.
  • Pollen from the anthers (the male part of the plant) has to be transferred to the stigma (the female part of the plant). Completed pollination fertilizes the tree and fruit grows. Otherwise, flowers grow, but not fruit.
  • Pollination can be performed by birds, wind or insects. The most common fruit-tree pollinator is the honeybee that gathers nectar from the flowers, simultaneously transferring pollen between them. (A single honeybee may visit as many as 5,000 flowers in a single day.)

Additional facts on pollination:

With the help of the bees, some trees can pollinate and bear fruit all by themselves, called self-pollinating or self-fruitful. Nearly all common varieties of apricot, peach, nectarine and sour cherry are self-pollinating.

Other fruit trees, like most apple, plum, sweet cherry and pears are cross-pollinating or self-unfruitful. They need another tree for pollination, and not just one of the same variety, but a different variety of the same fruit. For example, most sweet cherries must be pollinated with compatible sweet cherry trees. In addition, these fruit trees have to blossom at about the same time (mid-season, late-season) so honeybees can cross-pollinate them.

However, even if the trees are considered compatible, other factors can interfere with pollination. Lack of rain, high winds or frost can damage buds before they blossom. Fruit trees form their flower buds in the fall. Excessive winter cold or even a late-spring frost can kill buds and blossoms. That's why it’s important to choose a tree selected for your climate zone (shown on the plant tag). These trees develop buds more in time with the last local frost, so there's less chance of losing fruit production.

Good to Know

All fruit trees at the Lowe’s Garden Center have a tag that has information on pollination, growing zone and other important facts.

Pollinating Fruit Trees

  • For best pollination, don't plant fruit trees more than 100 feet apart.
  • Consider the fruit harvest. Fruit that's not picked eventually will fall from the tree. Place the tree where fallen fruit won't cause a problem — away from decks, driveways and walking paths.
  • Fertilizer isn't recommended immediately after planting trees. They go through a kind of shock when they're put into the ground, and fertilizer can burn tender roots. Water is all that's needed at first. Spread pine bark mulch in a 4-foot diameter about 6 inches deep around the tree to help retain moisture. Don't use hardwood bark because it can release acids that lower nitrogen levels, which can weaken the tree.
  • Once the tree is established, use a mild, slow-release fertilizer, like a 10-10-10, for the first year, following the manufacturer's directions. This promotes root growth, the overall health of the tree and a strong bud set, which leads to better pollination.
  • Water fruit trees once a week during dry spells, especially during the first two years after planting. Allowing a tree to go dry can cause a weak bud set or even cause the flowers to drop early. That means poor pollination and little or no fruit. Apply enough water to soak several inches into the soil.
  • Spray the trees with dormant oil to smother mites and insect eggs that later emerge and damage the buds. Spray it on the trees while they're dormant, on one of the warmest and sunniest days in February. Follow the manufacturer's directions for mixing and application, as well as all of the safety recommendations, like wearing a respirator, gloves and goggles.
  • To help honeybees pollinate fruit trees, don't apply pesticides during bloom time. Bees are very susceptible to almost all pesticides. And even if other insects are the target, the bee population can be seriously damaged.
  • Remove nearby dandelions and other broadleaf weed flowers before the trees blossom so the bees won't be distracted from their fruit-tree pollination job.
Caution

Before beginning any excavation, check for underground utilities. Call the North America One Call Referral Service at 1-888-258-0808 (or just dial 811) for a national directory of utility companies.