FRUIT BLOOM DROP
FRUIT AND NUT CARE
by Jerry Parsons, Ph.D.
Horticulture Specialist, Texas Agricultural Extension Service
in San Antonio
Gardening is in full swing now. Just as vegetables
need our full attention at this time of the year so do the
fruit trees. Fruit trees have already bloomed. Bloom deterioration
and petal fall signals a time for fruit thinning. If you or
a hail storm haven't thinned your fruit, do it as soon as
possible. (Plums generally are not thinned.) A good rule of
thumb to follow is to thin fruit until they are 6 inches apart
on the branch making sure that no two fruit are side by side.
Or, in the case of fruit produced in clusters on spurs, such
as apples and pears, remove all but one fruit. A fruit will
grow larger if it can be produced under optimum growing conditions
for a longer period of time.
Many growers are complaining of fruit drop or
lack of any fruit set at all. Some fruit drop is normal but
excessive amounts of drop may have been caused by either lack
of chill and/or pollination.
As a general rule, fruit trees bear fruit when
they become old enough to blossom freely, provided other conditions
are favorable. Pollination, cultural practices and environment
greatly influence the plant's ability to bear. Any of these
factors alone or in combination can prevent fruit set or cause
flowers not to develop and fruit to drop prematurely. Obviously
growers do not have any control over most of these factors.
Even though many trees blossom freely, some
still may either fail to set fruit or they will shed most
of their fruit prematurely if adequate pollination does not
occur. Some fruit trees have "perfect flowering"
blossoms with both male and female parts. When this type of
tree bears fruit as a result of pollination from their own
blossoms the tree is said to be "self-fruitful".
Unfortunately many fruits with perfect (male and female parts
in same flower) flowers do not set fruit if only their pollen
is available, i.e., the female flower part requires pollination
from another flower. If such pollination is required, then
the flower and fruit type is said to be "self-unfruitful".
Apples and pears are good examples of this type of pollination
type. Remember that fruit trees that are classified as "self-unfruitful"
may produce some fruit if an alternate source of pollination
is not available but maximum fruit set will only occur if
the proper pollinators are available.
In some fruit varieties, the pollen-producing
or staminate (male) blossoms that never produce fruit are
borne on separate plants from the pistillate (female) or fruit-producing
blossoms. In cases such as this it is necessary to have at
least one plant with male flowers to serve as a pollinator.
Plants with only staminate flowers will normally pollinate
a number of plants with female blossoms. Kiwi and pistachio
Examples of self-pollinating fruit are apricot,
avocado, blackberry, citrus, fig, most domestic grapes, jujube,
nectarine, peach, pomegranate, quince and strawberry. Those
fruit which benefit from cross-pollination include apple,
Japanese persimmon, pear, pecan, plum (some varieties such
as Bruce) and walnut.
Blackberries typically produce an abundant crop.
Soon blackberry growers will be eating themselves sick. Many
novice producers are asking what to do with the large canes
which are growing through the middle of the canes which have
the blooms. Blackberries bloom and produce berries on last
year's canes. Once last year's canes have produced berries
they will die and all such canes should be removed. This means
that those large, new canes will produce next year's crop.
If the planting of blackberries is young (1 or 2 years old),
these large, "prima" canes can be tipped to encourage
branching. More branching means more berry production surface
for next year's crop, since next year's crop will be born
on this year's growth. However, in older plantings these prima
canes become nothing but obstacles to harvest. Early removal
of the prima canes to expedite harvest is recommended since
most of these canes are severely damaged when old canes are
removed at the end of harvest. Many commercial berry producers
shred the entire planting at the end of the harvest period.
With proper watering and fertilization, sufficient new growth
will occur before fall to insure a full crop the following
year. Old canes can be more easily removed from a new planting.
Pecans also deserve special attention now. A
pre-pollination spray of zinc should produce large, healthy
leaves. This spray should be applied 3 weeks after bud break.
Last, but certainly not least, are the pear
problems. "What causes the blooms of my pear tree to
die? Why do I have black, dead limbs on my pear tree?"
These questions signal spring's arrival! With spring blooms
comes the pear horror named fire blight. Appropriately named,
the bacteria infection causes limbs and blooms of trees to
look as if they have been scorched by fire. It is now too
late to correct or prevent the problem. Some varieties are
resistant--not immune but resistant. These include Kieffer,
Orient, Fan-Stil and Monterrey. Unfortunately the best tasting
pears such as Bartlett and Le Conte are the most susceptible.
As you can see, fruit trees do need constant
care and attention. Also, remember that too many fruit are
not good either for the tree or the fruit.
Most of us especially enjoy the blooms of spring.
But to a peach producer the joy of spring blooms signals an
approaching fruit thinning task.
Homeowners also should realize the importance
of this necessary evil of relieving peach trees of their "overload."
Even though you pruned the poor creature unmercifully this
winter, the tree still has too many peaches on it to size
them properly. Eight percent of blossom set equals a full
crop of quality peaches. This means that 92 percent has to
How does one properly thin the fruit of a peach
tree? With determination, will power, vim, and vigor. Be determined
that you will remove the unnecessary 92 percent of that fruit.
Have the will power to stay with the gruesome task until the
job is finished. And exert plenty of vim and vigor so that
you will have the job finished before your spouse comes home
and has you committed for ruining the first decent peach crop
that you have ever had!
You must be strong! You must make a decision
at this point. The decision is whether to have a lot of small,
worthless peaches or a few, high-quality fruit. Too many fruit
on a tree will result in damaged trees and pit-and-skin peaches.
Remember that it takes 191 peaches of a 1-3/4 inch diameter
to make a half bushel, while it only takes 79 peaches of a
2-1/2 inch diameter size to make the same half bushel.
Thinning is the hardest of all tasks for the
novice fruit grower. The idea of removing all of those "baby"
peaches is more than most of us can stand. But too many "babies",
especially 92 percent too many, would be bad on any "mommy".
These "babies" can break the "mommy's"
arms (limbs) and weaken the tree to the point of death.
Peaches should be thinned when the fruit is
still as small as a dime. Some say that the best effects of
thinning will be realized if thinning is accomplished at bloom
time. This is especially true with earlier-ripening types
such as June Gold. The longer the fruit has to mature under
the ideally thinned situation, the larger it will get --less
nutrient competition equals larger fruit. But I don't expect
that we have many homeowner peach growers with enough fortitude
to remove the beautiful blooms. I will be happy if you thin
the fruit at a dime-size stage!
Fruit should be thinned until all small peaches
are at least 3 to 6 inches apart on the branch and there are
no partner (side-by-side) fruit. This small fruit can be removed
by hand plucking or limb beating. Commercial producers use
a rubber hose on the end of a broom handle. The rubber hose
will not injure the limb upon impact.
When you complete this task, the ground will
be covered with small peaches, and you probably will say ugly
things about this columnist. I felt the same way upon completion
of my first thinning assignment. I couldn't see any peaches
left on the tree and knew that I had destroyed the entire
crop. That season, when the peaches ripened, the limbs were
broken by large luscious fruit --I had not thinned enough!
Since most of us are too squeamish and reserved when it comes
to the task of fruit thinning, nature usually gives us a helping
hand and finishes the job we started. A "natural"
fruit thinning will soon occur.
The shedding of unripened fruit from fruit trees
is often very alarming to the backyard gardener. About the
time one begins to count the fruit and breathes a sigh of
relief, the young fruit, for no apparent reason, begins to
fall. This wave of fruit drop is referred to as the "June
drop." Even though "June drop" occurs in June
in the northern states, its occurrences in Texas is usually
in April or May.
Actually, such shedding of fruit is a natural
process and with most fruit species, little if anything can
be done to prevent its occurrence. This is not to say that
there are certain cultural practices, which when neglected,
can contribute to fruit drop. This type of fruit drop may
occur in April or May. The exact time depends upon latitude
and upon species and varieties. The "June drop,"
may be highly beneficial: it properly thins the fruit early,
in time to promote the largest influence on size. Trees of
some species, such as peaches and plums, rarely drop enough
fruit and hand thinning is necessary.
The ability of fruit to hold on the tree is
directly related to its ability to produce a specific hormone
in its seeds. Some fruit species produce fruit with little
or no seed. The persimmon and the common fig produce no seeds
and their ability to hold on the tree is greatly influenced
by such external factors as moisture availability, nutrient
supplies, and insect and disease damage. In species like the
apple and pear, that have more than one seed per fruit cavity,
the fruit with the most developing seed tends to be the least
apt to fall. Usually a young fruit on a weak branch or on
a branch having weak or injured leaves near it is more apt
to fall than the fruit with the same number of seeds but on
a stronger branch. If the supply of nitrogen is low, more
fruit may fall in the "June drop" than if the nitrogen
supply is adequate. In the absence of an annual fertilizing,
one can expect more fruit to drop.
The water supply may also influence the number
of young fruit to fall. A water deficit may not be as critical
as too much water. In soils that are poorly drained, the roots
of the fruit tree are often injured due to low oxygen supplies
in the soil. In such cases, the roots do not absorb water
rapidly enough because of a limited root system to replace
the water lost from the leaves during dry, hot days. Likewise,
the soil may be so shallow that the root system is too small
to absorb water as fast as the leaf surface loses it. When
there is a severe water deficit, leaves of some species draw
water away from the fruit. This creates a water deficit in
the fruit. Such a deficit seems to be a strong influence towards