By Larry Hodgson
Question: Three years ago, we planted two apple trees: a ‘Macintosh’ and a ‘Gala’. Much to our disappointment, they didn’t flower last year nor this spring and so, of course, we’ll have no apples again this fall. What do we have to do to get them to produce fruits?
Answer: The answer is easy enough: you just have to be patient!
It’s quite normal for an apple tree to flower and bear fruit only 4 to 7 years after planting (sometimes 3 years in the case of a dwarf apple tree). This is the time it takes for it to settle in, grow a little and develop, in particular, a strong frame and a good root system. This bit of information would seem obvious to orchard owners, but it would appear it isn’t necessarily making its way it to home gardeners, as I receive lots of questions about it. I’m not saying that sometimes an apple tree can’t flower “before its time,” but those cases are exceptions rather than the rule.
In fact, it’s established grafted apple trees such as those offered in nurseries that take “only” 4 to 7 years to bloom. If you try growing apple trees by seed, it will normally take even longer, usually 7–10 years, before you see the first apple!
This long delay before fruiting is pretty much the norm for small fruits and fruit trees. It usually takes a few years, and sometimes even a decade or more, before they are mature enough to start flowering and bearing fruit.
How Long Before Plants Bloom?
If you think about the growth habit of the plant in question (an apple tree), this delay starts to make sense. Woody plants are naturally slow to mature: it takes time to build a solid permanent wood frame rather than just flimsy annual growth. Herbaceous (non-woody) plants, not having a woody structure to produce, usually flower at a significantly younger age.
Typically, a tree will flower for the first time between the age of 7 and 80 years old. Some take even longer! However, 15 to 20 years is about the average for a medium-sized tree; 20 to 40 years for a larger one. That means most fruit trees are comparatively quite early in producing their first crop.
The following chart can give you an idea of how long to expect different types of plants to take before they begin to flower, in this case, after being started from seed.
|Plant Type||Average Year of First Bloom|
|Perennial||2nd to 3rd year|
|Shrub||3rd to 7th year|
|Deciduous tree||7th to 40th year|
|Conifer||7th to 40th year|
Fruiting Plants: Years to First Harvest
Fruit-bearing plants present a particular problem to gardeners in that they are grown for their edible fruit and the often significant delay between putting the plant in the ground and harvesting the first crop can be frustrating, especially if you weren’t warned at the time of purchase that there is a major wait involved.
The chart gives an idea of the number of years you should expect to wait until the first harvest for several relatively common small fruits, fruit trees and fruiting vines. Unless stated otherwise, it’s assumed that you purchased or will be purchasing a nursery plant of the standard size for its type. If you’ll be starting these plants from seed, you usually need to add from one to several more years to the calculation!
|Variety||Years Before Harvest|
|Cherry, dwarf sour (Romance Series)||3–4|
|Strawberry (from seed)||0–1|
|Walnut, black (from seed)||10–20|
|Walnut, black (grafted)||3–5|