poor cherry and plum crop

Asked July 5, 2019, 1:12 PM EDT

Hello...my family owes property on the west side of Philomath. We have a small orchid that was planted in the early 1970's . The orchard has about 8 cherry trees (royal ann, Bing, Ranier) about 6 plum trees (yellow and red) and apple and pear trees. All together we have about 25 trees. Over the years we have kept the orchard clean, the grass mowed, done some light pruning, and allied dormant spray. The intent of the orchard was just for our family and friends. Over the last five years the orchard has produced less and less fruit. This year we had maybe a handful of cherries (on all the trees) and have to hunt for the plums. The apples and pear seem ok, but less then in years past. I wanted to know if this was a result of not having enough pollinators. All the years we had such a surplus of fruit.

Benton County Oregon fruit trees

1 Response

Hello there. Congratulations on growing a successful orchard for so long. From reading your description of the problems you are experiencing in your orchard I can think of two or three possible issues that may be impacting fruit production. The first is pruning. I am not sure what you mean by light pruning but fruit trees need regular(annual) pruning. A forty-year-old orchard should be requiring much more than light pruning to keep the trees healthy. You may need to prune to encourage continued production. I am including some links to assist you with the care of your orchard as it continues to mature.

https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/sites/catalog/files/project/pdf/pnw400.pdf “Training and Pruning Your Home Orchard” for pruning in general on fruit to maintain tree health and encourage production.

https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/sites/catalog/files/project/pdf/pnw592.pdf “Four Simple Steps to Pruning Cherry Trees on Gisela and Other Productive Rootstocks”. This one has helped me with my sweet cherry (I did not know what rootstock it was on).

The second issue for fruit production with the plums and cherries this year was our weather. I have an orchard with approximately the same number of trees ranging from 5-12 years old. We are at about 480 feet in elevation north of Philomath. We had good weather for the pear bloom. But once my cherries and plums were in full bloom, we had more than a week of cold and rainy weather. Pollinators are not as active under these conditions. To answer your question about pollinators, yes you could have had a lack of them during that cold snap like I also experienced. I had lots of cherries that were not fully pollinated, the cherries did not mature and dropped off. My oldest and most productive plum tree has fruit but nothing near its ‘normal’ load after that cold spell. Being west of Philomath your orchard may be at a higher elevation and have experienced even lower temperatures, maybe even causing some blossom death.

A possible third reason fruit production is down could be some type of disease, in the case of cherries and plums possibly brown blossom rot. You mention only spraying some type of dormant spray but no preventative type of fungicides. Brown blossom rot and other diseases could also impact fruit production.

https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/sites/catalog/files/project/pdf/ec631_0.pdf “Managing diseases and insects in home orchards”. This publication explains the importance of preventative sprays in maintaining your orchard. Healthy happy fruit trees are productive fruit trees. In an orchard the age of yours usually has trees larger than most homeowners can effectively spray. Canopies that have not been properly pruned reduce penetration of sprays within the canopy creating a climate where disease could develop.

I hope that this information helps you. If you require more information do not hesitate to call the Benton County Extension Office and ask to talk with a Master Gardener. The phone number is 541-766-6750, office hours are 8-5 weekdays.