Preventing or reducing fruit on ornamental trees and shrubs

“Nuisance fruit” is a concern for many people including homeowners, landscapers, and park and city officials. The fruits and seeds of some trees and shrubs, such as buckthorn, mulberry, persimmon, and (female) ginkgo are unsightly, smelly, and have the potential to be a hazard when they fall on sidewalks, driveways, and other areas in a landscape. Foliar sprays are available to reduce or eliminate undesirable fruit development on ornamental landscape plants, but factors such as timing, plant stresses, environmental conditions, and lack of thorough applications may make complete control impossible. Results will vary with each chemical designed to eliminate fruit. Professional arborists also have injectable products available to reduce fruiting.

FACTORS TO CONSIDER BEFORE SPRAYING

Trees and shrubs are usually selected for landscape use based on their ornamental features, such as spring flowers, fall color, and fruit. All species of trees and shrubs produce some type of flowers and fruit, but not all of them are showy. Fruit production is part of the plant’s natural development. A plant that produces a large amount of fruit may be a desirable ornamental feature or be used to feed wildlife. Despite the value of a flowering and fruiting plant, some people consider spent flowers and fruit that fall undesirable litter. There are several methods to remove fruit or prevent fruiting. Hand-removing spent flowers or small fruits will work on a small tree, but is not a practical solution for large trees or extensive plantings. Chemical or hormone-type sprays are a more practical method, but spraying your tree can be a costly and time-consuming venture. Consider the following before you decide to spray:

Amount of fruit production. The amount of fruit a plant can produce varies from year to year. Many plants will produce heavily one year and lighter the next. Insect, disease, and damage to flower blooms can reduce fruit production. Hand-removal of spent flowers is one way to eliminate unwanted fruit.

Plant removal. If maintenance is a problem, does the plant warrant keeping? Attempting to remove fruit will become a yearly expense of time and money. When all options have been considered, plant removal may be the best alternative, and replace with a plant that holds its fruit.

Size of tree. If the tree is too large to do the work yourself, you may have to hire a licensed professional to achieve adequate results.

Timing of application. Whether you hire a professional or do the work yourself, it is essential to spray at the proper time for best results. The “window of opportunity” varies with the species and cultivars (varieties) of a plant.

WHEN AND HOW TO SPRAY

Timing. The window of opportunity for chemical or hormone-type sprays is during flowering before fruit set, usually from flower buds to the full bloom stage. It is imperative that you spray at this time for chemicals to be most effective on the flower bud. Spraying before or after flowers results in wasted time and money. The label of the product you use will give you precise instructions on how to use that product.

Temperature. Hormone-type sprays are influenced by weather conditions. Temperature at time of application is important. Follow label directions regarding temperature at application time.

Use correct concentrations. A concentration too low can increase fruit set. Excess hormone applications will cause damage to the plant.

Spray stress-free plants. Plants being treated should be healthy and vigorous. Spraying plants under stress can cause additional damage to a plant. The chemical ethephon, used to stop fruiting, breaks down into a natural plant hormone, ethylene. Plants under stress from drought, high temperatures, insect and disease problems, or environmental stress, such as compacted soils, poor drainage, or improper pH will produce ethylene. Too much ethylene can be harmful to plants, causing injury symptoms such as leaf scorch, stem damage, or defoliation, further weakening the condition of the plant.

AVAILABLE CHEMICALS

Chemicals are available to reduce or eliminate fruit set on ornamental trees and shrubs. These products contain either ethephon or Naphthaleneacetic acid (NAA). Check with local nurseries and garden centers. Follow specific label directions for application rates and safety information.

PLANT SELECTIONS

Choose plants that have seedless cultivars. A true seedless variety is the only guaranteed method to eliminate fruit. Check with local nurseries to see which seedless or male cultivars they carry.

Use pesticides safely and wisely; read and follow label directions. The pesticide information presented in this publication is current with federal and state regulations. The user is responsible for determining that the intended use is consistent with the label of the product being used. The information given here is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement made by The Morton Arboretum.

How to Stop a Tree From Bearing Fruit

Although most people plant fruit trees for the purpose of picking the fruit when it ripens, there are some instances when fruit becomes undesirable. For example, pear trees can bear fruit in such abundance that the fruit can create strain and even break the limbs of a pear tree if it is not picked. Fruit that goes unharvested from many trees can fall to the ground, rot and create a mess. There are several methods to prevent fruit trees from bearing fruit.

Prune your fruit trees with branch loppers after the tree has set buds. Many fruit trees set buds on old growth. By pruning back this old growth, you destroy the buds and force the tree to put energy into developing branches and new leaves rather than producing buds and fruit.

Fertilize with a nitrogen rich fertilizer. Nitrogen fertilizers encourage growth of foliage. Trees that put their energy into foliage have little energy leftover for the reproductive process, and will produce few if any buds.

Hand pick any buds that your tree forms. This will prevent the tree from producing fruit. For a faster method, use a high pressure sprayer, such as the kind used to clean the exteriors of homes to knock the buds from the tree.

Chemically treat your tree with a growth regulating hormone designed to prevent the tree from producing fruit. This type of hormone must be mixed with water and sprayed over the tree using a pesticide spray applicator after the tree has flowered.

What can I do to make my fruit trees produce fruit?

Undoubtedly in the backyard situation the number one reason for failure of trees to bear fruit is improper tree vigor. Over vigorous trees expend all their energy in growing wood and do not produce flower buds. Typically, this occurs for two reasons: over-fertilization and over-pruning. Heavy applications of nitrogen will stimulate excessive growth at the expense of flower production.

You say you do not fertilize the trees? But, do you fertilize the lawn surrounding the trees? Fruit trees do not know that you are applying nitrogen only for the grass. Rain can move the nitrogen down past the grass roots where the trees can take it up. The solution—do not apply extra fertilizer to the lawn within 5 feet of the spread of the tree’s branches. Be careful, because under fertilization can also occur. The need for fertilizer in the home orchard should be based on soil test results and annual shoot growth. Bearing fruit trees should average 12 to 18 inches of shoot growth per year. Nonbearing young trees should average 18 to 30 inches. If your trees have less growth than this, then increase the nitrogen rate by 25% the next spring. If they have greater amount of annual shoot growth it would indicate either you are over pruning or over fertilizing.

If you have too much growth and you are not fertilizing too heavily, you may be over pruning. Heavy winter pruning will also stimulate excessive growth. Fruit trees should be pruned each winter. However, indiscriminate heading cuts will delay flowering and fruiting. Heading cuts are the main culprit.

Apples and pears need to be pruned differently than peaches and other stone fruits. Before pruning your trees make sure you know where the tree produces flowers and how to prune to encourage flower production. In general, thinning out cuts (those that remove an entire branch back to its point of origin) are less stimulating and encourage more flower production. Heading cuts (the removal of a portion of the branch) will stimulate more vegetative growth and delay flowering. In extreme cases continual heading cuts will totally prevent flowering in apples and pears. Peaches need a combination of heading and thinning since they produce flowers on 1 year old wood.

The second leading cause for lack of fruit production is frost damage. The flowers of fruit trees are very sensitive to late spring frosts. Temperatures much below 29 degrees F will prevent fruit formation. The frost does not have to occur during full bloom for the damage to occur. Once the flower buds begin to swell and develop there is a risk of frost damage. You may not even see the damage, because the flowers may open normally but be unable to set fruit. If you suspect that you have had a frost wait till the following day to examine the flowers. Dark brown to black centers will probably not set fruit that year.

The solution—plant fruit trees on the most frost free section of your land. Look for areas that are either close to the house or slightly elevated. Do not plant trees in low areas of the yard. Plant fruits and varieties that are adapted to your area. Apricots are usually not very successful in the home orchard because they bloom too early and their flowers are killed by spring frosts. Cherries are next to bloom followed by plums, pears, peaches and apples. If you have consistent late spring frosts then plant trees that bloom later. There are also differences within varieties. For example, in apples McIntosh bloom before Rome Beauty. Therefore, in questionable areas plant the later blooming varieties. Your local Extension office can supply you with information on the more frost hardy fruits and varieties.

One factor often overlooked is the effect of winter temperatures. Extremes in temperatures during December, January, February and March can also damage the flowers. In areas where the winter temperature consistently goes below -15 degrees F will not support consistent fruit production. Although there are some differences by variety and by fruit type. The following is a general order of tree fruit hardiness from most winter hardy to least hardy. Pears > Apple > Apricots > Tart Cherries > Sweet Cherries > Plums > Peaches > Nectarines. Warm winter temperatures (relative to normal) followed by sudden drops usually kill the flowers while they are still dormant. So remember when you enjoy those few warm days in January or February followed by sudden return to normal or below normal this can result in damage to the flowers. In this instance the flowers will never open in the spring. The only solution to these problems is not to plant fruit trees where very low winter temperatures are common.

The third most common reason for failure of the trees to bear fruit is lack of, or poor, pollination. All flowers must be pollinated in order to form fruit consistently. The better the pollination in apples and pears the larger the fruit. In order for pollination to be successful the flowers must receive healthy pollen at the proper time. The bloom periods of the varieties must overlap. Bees are the main method for the transfer of pollen between flowers. Anything that interferes with bee activity, such as insecticides, cold weather, rain or wind will reduce pollination.

Apples and pears must be cross pollinated. Therefore, you must plant two different varieties if you want to produce fruit. There are also varieties that produce sterile pollen and need to be planted with at least two other varieties. Crabapples and the ornamental Bradford pear can be sources of pollen for apples and pears, respectively. Peaches, nectarines, tart cherries and most plums are self-fruitful. You only need to plant one variety to produce fruit. Sweet cherries are more difficult and certain varieties are incompatible with each other. Bing, Lambert, and Napoleon do not pollinate one another. Plant a pollinating variety such as Black Tartarian, Republican, Van or Windsor. In recent years self fertile sweet cherry cultivars have been introduced. Choosing one of these new cultivars will eliminate the need to plant an additional variety. Tart cherries such as Montmorency will cross pollinate sweet cherries. However, their bloom periods usually do not overlap. The main agents that transfer pollen are honeybees. If you do not see 3 to 4 honeybees per tree visiting the flowers your fruit set may be less than desired. Avoid the use of insecticides during bloom that may kill honeybees.

The solution—check with the local county Extension office for a list of compatible fruit varieties for pollination purposes.

The fourth most common reason fruit trees do not bear fruit is the effect from last year’s crop. Fruit trees form their flowers the previous growing season. Heavy crops the previous year can reduce flower formation for the next year by reducing growth or preventing flower formation. In apples and pears this can be a serious and difficult problem to correct. The solution—remove some of the fruit within 2 to 4 weeks after bloom. If thinned later than this then you will not benefit from increased flowering the next year. With apples and pears, thin the fruit down to one per cluster and allow only fruit bearing clusters every 6 to 10 inches. Too heavy a crop load on peaches and nectarines reduces shoot growth and the result is shorter shoots for next year’s flowers. With peaches and nectarines, thin the fruit so that it is spaced one fruit every 8 to 12 inches along the branch. The other tree fruits do not have to be thinned because their fruit comes off earlier in the growing season.

Other reasons for no fruit include tree age, and the use of the insecticide carbaryl during bloom. Do not expect to produce very much fruit on apples and pears until the third to fifth year after planting depending on the rootstock. In fact, it is a good practice to remove any fruit that may form before the tree has gone through three full growing seasons. This will allow the tree to develop the proper number of branches to support future crops. The solution—patience.

The insecticide carbaryl if applied to apple and pear trees during bloom or the first month after bloom will cause the fruit to drop. If a small portion of the fruit drops, then you will have less fruit to thin. However, this practice can remove all the fruit from the tree if carbaryl is applied too frequently or at too high a rate. This problem occurs most frequently when using general purpose spray mixtures. The solution—read the label of all pesticides carefully and avoid the use of carbaryl during this period unless you want to thin the fruit.

Home fruit production requires patience and attention to detail. Frequently there is no single reason for a lack of a crop but rather a combination of all the above reasons. The goal of the home orchardist is to try and control as many of these reasons as possible.

Reasons Why Trees and Shrubs May Fail to Bloom

All trees and shrubs produce flowers. The flowers of many trees and shrubs are small and inconspicuous. Maples, oaks, and pines, for example, do flower, but they usually go unnoticed by most individuals. Many other trees and shrubs, such as crabapples and lilacs, are planted specifically for their attractive flowers. Many gardeners become concerned when their flowering tree or shrub fails to produce blossoms. The failure of woody plants to bloom may be due to several factors.

Plant Immaturity — All plants must be physiologically mature before they are capable of blooming. During the juvenile stage of growth, plants do not bloom. For annuals, such as marigolds and petunias, the juvenile stage may last for only a few weeks. Trees, however, may not be physiologically mature for 10 or more years. Apple and pear trees planted in the backyard garden may not flower and bear fruit for 4 to 6 years. The actual length of time from planting to flowering varies tremendously. Differences exist among varieties or cultivars. Generally, a Jonathan apple tree will bear fruit sooner than a Red Delicious. Dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees bear earlier than standard-sized trees. Lilacs may not bloom for 3 to 5 years after planting.

Winter Injury — The flower buds of most plants are generally less hardy than the leaf buds. Low winter temperatures may kill the flower buds without damaging the leaf buds. For example, temperatures below -20 F will kill the flower buds on peach trees. As a result, those peaches that survive in Iowa often fail to produce a crop. Many forsythia varieties often fail to bloom well because of low temperature injury. Two forsythia varieties that bloom reliably in Iowa are ‘Meadowlark’ and ‘Northern Sun.’ The flower buds on these two varieties have survived temperatures of – 30 to -35 F.

Alternate Flowering — Some trees, such as fruit trees and crabapples, bloom heavily one year and then sparsely the following year. Hand thinning of excess fruit on fruit trees will help to overcome this tendency to flower and bear fruit in alternate years. ‘Bob White,’ ‘Dolgo,’ and ‘Red Splendor’ are three crabapple varieties that tend to flower heavily in alternate years.

Cultural Practices — Heavy pruning and excessive nitrogen fertilization promote vegetative growth and inhibit the production of flower buds. Generally, fertilization of trees and shrubs is unnecessary if the plant is growing well and possesses good leaf color. Spring-flowering shrubs, such as forsythia and lilac, bloom from buds formed during the previous season’s growth. Pruning these shrubs heavily in late winter or early spring will remove much of the flowering wood.

Insufficient Sunlight — Many trees and shrubs require at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight in order to bloom properly. Generally, the amount of flowering decreases as the shade increases. Lilacs, for example, bloom heavily in full sun, but bloom sparsely in shaded sites. Even many shade tolerant plants bloom poorly in heavy shade.

These are some of the common reasons whey trees and shrubs may fail to flower. Good plant selection, proper planting and care should help to insure flowering. Gardeners, however, should also be patient. A non-blooming plant may just need a little more time.

This article originally appeared in the May 18, 1994 issue, p. 73.

Q: I have a mature dwarf apple tree (not so dwarf anymore) that has not produced any blooms or apples for two years. It used to produce several apples, but they all had maggots in them. I used the fake apple stuff, but I have not sprayed it. I trim the tree in the fall, as it gets too big. What am I doing wrong?

A: There can be several reasons for your tree not fruiting:

– Excessive tree vigour: From your description it sounds like the tree is a very vigorous grower. The problem with this is that the tree spends all of its energy producing new wood rather than fruit. If you are fertilizing the tree you should cut back. One application early in the spring is sufficient, and you can use fruit tree spikes or a fertilizer designed for fruit trees. If you are not fertilizing the tree itself you are likely fertilizing the lawn around the tree. The excess nitrogen is causing the tree to devote too much energy to new wood production. Do not apply lawn fertilizer within five feet of the outer edge of the tree branches.

– If fertilizer is not the issue then heavy pruning might be. Too much pruning in the fall/winter can stimulate new growth in the spring. Indiscriminately cutting off pieces of branches can trigger new growth. This type of pruning is called heading cuts, and it can delay flowering and fruiting. Repeated heading cuts can cause a lack of fruiting altogether. Learn where your tree produces flowers and how to prune it to encourage more blooming. Thinning cuts are a better way to prune. This method removes an entire branch and does not reduce vegetative growth as much as heading cuts do.

The Government of Canada has an excellent web book on pruning called Pruning and Training Fruit Trees. This book was one of the first I ordered when learning how to prune, and I still have it 40 years later. Unfortunately the book is no longer available in print, but it is available online.

Q: I have an alpine currant and every year it is healthy and vibrant until July, when it dries up and turns rusty. It was fine for the first 10 years, but during the last five years it looks dead every July. Any suggestions? Also, I have a ‘leggy’ Gold Ninebark that is top-heavy and barren on the lower/back side. Can I cut it right back and will it fill out, or should I replace it? I would also like to cut back about a foot on the globe cedar that is behind it, but I’m not sure if it will look bare and leggy or if the needles will grow back.

A: Alpine currants can be prone to a rust that sounds very much like your description. You can try treating the problem with a product called Serenade. The ninebark can be cut right back and should come back just fine. Cut it back to a height of 15-20 cm. The globe cedar cannot be cut back severely. Cedars will not grow back from a severe pruning like that. You can trim back new growth somewhat but not a foot.

Q: I enjoy your weekly column in the Edmonton Journal and have a question regarding Bergenia, also known as Elephant Ears. I’ve had a clump in my garden for a number of years. Every spring I have plenty of new growth, but never any flowers. I’ve moved them around to different locations every few years to try to encourage flowering, trying full sun, part sun, and shady locations without success. Neighbours’ and friends’ plants seem to have no trouble flowering regardless of where they are planted. I would appreciate your input.

A: It sounds like you are offering the plant every possible location without any luck. The location is likely not the issue. My bet is that some fertilizer designed for blooming plants might just give these plants the kick in the pants they need. Try using 15-30-15 every two weeks and see if that won’t turn your shy Bergenias into stars.

Gerald Filipski is a member of the Garden Writers Association of America. E-mail your questions to [email protected] He is the author of Just Ask Jerry. To read previous columns, go to edmontonjournal.com/filipski

Honeycrisp doesn’t bloom

I am a Master Gardener volunteer who answers questions online. I am not an expert, I’m sorry that the title is misleading. It is difficult to know the extent of a person’s knowledge when it isn’t provided.

Flower buds are typically fatter and more round than leaf buds. Here is a link to a photo. http://umaine.edu/fruit/growing-fruit-trees-in-maine/pruning/flower-buds/ . You could also contact the apple growers at the Arboretum and ask if you could go out and view some of their trees there or you could contact a local orchard and ask if they could show you the difference on their trees. Here is a link to the MN Apple Growers Assoc. maybe someone who grows apples can give you some guidance http://www.minnesotaapple.org/ . I really can’t tell you exactly what is wrong with your tree, it just isn’t possible. You could also do a soil test to determine if the growing conditions are correct. Fertilizer for fruit trees should contain more phosphorus than nitrogen to promote fruit production rather than leaf growth. Here is a link to the U’s soil testing lab. http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/ . I provided you with links to University based information about growing apples, pruning and dealing with Japanese Beetles. That’s all I can provide for you.

Crataegus species are shrubs or small trees that grow to approximately 5-15 metres (16-49ft) tall, with white through to red flowers depending on the variety. The fruit sometimes called Haw’s can vary in size and colour, from reds through to orange to deep purple, the fruit can be used for culinary purposes for making jelly or jam. Most of the varieties have thorns of various sizes between 1-3cm long. Crataegus are important sources of food for wildlife from the fruit to the many insects that live on the trees. Crataegus monogyna (Common Thorn) used for native hedge mixes (see Hedging). They will grow on most soils once established even very dry ones.

Crataegus arnoldiana

A lovely small ornamental tree with shallowly lobed leaves from North America, with large red cherry-sized berries after the single white scented Hawthorn flowers. . It bears very nice sweet, tasty and juicy red fruits in early autumn. Grows in any reasonable soil in sun or part shade.

Ultimate height 4m (16ft), spread 3m (10ft).

Crataegus Autumn Glory

A medium sized thorn with light green lobed leaves, in may large single white, scented flowers followed by cherry sized red fruit which stay on the tree into winter. This tree has a tiered look to it, which pleaches very well (see Pleached).

Ultimate height 5m (18ft), spread 4m (12ft).

Crataegus champlainensis (Quebec Hawthorn)

Strong growing tree, with upright habit when young, light green lobed leaves. Flowers on long stalks are white with a lovely scent in May, followed by large red-orange fruit. Leaves will colour in the autumn before falling.

Ultimate height 5m (18ft), spread 4m (12ft).

Crataegus crus-galli (Cockspur Thorn)

A small wide-spreading hawthorn tree. The small oval leaves of this North American species turn from a dark green to wonderful warm shades of rich orange in the autumn. Clusters of tiny white flowers appear in abundance in May-June providing a food source for insects. Red fruit in October persist well through the winter and into the spring. Long and impressive thorns give this tree it’s common name.

Ultimate height 4m (12ft), spread 5m (16ft).

Crataegus durobrivensis

A small round headed tree, with dark green lobed leaves, large white flowers in spring followed by large red fruit the size of Cherries which stay on the tree through the winter. A rare tree in the UK.

Ultimate height 4m (13ft), spread 4m (13ft).

Crataegus eriocarpa

A small low growing- spreading thorn with deeply lobed downy leaves which gives the effect of grey-silver leaves. Flowers are white in groups of 3 or 4, followed by medium sized fruit which are deep purple to black.

Ultimate height 3m (10ft), spread 4m (13ft).

Crataegus laevigata Crimson cloud

This thorn is one of or best sellers, it has an abundance of single, pinkish-red flowers with white centres that appear in May against a lush, glossy green, deeply lobed foliage. The foliage makes a lovely foil for the vibrant flowers. The autumn also brings a spattering of red haws and as the name suggests. The branches are slightly twisted to give another aspect to this variety.

Ultimate height 5m (15ft), spread 4m (13ft).

Crataegus laevigata Pauls Scarlet (Coccinea Thorn)

A double red flowered variety, lobed leaves which colour in the autumn. Dense twiggy head, good for screening. Being double flowered they are sterile so doesn’t produce berries.

Ultimate height 5m (15ft), spread 4m (13ft).

Crataegus laevigata Plena

Double white flowered form of the above, producing a more open head.

Ultimate height 5m (15ft), spread 4m (13ft).

Crataegus laevigata Rosea Flore Pleno

As above but with deep pink double flowers.

Ultimate height 5m (15ft), spread 4m (13ft).

Crataegus lavaleei (Carrierei)

Small garden tree producing a compact crown, holding on to its leaves quite late. White scented flowers in spring with red centres, these are followed by orange-red haws, which persist into the winter, showing up well against the glossy dark green leaves which turns oranges and reds before falling.

Ultimate height 5m (15ft), spread 4m (13ft).

Crataegus mordenensis Toba

A small tree with a round crown. The crown eventually becomes broader because the branches hang down somewhat. The branches bear thorns approx. 1.5 cm in size. The large, green, glossy leaves are deeply incised. The small double flowers grow in umbels and turn from creamy white to pale pink. Fruit is seldom produced. The fruits are red.

Ultimate height 5m (19ft), spread 4m (13ft).

Crataegus orientalis

A beautiful tree with slightly hanging branches and large chalky white flowers in May. The branches spread out like long arms as the tree matures. The deeply lobed leaves are silvery-grey, turning yellow and bronze in autumn. Deep orange haws cover the plant in autumn and continue into the winter.

Ultimate height 4m (13ft), spread 4m (13ft).

Crataegus pedicellata (Scarlet Haw)

A spreading deciduous tree from Canada. Bears ovate, toothed dark green leaves. White flowers are borne in corymbs and fruits are red. often seen growing naturally in hedges in the south east.

Ultimate height 4m (17ft), spread 4m (13ft).

Crataegus persimilis Prunifolia

This attractive thorn produces glossy, dark-green, oval foliage which turns glowing shades of yellow, orange and copper in the autumn. The small, white flowers that appear in May and the crimson berries which adorn the branches well into winter are popular with a variety of wildlife, such as honey bees, birds and squirrels – this is one of the best ornamental trees for wild fruits. This hardy Broad-leaved Cockspur Thorn tree will grow well in the very toughest positions, including coastal, exposed, damp and polluted sites, making it ideal for a difficult garden.

Ultimate height 6m (19ft), spread 5m (16ft).

Crataegus phaenopyrum (Washington Thorn)

A thorn from South-eastern North America, producing small maple like leaves, which change to vibrant colours in autumn. It has a rounded habit and also produces lovely clusters of orange to bright red fruit in late autumn which can last into the following year.

Ultimate height 8m (26ft), spread 8m (26ft).

Crataegus schraderiana

Small spreading tree from Southern Europe. Leaves deeply cut having a silvery-grey appearance. Flowers white with a pleasant scent followed by Round medium sized fruit deep red-purple in colour, long lasting.

Ultimate height 4m (13ft), spread 6m (18ft).

Planting Guide

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Hawthorn as a medicine

Practical uses

Hawthorn is ubiquitous in Oxfordshire, growing as readily on the chalk uplands of White Horse Hill as in the water meadows of the Windrush at Minster Lovell. For country folk its greatest practical use was as a hedging plant. The word comes from the Anglo Saxon Hagathorn where Haga means hedge.

Alternative names include whitethorn and ‘quickthorn’. Quick means living (as in ‘the quick and the dead’). Villagers could enclose a patch of land by ‘quickset hedging’ or setting live cuttings directly in the earth where they would grow to form a dense barrier.

The fruits, flowers and leaves of the hawthorn have medicinal uses known throughout western Europe since the 17th century. Doctors prescribe hawthorn chiefly for heart problems and cardiovascular disease. Extracts are processed into tinctures, tablets and capsules.

The leaves and leaf-buds of young hawthorns can be eaten straight from the tree. In country districts they were known as ‘bread-and-cheese’, and supplied welcome fare in times of hardship or famine.

Fruits ripen in autumn to red berries called ‘haws’ which are used for making jellies, jam and ‘Hawthorn Brandy’.

A widespread taboo

In centuries past, people associated the smell of hawthorn blossom with the odour of death. In Maytime you might deck the outsides of houses with branches, but there was a taboo against bringing them into the home. Botanists have since discovered that the chemical trimethylamine present in hawthorn blossom is also one of the first chemicals formed in decaying animal tissue.

In bygone times, when corpses were kept in homes for several days prior to burial, people would have been all too familiar with the smell of death. Small wonder that hawthorn blossom was unwelcome inside the house.

Hawthorn

Mythology and folklore of hawthorn

Thomas the Rhymer, the famous thirteenth century Scottish mystic and poet, once met the Faery Queen by a hawthorn bush from which a cuckoo was calling. She led him into the Faery Underworld for a brief sojourn, but upon reemerging into the world of mortals he found he had been absent for seven years. Themes of people being waylaid by the faery folk to places where time passes differently are common in Celtic mythology, and the hawthorn was one of, if not the, most likely tree to be inhabited or protected by the Wee Folk. In Ireland most of the isolated trees, or so-called ‘lone bushes’, found in the landscape and said to be inhabited by faeries, were hawthorn trees. Such trees could not be cut down or damaged in any way without incurring the often fatal wrath of their supernatural guardians. The Faery Queen by her hawthorn can also be seen as a representation of an earlier pre-Christian archetype, reminding us of a Goddess-centred worship, practised by priestesses in sacred groves of hawthorn, planted in the round. The site of Westminster Abbey was once called Thorney Island after the sacred stand of thorn trees there.

Hawthorn is at its most prominent in the landscape when it blossoms during the month of May, and probably the most popular of its many vernacular names is the May-tree. As such, it is the only British plant which is named after the month in which it blooms. As ‘Thorn’ it is also the most common tree found in English place names, and the tree most frequently mentioned in Anglo-Saxon boundary charters. It has many associations with May Day festivities. Though the tree now flowers around the middle of the month, it flowered much nearer the beginning of the month, before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1752.

The blossoms were used for garlands, and large leafy branches were cut, set in the ground outside houses as so-called May bushes and decorated with local wildflowers. Using the blossoms for decorations outside was allowed, but there was a very strong taboo against bringing hawthorn into the house. In the early 1980s the Folklore Society’s survey of ‘unlucky’ plants revealed that 23% of the items referred to hawthorn, more than twice as many instances as the second most unlucky plant. Across Britain there was the belief that bringing hawthorn blossom into the house would be followed by illness and death, and there were many instances of hapless children being scolded by adults for innocently decorating the home. Medieval country folk also asserted that the smell of hawthorn blossom was just like the smell of the Great Plague in London. Botanists later discovered that the chemical trimethylamine present in hawthorn blossom is also one of the first chemicals formed in decaying animal tissue. In the past, when corpses would have been kept in the house for several days prior to burial, people would have been very familiar with the smell of death, so it is hardly surprising that hawthorn blossom was so unwelcome in the house.

It has also been suggested that some of the hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) folklore may have originated for the related woodland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) which may well have been commoner during the early Middle Ages, when a lot of plant folklore was evolving. Woodland hawthorn blossom gives off much more of an unpleasant scent of death soon after it is cut, and it also blooms slightly earlier than hawthorn, so that its blossoms would have been more reliably available for May Day celebrations.

Notwithstanding the above taboo, the leaves were eaten and were commonly referred to as bread and cheese, the blossom and berries were made into wines and jellies, and decoctions of the flowers and leaves were used to stabilise blood pressure. The strong, close-grained wood was used for carving, and for making tool handles and other small household items. Probably its greatest practical use to people has been as hedging.

Britain’s most famous hawthorn is the Holy Thorn of Glastonbury. Legend tells of how Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of the Virgin Mary, arrived at a hill overlooking Glastonbury Tor with a few disciples and two sacred vessels containing the blood and sweat of Jesus. Where he thrust his staff into the ground it sprouted and grew into a thorn tree. Though the original is obviously not there any more, one of its supposed descendants does still stand on the hill, and other offspring grown from cuttings and perpetuated over the centuries can be found around Glastonbury and indeed further afield in England. This particular hawthorn blooms twice a year, once in May and again around Christmas. A sprig of one of these Glastonbury thorns from outside St Johns Church is traditionally sent to the Queen, who is said to decorate her breakfast table with it on Christmas morning.

Paul Kendall

No Fruit On Plum Tree – Learn About Plum Trees Not Fruiting

When a plum tree fails to bear fruit, it is a big disappointment. Think of the juicy, tangy plums you could be enjoying. Plum tree problems that prevent fruit range from age-related to disease and even pest issues. It is important to identify why your plum tree isn’t fruiting. Once you know what’s wrong, you can take steps this season to ensure a bountiful harvest next year.

Plum Trees Not Fruiting

Plum trees begin to bear when they are three to six years of age. You can tell right after bloom if your tree will set fruit. Inspect the terminal ends after blossom drop. The ovary should be swollen with the beginning of the new fruit. If these are absent, there was a problem with initial fruit set.

This may be due to insects (such as aphids), weather-related, or even due to poor tree health. The colony collapse disease that is affecting our honeybee population may also be responsible. Fewer bees mean less pollination, a necessity for fruiting.

Reasons Plum Tree not Fruiting

Fruit trees require exposure to cold temperatures, a period called dormancy; then warm temperatures signal the end of the dormant period and the time to begin growth and fruit production. Extreme cold during flowering will cause the blooms to drop too early, and a plum tree fails to bear fruit.

Freezing temperatures before blooms open will also kill the flowers. Without flowers, you will have no fruit.

Insects that chew the terminal ends, shoots and flowers will also cause no fruit on plum trees.

Excess nitrogen fertilizer promotes leafy growth and can diminish fruiting.

One of the most common causes of plum tree problems is the lack of a co-pollinator. Plums are not self-fruitful and need another of the same species nearby for pollen transfer. This is done with bees, moths and other pollinator’s help.

Pruning at the wrong time removes the buds necessary for flower and then fruit.

Fixing Plum Trees with No Fruit

There are steps you can take to prevent the problem of no fruit on plum trees.

Keep weeds and grass away from the base of a tree.

Provide good irrigation and a fertilizing program appropriate for fruiting trees. Fertilizers higher in phosphorus will help with blooming and fruiting. Bone meal is a great source of phosphorus.

Prune trees when young to create a strong scaffold and minimize upward growth. Pruning is done when the tree is still dormant and before buds have formed.

Do not plant where the tree will be shaded or has competition with other tree roots for resources. Plum trees are one of the least winter hardy plants and should not be grown in zones where temperatures may be -15 F. (-26 C.). Such cold temperatures kill flower buds and are a reason plum tree fails to bear fruit.

Heavy bearing trees may not produce fruit the next year. The plant’s reserves are depleted and you will just have to wait a year for it to rally. Fixing plum trees with no fruit sometimes just requires patience and good stewardship and you will soon be enjoying the glorious sweet fruit again.

Purple Leaf Plum

Prunus cerasifera ‘Krauter Vesuvius’

The Purple Leaf Plum, Prunus cerasifera ‘Krauter Vesuvius’, is a beautiful small to medium sized tree featuring vivid purple foliage that is sure to add curb appeal and impress your neighbors. During its seasonal bloom cycle, it produces luscious, puffy pink flowers that add even more color to any landscape. This is one showy ornamental tree that is sure to attract birds and butterflies too. The cultivar we sell, ‘Krauter Vesuvius’ is recognized for having the darkest foliage and for producing little to no fruit.

This low maintenance ornamental tree requires little pruning, making it a very desirable plant for both landscapers and homeowners. At Moon Valley Nurseries, we offer Purple Leaf Plum trees for sale that produce no fruit and practically no litter, making this an ideal tree for shading patios or placing around backyard seating areas. We recommend buying as big as you can to instantly adorn your property with the beauty that a specimen tree can bring to any setting. Feel free to speak with our nursery professional for placement ideas.

Homeowners with smaller yards will appreciate the size of this tree. It’s a great addition to a small or medium space where strong color is desired. The strikingly beautiful color of this tree accents homes, parks, streets and makes a huge impact wherever it’s planted. Even the tree’s smooth gray to reddish bark is attractive. Plant in any area in your landscape and enjoy this beautiful specimen all year long! It requires low to moderate water use and enjoys full sun environments, so it’s a great choice for landscapes across the Southwest.

Plant with Moon Valley Nurseries line of fertilizers for spectacular results! We offer free professional planting on all box sized trees as well as the best warranty in the industry! You buy it, we can deliver and plant it!

News

Is your plum tree not producing fruit? Or are you wondering why there are no plums on your tree?

You can usually tell if your plum tree will yield ripened plums by examining the flowers immediately after the petals fall off. The ovary (which will become the fruit) is located at the base where the petals were. It should be swollen and enlarged. If it isn’t, there was a problem with fruit set which could be due to poor pollination, unfavorable weather, insect pests, or poor health of the tree.

Another plum tree fruit problem could be if the tree did not flower at all. It could be because of inclement weather, insufficient chilling hours, or the tree was too young. If your tree flowered, then started developing small fruit, but the fruit aborted, the problem could be pests or plum tree diseases.

Here is an updated list of plum tree problems that may arise:

Is the tree mature enough?

Has your flowering plum tree been in the ground long enough to be well established? Plum trees typically begin to bear fruit when they are three to six years of age. Fruit develops earlier in some varieties and you even see baby plums begin to appear earlier in age. The fruit will continue to get bigger and bigger until it reaches maturity.

Adequate pollination?

Bees and other pollen collecting insects help cross pollinate plum tree varieties within 50 feet of one another

If plums form and begin to enlarge but then drop to the ground before they mature, it could be because the flowers were not pollinated. If the aborted plums lack a seed (stone) this was the problem.

Many plum trees are self-incompatible; that is, they require cross-pollination from a different variety of plum tree before they will set fruit. Even the plum varieties considered self fertile tend to produce more fruit when they are cross-pollinated. For a plum tree to produce at its best, there must be another variety of plum tree blooming at the same time within 50 feet or less, and some willing pollinators to do the transferring.

The main pollinators for plum trees are insects, especially bees, and particularly honey bees. If there are no bees around, there will be little cross pollination. You can encourage pollinating insects by growing nectar plants and avoiding the use of insecticides.

If the weather is rainy or cloudy or exceptionally windy for several days during the bloom period, bees will be less active, and this can diminish pollination and result in fewer plums.

Japanese plums fruit will ripen in summer to produce a beautiful yellow pink flesh

There are two main groups of cultivated plum trees: (1) Japanese plums (Prunus salicina) and their hybrids and cultivars; and (2) European plums (P. domestica) and their hybrids and cultivars. Both types bloom in early spring and the plums produced ripen in summer. Both types are self-incompatible or partially self-incompatible; that is, their flowers require cross-pollination from a different variety for maximum fruit production.

European and Japanese varieties cannot cross pollinate each other. In general, any two varieties from the same group can pollinate each other as long as they are blooming at the same time.

Insufficient chilling?

A map of Florida’s chill hours by region

Plum trees require a specific duration of cooler temperatures in winter, (called chilling hours) before they will bloom the following spring. Chilling hours are the total number of hours that the temperature is between 32°F and 45°F. (The hours do not need to be consecutive.)

If a plum tree’s chilling hour requirement is not met, the tree may not even produce flowers, or it may bloom too early and the blossoms get destroyed by frost. Most Japanese plum varieties need 500 to 900 chilling hours. European plum varieties often require 700 to 1,000 chill hours, but there are varieties adapted to warmer climates.

Plum trees with low chilling requirements of 150-300 hours, suitable for southern locations, include Santa Rosa Plum, Burgundy, Mariposa, Methley Plum, Shiro, and Satsuma. Chilling requirements are usually provided on the nursery’s label, and do not equate directly with USDA hardiness zones. Use this interactive source to get the average chilling hours for your location: http://agroclimate.org/tools/chill-hours-calculator/

Bad weather?

Exceptionally high winds or drenching rains in spring can damage buds or flowers, causing them to fall off and not produce fruit. Flower buds can be killed by an extremely cold winter. Choose plum trees adapted for your climate zone.

Unusually extreme cold or frost during or immediately before the blossoms open can cause them to wither and fall off. If this happens, there will be no fruit. Covering the tree with a lightweight fabric (such as Reemay®) can protect the blossoms from frost. To protect from extreme cold, you will need to cover the tree with something more substantial (like a blanket) and include a heat source such as an electric light bulb.

Plum curculio infestation?

Typical infestations render D-shaped or crescent malfunctions on the fruit of the plum

Plum curculio (Conotrachelus nenuphar), is a small beetle that
lays eggs within developing fruits, causing them to drop prematurely. The skin of infected fruit will have small
crescent-shaped blemishes, and the plum will be hard and misshapen. Look closely, and tiny beetle larvae can be seen near
the spots.

If you have a plum curculio infestation, eggs or larvae will be developing within fruit lying on the ground. Clean it up. If you had infested plum trees last year, cultivate the soil around them to destroy larvae that may be overwintering in the ground.

This photo taken by the Missouri Botanical Gardens represents an up close and personal view of the devastating beetle that can wipe out a whole plum crop

If you have only a few infested trees, plum curculios can be physically shaken out of them. Early in the day, when the beetles are sluggish, spread paper or cloth underneath the trees, and shake the trees vigorously. The adult beetles will fall out of the tree onto the cloth. Dump them into a pail of soapy water.

If you have a severe infestation of plum curculio beetles you can apply carbaryl (Sevin ® spray), phosmet, malathion, pyrethrins, or the organic fungus Beauvaria bassiana. Delay application of any pesticide until after flower petals drop to avoid harming beneficial pollinating insects. Reapply pesticides two more times, at 10–14 day intervals, but not right before harvest. Always follow label instructions.

Other insect pests?

Plum sawflies, mites, scale insects, aphids, various moths, and other insect pests can infect plum trees and fruits, reducing or eliminating a crop. Many of these insect pests can be controlled by spraying the trees with dormant oil or neem oil in late winter. Dormant oil and neem oil are accepted organic pesticides. They work by smothering insects and their eggs. As always, follow manufacturer’s directions.

Brown rot?

If the blossoms, fruit, and/or twigs and branches of your plum tree are covered with a dark brown slime, it is probably infected with the fungus known as brown rot (Monilinia fructicola). Brown rot will cause the plums to become soft and shriveled, and eventually drop off the tree. Remove and destroy infected fruit in late summer or fall. Remove and destroy diseased branches in winter. It could also mean infected leaves which will also need to be picked off.

Fungi like it humid. Keep your plum trees pruned to maintain good air circulation. When watering the tree, water the soil, not the foliage. If brown rot has traveled down to the soil level, you might need to talk to an expert.

If brown rot continues to be a problem, you may have to resort to chemical fungicides. Apply a copper based fungicide in early spring while the trees are still in their pink bud stage (before blossoms open) and again three weeks prior to plum harvest. Always follow label directions.

Tree vigor

Plums should be kept well circulated to help maintain fungus and rot.

Plum trees should get at least eight hours of full sun a day. Do not plant your plum trees where they will be shaded or get root competition from other trees.

Plum trees should get about an inch of water each week from rain or irrigation; otherwise they may drop blossoms and/or abort fruit. If rainfall is insufficient, water enough to soak several inches into the soil once a week.

Fertilize fruit trees with a balanced formula like 10-10-10 or one that is higher in phosphorus (the P in N-P-K), as this is the element that most encourages blooming and fruiting. Our Bulk 360 day slow release fertilizer will work well! Bone meal is a great way to augment a plum tree’s supply of phosphorus.

Prune your plum trees to create a strong scaffold, eliminate crossed branches, and keep the tree at a manageable size. Cut out suckers that sprout from the base of the tree and watersprouts that shoot up from branches. Prune in winter when the tree is dormant but before buds have formed. Learn more about basic pruning for trees and shrubs.

Maintain an area free of weeds and grass for about three feet around the tree. A soil amendment such as our Fruit Tree Planting Mix will help poor soils come back to life!

Excess Nitrogen Fertilizer?

Nitrogen fertilizer promotes leafy, vegetative growth and can diminish flowering if applied in excess. Do not over-fertilize and always follow label directions when fertilizing your plum trees. All About Fertilizers here.

Alternate bearing?

This plum should have been pruned in early summer to reduce the effects of alternate bearing

If a plum tree bears heavily one year, it may produce fewer plums or none at all the following year. Thinning the developing plums while still small (about the size of a marble) in early summer to one fruit every 4-6 inches along the branches will result in fewer fruits ripening, and may lessen the effects of alternate bearing. Remove the smallest fruits and keep the larger ones. Usually, there isn’t much we can do to eliminate alternate bearing.

Other plum tree diseases that may be affecting your tree

Your tree may show signs of black knot or powdery mildew. These are two very common plum tree diseases that affect plum trees and other fruit trees across the United States.

In black knot, abnormal growth on bark or wood near the twigs and branches swells to produce large cankers. This disease could be fatal and infest other trees in the area as it can overwinter and come back year after year if not taken care of.

Powdery mildew is a common disease among many fruit trees that will produce a white substance on infected leaves and branches. The leaves will curl upwards. You may see a leaf spot appear on the plum trees and others stone fruits.

Fungicides can offer protection from both of these plum tree problems. It is important to shield your trees from diseases like this to avoid infestation because it could devastate your fruit trees and could stunt growth at the expense of the fruit.

Plum trees are an excellent choice of fruiting tree for many gardeners! They can grow in a variety of climates and are cold hardy to some degree. Makes a good fruit tree for the Midwest states as well with harsh winters.

Happy planting! Please contact us with any questions you may have. Our experts will help with any issues regarding why your plum tree is not producing fruit. We are here to help!

Check out our Plum Grow Guide for more information on planting, growing, and harvesting these delicious fruits!

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