Fruit Tree Care

From pruning to thinning and more, here’s how to best care for your fruit trees for years of healthy production.

| May/June 2018

Growing your own fruit trees is much simpler than most folks realize. With few exceptions, there are varieties and types of trees that will grow and produce in most any area of North America. Whether you have a tiny lot in the suburbs or 150 acres in the country, there is most likely a fruit tree waiting at the local nursery with your name on it. Even if you live in an apartment with a small patio or terrace, there are miniature versions that will perform well in pots.

While there is nothing complicated about growing fruit trees, there are a few simple things to remember that will help your crop turn out better. Three things I'll cover in this article are fruit thinning, providing support for fruit-laden limbs, and pruning your trees.

Fruit thinning

There is hardly a more promising and beautiful sight to a gardener than seeing the limbs of their fruit trees heavy with fruit. Unfortunately, many fruit and nut trees tend to overbear, putting severe strain on the tree as well as lowering the quality of the fruit produced. There is scarcely anything more sickening than coming out in the morning, only to find a limb of developing fruit that was so promising a day before, broken off because of too much fruit on the limb.

As wasteful as it may seem, fruits such as apples, pears, and peaches should be thinned to about 6 or 8 inches between individual fruits. Apricots and Japanese plums should be thinned to 3 or 4 inches between each fruit. Large varieties of plums will do better if the fruit is spaced up to 6 inches apart. The best time to do this is in early summer, when the fruit is between 3/4 and 1 inch in diameter.

Fruit that is not thinned will tend to remain small, develop less sugar, and have poor color. If enough fruit exists, tree limbs will break from the excess weight. The jagged tears and wounds that develop from these broken branches leave easy access for pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and harmful fungi to enter the plant.

The easiest way for most gardeners to thin their fruit crops is to simply hand-pick the excess fruit from the branches. It may require a little labor, as well as willpower, to "waste" all that fruit. But properly thinned fruit will reduce potential tree damage and yield sweeter, larger fruit.

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