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Easing Fruit Loads on Tree Branches

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There are few garden attractions that can make a budding horticulturist feel as accomplished as a well-producing fruit tree. They’ve done the hard work; they watered their tree, pruned it, and even took the time to make sure those pesky squirrels didn’t eat the fruit before it fully developed. So why, then, with a slight breeze, have they just witnessed their prized plant snapping in half?

Weight distribution can be one of fruit trees' more commonly overlooked maintenance requirements, and unfortunately, this can quickly spell disaster for them when left uncorrected. Luckily, a handful of different maintenance options are available for avoiding such calamity, and they all tackle the issue at varying points of the fruit’s development.

Before fruit or foliage has even formed, early spring is the recommended time for pruning fruit trees. What does pruning have to do with fruit weight management? Quite a lot.

One of the significant traits to look for when selecting branches to prune on a tree is the angle of attachment. The ideal angle for a sturdily attached tree branch is 45 degrees, or the angle between your thumb and index finger. Angles more acute than this are the ones to be considered for removal, as these are the ones that can bear less weight –leaving the tree prone to damage as the branches shear off.

Removing more than 30% of live growth from a tree in one year is never recommended when pruning. Ideally, aim for 15%-20%. Your pruning cuts are literal “surgical wounds” that your plants must allocate resources toward for recovery. Also, by removing limbs, you’re removing leaves, reducing photosynthesis and food for your tree.

A little further along in the fruit’s development, gardeners also have the option of thinning a fruit crop as it begins to form on the tree in clumps if their tree grows in such a way. How do they choose which to thin and which to keep? They look for the healthiest, least damaged, and largest among the cluster to keep and discard the others. This practice not only aids in weight management but also helps allocate the nutrients and resources of the tree to more specific areas for development.

A third maintenance stage is one that many trees are likely to be in very soon; full-sized fruit bearing. August is the time of year when many gardeners will add support to the branches of their pear and apple trees as the hefty stone crops begin to add significant weight to trees. These supports can be store-bought and as simple as a wooden plank propped between the branch and the ground. The caveat here is to minimize friction between the support and the branch and to minimize bark damage.

Rearing a fruit tree doesn’t have to be difficult, but it should be tackled with some strategy to keep enjoying the “fruits” of that labor.

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