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Fruit Tree Pollination.

Most fruit trees in the UK are not self fertile and require cross pollination in order to produce fruit.   Some apples and pears are described as being self fertile, but when cross pollination occurs, a better set occurs.

Apples are only pollenated with pollen from other apple trees; pears are only pollenated with pollen from other pear trees etc.  Pear trees do not pollinate apple trees and apple trees do not pollinate pear trees.

People are put off by what appears to be a complicated system.  Generally fruit trees are happily pollinated in a garden setting because neighbours have fruit trees too. However if problems are being encoutered consider the following.

Apples, typically, are in blossom for 7 around days during which they come into flower, reach their peak and then tail off.  Through studying the flowering habit of the trees, dates have been identified as to when the tree is at full bloom and thus at optimal pollination.  For successful pollination to occur, cultivars should be grown that are in blossom some 4 days before or 3 three days after full bloom.  For amateur gardeners this can appear confusing so the RHS adopted a grouping system similar to that outlined below.  Some texts use letters to destinguish the groups, others numbers; either way they refer to the same thing.  Whilst the timings may be slightly out in the North of the country, the general pattern applies.

  • Group 1 – Early flowering,                      1st to 5th May e.g. Gravenstein
  • Group 2 –                                                  4th to 7th May e.g. Egremont Russet
  • Group 3 – Mid-season flowering,           8th to 11th May e.g. St Edmunds Pippin,
  • Group 4 – Mid/late season flowering, 12th to 15th  May e.g. Annie Elizabeth
  • Group 5 – Late flowering,                     16th to 18th May e.g. Braeburn, Reinette d'Orléans
  • Group 6 –                                                19th to 23th May e.g. Edward VII
  • Group 7 –                                                24th to 28th May e.g. Court-Pendu Plat
The weather has an impact on as to when the trees come into blossom and the above timings may be earlier or later according to the season. 

Cultivars may be pollinated by other cultivars in the same group or those in adjacent groups, so St Edmunds Pippin may be pollinated by other cultivars in group 3 and those in groups 1 and 3.  The reason for this is that flowering times overlap and not by just the day indicated above.  To confuse, some texts and nurseries do assign different pollination groups to  cultivars, so it can be worth a little research.