Why do fruit trees sometimes boom and sometimes bust? It can be perplexing, especially when you are convinced you haven’t done anything differently from the year before. This story is especially for Rosalyn, who asked that question. It’s a bit of a long one, so grab a cuppa and get comfy.
There are two principles at play here, one is about energy, and the other is about reproduction.
⚡️ Energy – not an endless supply
Trees draw a finite amount of energy from the soil and the sun in one growing season. This energy is used to perform three basic functions – growing foliage, branching and future fruiting buds, fighting disease and wound-healing of damage, and reproducing with development of this seasons fruit.
Knowing this can help us manage our fruit trees and understand why we can’t have it all at the same time. It helps to keep in mind that your fruit tree has just one bucket of energy to use, and may use it all to achieve the most pressing need, sacrificing the other aims temporarily.
This might explain some of the less than ideal seasons you may have from time to time, for example:
- Hard pruning a storm-damaged old tree results in no fruit for two years. Don’t panic, its just concentrating on repair.
- Serious infestion of aphids on your plum tree results in stunted leaf growth and no fruit at all. It is fighting the attack, but action in winter will likely fix it (this happened to us this season)
- A fruit-frenzy last season that you forgot to control means the poor thing is totally exhausted. It’ll likely rest from fruit for a bit.
- You’ve never thinned out fruit or pruned off damaged branches and now the tree is tired and open to pest attack.
- Super-keen pruning in winter (the wrong season for stone fruit) has left your peach tree unable to heal cuts quickly enough and fungal infections have set in.
Be mindful of the demands you make of your trees. Prune too much and tree will focus more on regrowth; fruit too much and the tree may be tired for a while; get a pest attack and the tree may slow everything else just to cope.Fruit trees are a long term venture. You’ll learn from experience each year as to how each type of fruit tree responds to your actions.
🍑 Reproduction – what trees want
Trees are programmed to survive and reproduce. That’s it. In our fruit trees, there is no evolutionary preference for big, juicy, tasty, pretty or trendy fruit. They want to produce as many fruit as possible, as quickly as possible, to drop and rot, or be eaten and dispersed by birds and animals, to grow as many new trees as possible, to maximise chances of survival. Period.
Thousands of years of human intervention to breed, prune, graft, select and manipulate fruit trees to get what WE want would be for nothing if fruit trees were left to their own devices long enough. They would all pretty soon revert back to this basic truth. The answers often as to why a tree might frenzy-fruit or not are often in how at risk the tree senses it is – ‘quick ,quick, punch out heaps of fruit to reproduce, we are on the way out!’
EXAMPLE: Cherry trees that get a lot of water and ideal growing conditions can slip into a happy dream, shooting big lush foliage upwards without bothering to fruit. This happened to us this year with all the Spring La Niña rain we had. Conditions a little more stressed in spring can prompt a heavy crop of insurance fruit. Good to know.
✂️🍏 Steady on there, tiger.
Fruit trees always punch out far more blossoms than they need. Think about how crowded lovely blossom trees are – if every one of those flowers became fruit, the poor tree would fall over with the weight!
If they do all pollinate, and lots of fruitlets form, then the tree may well jettison some in early summer that are damaged or weak from lack of nutrition. This is known as ‘early fruit-drop’, and is totally normal, but you may STILL end up with way too many powering ahead to be sensible.
Crowded fruit have no air flow, and encourage pests and disease to thrive between them and attack fruit. Energy is drained from the tree, and the weight can cause damage. Thinning is essential.
😭 I know, I know, it feels like sacrilege to remove fruit, but get used to it! Remove fruit that is touching others, smooshed against a branch, preventing good air flow, or weighing down the branch to the point of breaking. You will be so glad you did. What is left develops into large, juicy fruit that the tree can happily replicate year after year without tiring. This is the key to managing your fruit trees, and is a sign of good fruit tree parenting.
Look wide; grow well, folks 🌿