We have a bumper crop of fruit this year and trees are loaded. Not only are apples in abundance, people have also been telling me they have an abundance of peaches, nectarines, apricots and pears. Even my crabapples and currants are laden with fruit. This is exciting for home gardeners since last year's crop was almost nonexistent due to snow in early June. Add that to the fact that we generally only have a peach, apricot or nectarine crop every seven to 10 years and you can see why we are thrilled to have fruit this year.
With all the delight of finally having good fruit production, I'm starting to receive worried calls wondering why so many little apples and other fruits are falling off trees. Don't be alarmed; this is natural. It is the tree's self-thinning process and we call it "June drop." The scientific term for this process is "fruitlet abscission" or "premature fruit drop." Hot dry weather in late spring contributes to fruit drop.
While the amount of falling fruit may seem alarming, we will still have plenty of fruit left for eating. In fact, we will probably have to do additional thinning to regulate fruit load and improve fruit size. According to R. Jauron, at Iowa State University, additional thinning not only improves fruit size, it also will "allow development of flower buds for next year's crop thus overcoming the tendency for some fruit trees to bear fruit in alternate years; and prevent limb breakage."
To thin your fruit, space apricots two to four inches apart on a branch. Space peaches and nectarines three to five inches apart. Apples and pears produce in clusters. Leave the largest apple or pear in a cluster, unless there is something wrong with it. When crops are heavy, apples and pears should be spaced 6 to 8 inches apart on a branch. Cherries do not need thinning. Plums will generally thin themselves sufficiently.
To thin, first remove any damaged, diseased, insect-ridden or doubled fruit. If a branch is producing fruit on its entire length, thin more heavily at the terminal end. Also, consider leaving fruit on alternate sides of the branch if possible. Some people do all their thinning by hand, which is the best way. Others wrap the end of a pole in a cloth and strike individual fruit or clusters to remove a portion of fruit. The cloth prevents the pole from damaging the branches. Can't wait for fresh apple juice.
JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-2252.