Our apple trees only grow fruit every other year. We’ve owned the property for about 10 years, and this has happened consistently since we moved in. We live in the Niagara Region, the soil is sandy. There are 8 trees in total, 4 Courtland and 4 Ida Red. We prune the trees in the early spring, but even years where we’ve skipped pruning, the same issue occurs. Hoping there is a solution to help get the fruit to grow every year.
What your trees are doing is called “Biennial Bearing” which means they fruit every second year. Not all varieties are prone to this phenomena, with Empire, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, Spartan, Grimes Golden, Braeburn and Sierra Beauty being just a few that are.
So why do some trees do this? There are a few reasons, listed below, and you can determine if any of these issues could be the cause of your problems.
- Lack of soil moisture – since you are on sandy soil, this makes rainfall drain away from roots faster, so maybe installing a soaker hose or irrigation system around the trees would help.
- Tree Vigor – Over fertilization will encourage vegetative growth at the expense of fruit. Application timing should be accurately done to suit your tree varieties.
- Pruning – Over pruning and pruning at the incorrect time can be detrimental to fruit production. If trees are “Tip Bearers”, trees that bear fruit at the end of the stems, then extra care needs to be taken.
- Pollination – Cortland is partially self-fertile but Idared is not self-fertile so both of these varieties benefit from having each other blooming at the same time for cross pollination. The addition of a white blossoming crab apple tree somewhere on your property would be really helpful as it has a long bloom period beginning in April. This would ensure that both of your apple tree varieties get the advantage of a good pollinator partner.
- Frost & Bud damage – Having a late frost in May could damage or completely ruin the years flower buds.
- No Buds after the winter – When checking on your trees after the winter, so in early spring, you notice there are no buds, the cause could be that they have been eaten by hungry birds who have no other source of food. Covering the trees with netting to keep the birds away from the buds is a good solution. Also, providing another source of food for birds on your property would help keep them off the trees.
- Thinning of the fruit – If a tree produces too much fruit in one year it will exhaust its resources and can’t produce the following year. Thinning out of the fruit every year will solve this problem and be better for overall tree health. Be fairly ruthless with the thinning, leaving only one fruit per cluster or approximately one fruit to every 40-75 leaves. Leave fruit evenly spaced on each branch in order for it to mature with good air circulation and light penetration.
Hopefully, you will find this information helpful. In the Niagara region, there are many orchards so if you feel that none of the solutions provided here apply, I would encourage you to seek out a local apple farmer and ask for advice regarding this issue.