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Why Plants Fail to Flower or Fruit

Drought stress in tomato plants can cause flowers to wither or drop prematurely.

Drought stress in tomato plants can cause flowers to wither or drop prematurely.
LayLa Burgess, © 2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

It can be very disappointing to wait eagerly for a favorite plant to flower and it never does. Flowers and fruits are major horticultural features of plants and can fail to form for many different reasons. Plants that do not flower are often too young, or there is not enough light. If there are no flowers on a plant, there can be no fruits formed. Some other common causes are discussed below.

Why Doesn’t My Plant Flower?

Age of Plant: Being too young or immature is a very common reason that many trees do not flower. Plants need to reach a certain level of maturity before they begin to flower each year. Trees in particular usually need three to five years after transplanting before flowering.

Growing Conditions

Shade: Lack of adequate light is another very common reason that many types of plants do not flower. Plants may grow but not flower in the shade.

Cold or Frost Injury: Cold weather may kill flower buds or partially opened flowers. Plants that are not fully hardy in your area are the most susceptible to this type of cold injury.

Excessive pruning of crape myrtles will damage future flower buds. LayLa Burgess, © 2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Excessive pruning of crape myrtles will damage future flower buds.
LayLa Burgess, © 2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Drought: Flowers or flower buds dry and drop off when there is temporary lack of moisture in the plants.

Improper Pruning: Some plants bloom only on last year’s wood. Pruning plants at the wrong time of the year can remove the flower buds for next year’s blossoms. Many spring flowering plants, such as azaleas begin setting next year’s flower buds in the late spring. Pruning these plants in the summer or fall may prevent flowering next year. Cutting back a plant severely, such as with climbing roses, can remove all the flowering wood.

Nutrient Imbalance: Too much nitrogen can cause plants to produce primarily leaves and stems. The plant will be large and usually very green and healthy but will have few or no flowers.

Nutrient deficiencies may result in reduced flower production or poor pollination. However, nutrient excess can be harmful to plant growth. For example, phosphorus levels need to be sufficient in the soil for flower formation, but excessive amounts reduce the availability of several micronutrients to plants, especially iron. A boron deficiency may lead to incomplete pollination. Pollen quality, pistil formation (part of the female flower), and pollen tube elongation are affected by insufficient boron. But, be aware that there is a fine line between sufficient and excessive soil boron, which can become toxic to plants if the levels become too high. Therefore, test the soil periodically for the recommended fertilizers for various plants. For more information on how to test the soil, see HGIC 1652, Soil Testing.

Cold Period Required: This is true for most spring flowering bulbs. Some trees planted in latitudes in which they do not normally grow may also fail to bloom. Various apple cultivars and peaches require exposure to certain periods of low temperatures, or flowering will not occur.

Why Doesn’t My Plant Have Fruits?

Pollinators transfer pollen from male flowers (above) to female flowers in cucurbit species. The absence of pollinators or low numbers of female flowers can result in fewer fruits produced.

Pollinators transfer pollen from male flowers (above) to female flowers in cucurbit species. The absence of pollinators or low numbers of female flowers can result in fewer fruits produced.
LayLa Burgess, © 2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Poor Pollination: This is one of the most common causes of no fruit. Some plants cannot pollinate themselves. They require a plant of the same species, but a different variety for cross-pollination and maximum fruit set.

Separate Male & Female Plants: Some types of plants have only either male or only all female flowers. The plant with female flowers can form fruit, but only if a male plant is nearby for this to occur. Some examples of plants affected this way are holly, yew and ginkgo.

Weather: A freeze that occurs while a plant is in flower can kill the flowers and prevent fruit set.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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