Why Does My Apple Tree Drop Fruit? (Plus How To Stop It)


It is discouraging to see your apple tree dropping its fruit after you put in the hard work to plant it and take care of it.  If your apple tree is dropping fruit, it may indicate a problem with the environment or the way you are caring for the tree.

So, why does your apple tree drop fruit?  Apple trees will drop fruit due to over-ripe fruit, too much fruit, or environmental conditions such as water, sunlight, and temperature levels.  Pests or improper pruning can also cause apple trees to drop fruit.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the common reasons that apple trees drop their fruit, and what you can do to prevent the problem.

Why Does My Apple Tree Drop Fruit?

An apple tree will drop its fruit for a few basic reasons:

  1. The tree is dropping fruit that was not properly fertilized (petal fall).  This is normal, and some petal fall is not a cause for concern.  If most or all of the fruit falls off the tree, you may want to address a possible problem with lack of pollination (more on this later).
  2. The tree has too much fruit to support, and is aborting the extra apples (June drop).  This prevents broken branches and poor fruit quality, and so it is not a cause for concern.  To prevent this from happening, you can thin some of the flowers (and thus fruit) by hand before the tree puts any energy into them.  The best way to do this is to pinch off some of the flowers in each cluster of flowers.
  3. The fruit is ripe, and is at the point where it should be picked.  Harvest the apples and keep some fresh in the refrigerator.  Process the rest to turn them into apple pie, applesauce, dried apple rings, or fruit leather.  For more information, check out allrecipes.com to search for these apple dishes and snacks. https://www.allrecipes.com/
  4. There are environmental or care conditions that are causing the tree to drop its fruit, such as improper watering or pruning (more on these later).

If you think you have an environmental or care concern that is causing your apple tree to drop its fruit, then check out the list below to see what might be causing the problem, and what you can do to prevent it.

For more information about natural fruit drop in apple trees, check out this article on premature apple drop from the Cooperative Extension.

For more information on thinning the fruit on your apple tree, check out this article on premature apple drop from the Michigan State University Extension.

What Causes Apples To Drop From The Tree?

If you can eliminate the first three causes mentioned above (petal fall, June drop, and ripe fruit), then you know that there is some problem with the environment or the care you are providing to your apple tree.

The most basic problem (and probably the most common one) is improper watering of your apple tree.  So, let’s start with watering.

Improper Watering Of Your Apple Tree

There are two ways to cause your apple tree to drop fruit due to improper watering: under watering and over watering.

garden hose
Be careful not to over water or under water your apple tree – both can cause the fruit to drop off early!

Under watering is especially harmful at critical points in the season, such as when the apple tree is forming flowers and fruit.  However, any extended period of under watering can cause an apple tree to drop its fruit.

Anytime an apple tree (or any fruit tree) encounters stress, it will drop some or all of its fruit to conserve energy.  Water stress is one such scenario, which is likely during a hot, dry spell or summer drought.

Just as important as giving your tree enough water is to avoid over watering.  If the soil around your apple tree stays too wet for too long, the roots cannot breathe and absorb nutrients from the soil.

Remember that you can always add more water later in the day, but it is impossible to remove water after adding too much.

The best way to tell when to water is to check the soil using your fingers.  If it feels dry a few inches down, go ahead and water the apple tree.

It is better to give one deep watering a week, rather than several shallow waterings during the week.  This promotes a strong, extensive, and resilient root system for your apple tree.

For more information, check out this article from Stark Brothers on watering apple trees.

Excessive Pruning Of Your Apple Tree

As mentioned above, extreme stress on your apple tree will cause it to drop fruit.  One form of extreme stress is excessive pruning, especially at the wrong time of year.

pruning shears
Pruning your apple tree too much, or at the wrong time of year, can cause damage that will result in fruit dropping off the tree. Be sure to prune late in the dormant season, between February and April.

Pruning back too many branches deprives an apple tree of many of its leaves, reducing photosynthesis and the ability to produce sugar to put into fruit.

Your best bet is to perform light to moderate pruning of your apple tree each year, instead of hacking away too many branches every few years.

It is best to prune an apple tree late in the dormant season, between February and April.  Do not prune in fall or winter, since this can cause severe damage to the tree.

For more information on pruning, check out this article on apple trees from the University of New Hampshire Extension.

Frosts That Damage Buds On Your Apple Tree

If a frost occurs after the flowers have formed on your apple tree, then the fruit may not form properly later in the season.  This can result in fruit dropping off of the apple tree.

frost
A frost can damage the flowers on an apple tree and cause fruit to fall off later in the season.

Pests That Attack Your Apple Tree

There are numerous pests that will attack your apple tree, in the best case only damaging some fruit or leaves, and in the worst case damaging or killing the tree itself.  Here are just a few of the common ones.

Roundheaded Apple Borer

The roundheaded apple borer is an insect that attacks apple trees by tunneling through the trunk.  These tunnels interfere with the apple tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients between roots and leaves.

roundheaded apple borer
The roundheaded apple borer tunnels through the trunk of apple trees. The damage it causes can result in fruit dropping off of the tree. Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saperda_candida_-Round-headed_Apple_Tree_Borer_Beetle(47995056896).jpg

If the fruit is dropping off of your apple tree, it may be an early sign that the tree has been badly damaged by roundheaded apple borers.

For more information, check out this article from the University of Maine on the roundheaded apple borer.

Codling Moth

The codling moth is about half an inch long as an adult, which has gray coloring with bands of white and copper-colored wing tips.  The larvae (young moths) are often found in apples and are white to pink in color.

codling moth
The codling moth will lay eggs that become larvae, which will tunnel through your apples. This damage can cause them to drop off of the tree early. Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Codling_moth_(NH266)_(32834777925).jpg

Codling moth caterpillars tunnel through fruit, which appears as brown streaks in the white flesh of an apple.  They tend to favor eating the seeds at the core of the apple.

For more information, check out this article on codling moths from the Colorado State University Extension.

According to New Mexico State University, severe codling moth infestation can cause an apple tree to drop 100% of its fruit.

To help prevent this problem from getting worse or from starting in the first place, always be sure to remove apples from the ground after they fallen.  Either process the apples, or destroy the larvae by putting the apples in a hot compost pile.

Apple Maggot

The apple maggot is another pest that can cause damage to fruit.  As a result, the fruit may drop from the apple tree prematurely.

The adult fly has a black color with white stripes, and is the same size as a house fly.  The young flies (apple maggots) are white with no legs, and are ¼ inch long at maturity.

apple maggot
The adult fly lays its eggs under the skin of an apple, and the eggs hatch into apple maggots, which work their way through the apple. Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rhagoletis_pomonella.jpg

The flies emerge in July or August, and after mating, the females deposit eggs under the skin of apples.  After the eggs hatch, the young maggots start to feed by working their way through the apple.

Apples that mature early in the season are most affected by apple maggots.  You will see pits and dimples on the fruit, along with brown trails throughout the flesh of the fruit.

For more information, check out this article on apple maggots from the Penn State University Extension.

Lack Of Sunlight For Your Apple Tree

An apple tree needs full sunlight (8 hours per day of exposure to direct sunlight) in order to grow properly.  Inadequate sunlight can result in an apple tree dropping its fruit.

Even if your apple tree originally got plenty of sunlight, it may be time to check conditions if many years have passed since you planted the tree.

sunlight through forest
If other tall trees are blocking sunlight to your apple tree, then you might need to cut down branches or entire trees to solve the problem.

As surrounding trees grow taller with wider leaf canopies, they will create more shade and prevent shorter trees from getting enough sunlight.

To address this problem, consider pruning back or cutting down trees that are blocking your apple tree from getting enough sun.

Conclusion

By now, you have a good idea of the factors that can cause your apple tree to drop its fruit.  You also have some ideas on how to prevent the problem.

I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information.  If you have any questions or advice about apple trees dropping fruit, please leave a comment below.

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jonathon. I’m the gardening guy (not guru!) who is encouraging everyone to spend more time in the garden. I try to help solve common gardening problems so that you can get the best harvest every year!

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