This is part 5 of a 7-part series of how to grow fruit trees easily.
Most gardeners know that after planting fruit trees, you have to water and fertilize them, but few pay attention to the tree’s pollination. After all, isn’t the fruit one of the biggest rewards? That’s like running 95% of a race and then deciding to stop! Many readers ask me about pollination, so I put together this guide.
All fruit trees benefit from cross-pollination, even self-pollinating varieties. The result is more regular and larger fruits. Fruit trees are most commonly pollinated by wind, insects, and birds, but they can be pollinated by hand if needed. Ideally, keep fruit trees and companion plants within 25-50 feet.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 tips for pollinating fruit trees and maximize their yields.
1. Even Self-Pollinating Fruit Trees Benefit From Cross-Pollination
While self-pollinating fruit trees can fruit on their own, they do even better when they are cross-pollinated.
“All varieties of apple trees require some cross-pollination for fruit set. Even though some varieties are listed as self-fruitful, they will set fruit more heavily and more regularly if they are cross-pollinated. “Washington State University
And this isn’t just for apple trees, all fruit trees benefit from cross-pollination. The main benefits are an increase in fruiting and fruit size.
To do this, simply use as many of the below tips you can!
2. Plant 2 of The Same Varieties
While it’s not required, one of the best ways to improve pollination and fruit set is to plant two or more of the same varieties of fruit trees.
Having multiple fruit trees increases the chance that a pollinator will visit both a male flower and a female flower, successfully fertilizing it and turning it into a fruit.
For example, if you’re growing a Meyer lemon tree, consider planting another one nearby. Any bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and the like would ideally visit both plants and ensure more flowers turn into fruits.
I recommend planting the same variety, otherwise, you can get hybrid fruits (unless that’s what you want). There are other cases when you want to plant different varieties—see “overlapping blooming times” below.
3. Overlap Blooming Times
Fruit trees have widely varying blooming times. Some flower in the early spring while others flower in late fall. Ideally, overlap some of your fruit trees and pollinating plants to ensure their flowers are cross-pollinated with others.
Here’s an example of how to stagger the blooming times for apple trees:
|Early Harvest||Early Spring|
If you planted ‘Early Harvest’, ‘Honeycrisp’, and ‘Jonathan’ in the same orchard, there would be an overlap in blooming times between ‘Early Harvest’ and ‘Honeycrisp’ and between ‘Honeycrisp’ and ‘Jonathan’.
This overlap ensures the different apple varieties cross-pollinate, leading to better fruit set and yield.
And if you time it across other fruit trees, you can even have fruit year-round!
4. Keep Within 25-50 Feet of Other Pollinating Plants
This is probably the most straightforward tip, but keeping your fruit trees within 25-50 feet of other flowering plants gives it the best chance of pollination. Ideally, any bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators would visit as many flowers and plants as possible before flying off.
Simply keeping other flowering plants nearby dramatically improves the chances your tree’s flowers are properly fertilized and begin fruiting.
5. Use Companion Plants
Similar to the above tip, companion plants such as flowers provide fruit trees with benefits such as increased pollination (as long as they’re within range). Other fruit trees also make great companion plants.
For our garden, we have multiple fruit trees planted within 50 feet of each other, including tangerine, lemon, lime, grapefruit, pineapple guava, fig, pomegranate, and more. There are also dozens of different flowers. We often notice that pollinators (especially hummingbirds) love flying across the garden from flower to flower.
Companion plants also offer other benefits, such as:
- Ground Covers
- Pest Control
Also, companion planting is something I’m really passionate about and write about often. If you’d like, you can check out my article on The 10 Best Companions For Fruit Trees.
6. Avoid Using Sprays
You may have heard this tip before, but using any sort of chemical spray including pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides can deter and even kill pollinators. This is one of the theories behind colony collapse disorder.
I mean, if these chemicals are designed to kill pests that are the same size as bees, why wouldn’t they kill bees themselves?
If you’re having trouble with pests or diseases on your fruit trees, there are other methods of control. The two most effective are encouraging predators and using organic sprays.
For example, ladybugs are a common predator of aphids and mites and help keep their populations down. Beneficial wasps love eating caterpillars that might be eating all of your fruit tree’s leaves.
Even small birds and squirrels that eat your fruit tree’s fruit have their predators. A solution for this is to install owl boxes nearby. And there are plenty of other examples.
When it comes to fruit tree diseases, Stefan Sobkowiak – The Permaculture Orchard has a great video on a safe, homemade, and more importantly—effective fungicide (hint: the secret ingredient is whey). I’ll link his video below.
7. Pollinate By Hand
If your fruit tree doesn’t have as much access to pollinators, you can always pollinate by hand. This is especially useful for fruit trees that are grown indoors or in greenhouses.
To pollinate by hand, grab a clean toothbrush, paintbrush, or Q-tip. Next, lightly swab the pollen from flower to flower. This simulates the role of a pollinator and helps increase the fruit set of your fruit tree.
However, if your fruit tree is outside and has access to pollination via wind, insects, and hummingbirds, you likely won’t need to pollinate it by hand. I do recommend utilizing the other tips in this post, especially the next one.
8. Provide Water For Pollinators
Like just about every living thing, pollinators need access to water. While some critters might have other ways of hydrating, adding a small fountain or bird waterer goes a long way in your garden.
For example, if you had water available for pollinators, instead of them flying off to another property to drink water, the pollinators would more likely stick around and pollinate even more flowers.
If you’d like my recommendation for a hummingbird and pollinator water station, check out this waterer on Amazon.
9. Start Beekeeping
In a sense, beekeeping is the best way to bring pollinators to your garden. This dramatically increases the rate your fruit tree’s flowers are pollinated.
Beekeeping ensures that bees are nesting on your site and visiting your flowering plants and fruit trees. After all, if you want someone to stay on your property, wouldn’t you start by offering them a home?
Tip: If a swarm of bees choose to nest on your site and you want to get rid of them, call a local beekeeper. They’ll often relocate the swarm at no charge.
Naturally, beekeeping isn’t for everyone, especially if you live in an apartment. However, there are many other solutions such as using urban beehives or planting wildflowers in your community.
If you’d like to learn more about beekeeping, check out this video from one of my favorite beekeepers:
10. Provide Proper Care to Minimize Flower Drop
When fruit trees are stressed, they begin to shed the less vital parts of the tree. Typically, this includes dropping their leaves, fruit, and flowers.
The main reasons fruit trees drop their flowers are:
- Lack of Water
- Too Much Water
- Poor Nutrients
- Lack of Pollination
- Pests & Diseases
Of course, there’s always a certain percentage that drops from the tree. In many cases, fruit trees overproduce their leaves, flowers, or fruit before shedding them. As a result, it’s fairly normal for a fruit tree to drop the majority of its flowers and fruit.
However, you should still be getting at least 100-200 fruits from a mature fruit tree (over 3-5 years in age for grafted trees).
So, to maximize your fruit tree’s yield, make sure you’re giving it the proper care, water, and nutrients for it to sustain its many leaves, flowers, and eventually—fruit.
To learn more, see the 7 Easy Steps that I use to care for my fruit trees.
Bonus Tip: Pay Attention to Flowering Groups & Types
Just like different fruit trees have different seasons for blooming, some also bloom only in the morning or at night.
For example, avocado trees have male and female flowers that open at different times of the day. To make sure the flowers get pollinated, it’s best to plant another avocado tree part of a different flowering group.
In this case, grow a Hass avocado (type A) near Fuerte or Bacon avocado trees (Type B). Essentially, in the morning, the male flowers from one tree pollinate the female flowers from another tree. In the afternoon, they switch (the first plant’s female flowers open, and the second plant’s male flowers open).
You can learn more about avocado flowering types in my article: How Long Do Avocado Trees Take to Fruit? (Answered)
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. See your local services.
- 7 Easy Steps to Grow Fruit Trees (Free Guide): Need more fruit tree help from the ground up? See our free guide to make growing fruit trees a breeze.
- Ask the Free Community: Join The Couch to Homestead Community and connect with other members discussing gardening, homesteading, and permaculture.
- 30-Day Permaculture Food Forest Course: Learn how to turn your backyard into a thriving food forest in just 30 days with our online course.