Plant Care Resources

Preventing or Reducing Fruit on Ornamental Trees and Shrubs

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“Nuisance fruit” is a concern for many people including homeowners, landscapers, and park and city officials. The fruits and seeds of some trees and shrubs, such as buckthorn, mulberry, persimmon, and (female) ginkgo are unsightly, smelly, and even potentially hazardous when they fall on sidewalks, driveways, and other areas in a landscape. Sprays are available to reduce or eliminate undesirable fruit development on ornamental landscape plants, but factors such as timing, plant stresses, environmental conditions, and insufficient applications may make complete control impossible. Results will vary with each chemical designed to eliminate fruit. Professional arborists also have injectable products available to reduce fruiting.

Trees and shrubs are usually selected for landscape use based on their ornamental features, such as spring flowers, fall color, and fruit. All species of trees and shrubs produce some type of flowers and fruit, but not all of them are showy. Fruit production is part of the plant’s natural development. A plant that produces a large amount of fruit may be a desirable ornamental feature or be used to feed wildlife. Despite the value of a flowering and fruiting plant, some people consider spent flowers and fallen fruit to be undesirable litter. There are several methods to remove fruit or prevent fruiting. Hand-removing spent flowers or small fruits will work on a small tree, but is not a practical solution for large trees or extensive plantings. Chemical or hormone-type sprays are a more practical method, but spraying your tree can be a costly and time-consuming venture. Consider the following before you decide to spray.

Amount of fruit production. The amount of fruit a plant can produce varies from year to year. Many plants will produce heavily one year and lighter the next. Insect, disease, and damage to flower blooms can reduce fruit production. Hand-removal of spent flowers is one way to eliminate unwanted fruit.

Plant removal. If maintenance is a problem, does the plant warrant keeping? Attempting to remove fruit will become a yearly expenditure of time and money. When all options have been considered, plant removal may be the best alternative. Replace it with a plant that holds its fruit.

Size of tree. If the tree is too large to do the work yourself, you may have to hire a licensed professional to achieve adequate results.

Timing of application. Whether you hire a professional or do the work yourself, it is essential to spray at the proper time for best results. The window of opportunity varies with the species and cultivars (varieties) of a plant.

Timing. The window of opportunity for chemical or hormone-type sprays is during flowering before fruit sets, usually from flower buds to the full bloom stage. It is imperative that you spray at this time for the chemicals to be most effective on the flower bud. Spraying before or after flowers results in wasted time and money. The label of the product you use will give you precise instructions on how to use it.

Temperature. Hormone-type sprays are influenced by weather conditions. Temperature at the time of application is important, so follow label directions exactly.

Use correct concentrations. A too-low concentration can increase fruit set. Excess hormone applications will cause damage to the plant.

Only spray stress-free plants. Plants being treated should be healthy and vigorous. Spraying plants that are stressed can injure them. The chemical ethephon, used to stop fruiting, breaks down into a natural plant hormone, ethylene. Plants under stress from drought, high temperatures, insect and disease problems, or environmental conditions such as compacted soils, poor drainage, or improper pH already produce ethylene. Too much of this hormone can cause leaf scorch, stem damage, or defoliation, further weakening the plant.

Chemicals are available to reduce or eliminate fruiting on ornamental trees and shrubs. These products contain either ethephon or naphthaleneacetic acid (NAA). Check with local nurseries and garden centers. Follow specific label directions for application rates and safety information.

Choose plants that have seedless cultivars. A true seedless variety is the only guaranteed method to eliminate fruit. Check with local nurseries to see which seedless or male cultivars they carry. 

Use pesticides safely and wisely; read and follow label directions. The pesticide information presented here is current with federal and state regulations. The user is responsible for determining that the intended use is consistent with the label of the product being used. The information given here is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement is made by The Morton Arboretum.