Dormancy to Fruiting - The Deciduous Fruit Tree Cycle in Australia

And what can go wrong in the backyard!


By Emma Swan

It’s imperative for total beginners and seasoned gardeners alike to have a complete understanding of their deciduous trees. Having a good knowledge of the annual cycle allows gardeners to observe, think, and act according to their deciduous tree’s seasonal changes. It also means we can get closer to diagnosing a problem when the seasonal changes don’t match up with the season.

Scroll down for our crash course in pictures, and our extra tips alongside them!

Extra tips:

  • Winter is the best time to transplant and prune your deciduous fruit trees. You can do both at the same time.
    • This also makes it the best time to purchase new bare root fruit trees!
  • Water your potted trees once a week and your planted trees once a month (depending on your soil type, of course) through winter to prevent the ground from completely drying up.
  • Do not fertilise!

Extra tips:

  • Spring is a good time to fertilise and mulch your fruit trees so that they have the energy boost they need going into the growing season. Remember it is energetically expensive to produce a mass of beautiful flowers!
  • Use this time to plant bee attracting herbaceous plants nearby to attract bees and enhance pollination.
  • Increase your watering according to the temperature and how quickly your soil or potting mix is drying!

Extra tips:

  • The earlier you net, the more fruit you will get! The most common problem gardeners face is pests eating fruit before we can get to them. Fruit that has been dropped onto the ground needs to be picked up and disposed of to reduce the incidence of disease or pest attacks.
  • Keep notes on when your fruits have ripened so that you can notice any differences in following years. This is a great way to stay on top of troubleshooting or notice climatic influences as your tree matures.
  • Don’t let the slack slip with watering – double check your mulch is helping rather than hindering (by being too thick, too thin, or too old!), and water deeply in the early morning or late afternoon.

Extra tips:

  • Although there’s no fix for this season, it doesn’t mean that your tree won’t produce fruit in the correct season, or that the tree will die! Your main job here is to figure out what happened in your backyard.
    • If you have released the slack on watering, and your tree has had droopy leaves, watering is your problem! Make sure you find more solutions to stay on top of watering.
    • Had an onslaught of pests? That could play a part!
    • Had a strange climatic season, for example La Nina or El Nino? That can play a major part!
    • Quite often there is not one cause, but multiple causes – you can only change what you can provide.

Extra tips:

  • Extended dormancy mostly occurs in areas with long winters, or where trees have been selected for an unsuitable environment.
    • For the former – this usually isn’t a problem provided you have a variety suited to your area. It just means that your individual plant may flower and fruit a couple of weeks later than the same variety in a different area/climate zone!
    • For the latter, what normally occurs is that an unsuitable variety is damaged by the extreme temperature or length of winter. The growing buds are thus stunted and, if they don’t die, can burst late and/or deformed. Normally the tree will die – this is what can happen when you have a low/medium chill variety in a high chill climate!
  • Frost covers can help to prevent the damage that can occur. Additionally, potted trees can be relocated to covered balconies or dry greenhouses to reduce frost/cold damage. Keep in mind that moving deciduous fruit trees to a covered area still may not see them complete their annual cycle should their varietal specifications for chill not be met.


Chapman, P.J and Catlin, G.A 1976. ‘Growth Stages in Fruit Trees—From Dormant to Fruit Set’. NEW YORK’S FOOD AND LIFE SCIENCES BULLETIN, No. 58.

Salama A-M, Ezzat A, El-Ramady H, Alam-Eldein S.M, Okba S.K, Elmenofy H.M, Hassan I.F, Illés A, Holb I.J. ‘Temperate Fruit Trees under Climate Change: Challenges for Dormancy and Chilling Requirements in Warm Winter Regions.’ Horticulturae. 2021; No. 7, vol. 4, p. 86.

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