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Vermont Garden Journal: An Essential Task For Maintaining Fruit Trees

The chore of thinning apple, pear, plum and peach trees is crucial for producing good quality fruit.
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The chore of thinning apple, pear, plum and peach trees is crucial for producing good quality fruit.

There are a few gardening chores that break your heart. I hate removing self-sown annual flowers and snipping off pepper flowers from young plants. But I mostly cringe at thinning my fruit trees. I work hard to grow a fruit tree to the mature fruiting stage, so removing any fruit seems like a crime. But thinning fruit trees is essential and you should do it now.

Apples, pears, plums and peaches all tend to set more fruit than they can support. Some of it naturally falls off the trees during the June drop, but even so, there's often more fruit on the tree than it can reasonably support.

Why thin? Thinning fruit trees is critical to good quality fruit and to discourage alternate bearing. Alternate bearing is when a fruit tree produces a ton of fruit one year then little of no fruit the next, then lots of fruit the subsequent year. Two ways to reduce alternate bearing is to prune properly and thin the excess fruits yearly. Too many fruits can also be too heavy for the branches. I've seen many a peach branch on the ground because it was loaded with fruit. And too many fruits creates small-sized fruits and encourages more diseases.

So, let's thin. Thin fruits when they're the size of a quarter. Thin apples and pears to eight inches apart, peaches to six inches apart and plums to four inches apart. Cherries generally don't need thinning. Simply snap off the young fruits with your fingers and collect them. Don't just let them drop on the ground because they may harbor diseases.

Now for this week's tip: to keep flower containers, hanging baskets and railing planters healthy, remember to fertilize regularly. You can use a time-release, granular, organic fertilizer that releases nutrients every time you water. However, it might still be a good idea to supplement that fertilizer with a liquid organic fertilizer, such as worm tea or fish emulsion, to perk up struggling flowers.

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