Most apple trees will not form fruit if the flowers are pollinated from the same variety of apple. This means, for the apple tree to bear fruit, there must be apple trees of different varieties growing in close proximity. Ideally these trees bloom at the same time and the pollen of the two trees is intermingled by bees or other insects. If no other apple tree is available or if there is a shortage of insects in the area, hand pollination may be necessary to prompt the apple tree to set fruit.
Acquire pollen by collecting from blooming trees or from a commercial source. Gather the anthers, the male part of the flower, during the early evening or early morning hours. Allow the anthers to release the pollen overnight on a paper plate. Use the collected pollen the next day or freeze for use as much as a year later.
Mix the pollen with talcum powder or lycopodium spore powder, available from pharmacies, to create a larger volume of the pollen powder. A common mix is 5 parts talcum powder to 1 part pollen.
Dip a small paint brush into the pollen mix. Brush one bloom about every foot with the pollen mix. The pollination process works best before 11 a.m.
Long-handled pollen brushes are available to reach the high blooms of taller apple trees. These systems often use more pollen than the hand brushes. Pay particular attention to apple blossoms on the shaded side of the tree. This helps the flowers least likely to attract the attention of any passing bees become pollinated.
Hand pollination is time consuming and labour intensive. Planting a companion apple tree nearby and attracting bees or other insects produces higher yields with less effort.