Fruit trees and small fruits Gardening

Fruit Trees and Plants: Patience Needed

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?

Gab P.

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.

Dwarf apple trees in fruit.
Dwarf apple trees in fruit. Photo:

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 TypeAverage Year of First Bloom
Annual1st year
Biennial2nd year
Perennial2nd to 3rd year
Shrub3rd to 7th year
Deciduous tree7th to 40th year
Conifer7th to 40th year

Fruiting Plants: Years to First Harvest

Mixed fruits
You often have to wait a few years before harvesting berries! Photo:

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!

VarietyYears Before Harvest
Apple(3) 4–7
Cherry, dwarf sour (Romance Series)3–4
Cherry, sour3–5
Cherry, sweet4–7
Haskap (honeyberry)2–3
Kiwi, hardy5–9
Passion fruit0
Sea buckthorn3–5
Serviceberry (Saskatoon)2–3
Strawberry (from seed)0–1
Strawberry (plant)0
Walnut, black (from seed) 10–20
Walnut, black (grafted)3–5
Walnut, English4–8

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

1 comment on “Fruit Trees and Plants: Patience Needed

  1. This was one of my pet peeves about marketing. One of the big box stores in San Jose (and likely everywhere) ‘guaranteed’ that their bare root fruit trees would produce in their first year! Yes, bare root! People believe it. Unfortunately, because of the transient nature of the Community, not many people stayed in their homes long enough to get much fruit. By the time their fruit trees started producing, someone else moved in and cut them down. The other even worse pet peeve was that such fruit trees were ‘low maintenance’! People seriously planted peach trees believing that they would just magically produce peaches without any work. So, they did very little in their first few years, and then suddenly produced so much that the trees fell apart from the weight of all the fruit.

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