Fruit Trees - Essential Aftercare for Good Crops

Clean Up Leaves & Pruningsbasic care

When the crop is in, and winter is knocking on the door, rake up the fallen leaves and twigs from under your fruit trees. Then BURN them or take them to the DUMP. Do not compost them. More fungal infections overwinter on fallen fruit leaves than anywhere else.

When you have done that - clear a circle, down to bare earth around each tree with a radius of 30 cms (45 is better) and keep it clear if you can. It deters crawly pests, stops weed competition and makes mowing without bashing the trunks of your fruit trees much easier.

Pruning is like Surgery: Growth Follows the Knife

Pruning is a big topic, so two easy tips: 

Remove dead, damaged or diseased wood at any time, but do all other pruning at the right time of year. For most structrual pruning, that means when your fruit trees are dormant in late Autumn or Winter, on a mild day. Avoid pruning when the temperature is below zero.
The exception is stone fruit, which is the Prunus family such as cherries, plums, apricots, etc. These are prone to Silver Leaf disease and should be pruned when the sap is flowing, starting from Spring after bud break until late summer (Prun-us in Summer).

Use clean tools (wiped with a disinfectant such as Dettol between each cut) that are as sharp as possible to make the cleanest pruning cut. And then seal the wound with a pruning compound such as Medo or Prune 'n Seal.

Remove Up to 30% of the Fruit: Quality Over Quantity!

It is so tempting to let your fruit trees crop their socks off. Don't succumb to temptation.

In the year after planting, by all means let your trees flower, but remove ALL the fruitlets that form after flowering as soon as you see them.
Do not let your trees fruit within 12 months of planting as their energies need to be diverted into establishing a large root system to support future harvests. Not doing this can stress your tree and in extreme circumstances can kill it.

In subsequent years, in June you will see a lot of baby fruit fall off the tree. This is called the June Drop and is nature's way of making sure the tree does not stress itself by over-fruiting.
When the June drop is finished, do a bit more thinning - we have specific instructions for different types of fruit tree (and different varieties of fruit where necessary) elsewhere on this site, but in general reduce what the June drop has left by a further 25-30%, leaving fruit evenly spaced along the branch with room to grow.

Consistent Water for Moist, Not Wet, Soil

The single most common "ailment" in fruit trees is underwatering. It takes a lot of water to make an an apple or a plum.

All fruit trees need a steady, consistent even supply of moisture. Erratic watering (as in dry spells followed by wet spells) leads to excessive fruit drop, split fruit, misshapen fruit and so on. So, incorporate plenty of well rotted organic matter in the ground when planting. And then mulch well every year with more of the same. All organic matter helps improve the structure of the soil making moisture more available to tree roots and acting as a reservoir in dry periods.

At the same time, do not overwater: if the soil is already nice and moist, do not add more water that day.

Selecting an Orchard Site

Orchards on slopes shed frost

Frost is the single biggest enemy of fruit production. Cold air is heavy and slides downhill, so keep your orchard out of dips, valleys, hollows and sheltered flat ground. Because it is heavy it displaces warmer air, so the warmest spots at night tend to be 100-300 feet above sea level on a slope away from the prevailing wind.

Wind shelter 

Those warm, sunny southwest facing slopes also get the prevailing wind, which inhibits pollinating insects. A sheltered north-east facing slope is often better for fruit than an exposed south-western one.

Don't plant too high.

Above 300 feet, temperatures drop by 1 degree Fahrenheit for each 300 foot increase in altitude. There are successful orchards at 800 feet, but above that there are challenges; wind shelter is essential to protect your trees and allow pollination.

Get the soil right

The number one soil requirements are adequate drainage and sufficient moisture. The worst soil is potter's clay in a low-lying area that is underwater all winter and brick hard all summer. Fruit tree roots need to breathe and access to water to help swell their fruit. Good soil texture helps moisture retention: fruit splitting is a classic sign of an uneven water supply.

Fruit split

A disfiguring condition, not a disease, caused by an irregular supply of water. The splits usually occur when a protracted dry spell ends and the fruit swells too quickly.
Splits, often branched, usually not very deep, appear on the skin, allow diseases and pests to attack the otherwise healthy fruit. 

The remedy is to ensure your fruit trees have a steady supply of water, aided by mulch, and to improve the soil well at planting time if it is dry.

Good compost & mulch helps the soil retain moisture. Apply mulch every spring, when the soil has warmed up and is wet. 

Curing Biennial Fruiting

Apples and pears especially - can get into a habit of alternating heavy crops one year with carrying little or nothing the year after. 
Some varieties will crop this way naturally, and many others can be stressed into doing it, either by lack of water, and poor soil condition, or the weather: a spring frost leads to one year with no fruit, so the tree flowers and fruits extra heavily the next year, and the cycle begins. The "Beast from the East" of 2018" may well cause biennial fruiting in trees that previously cropped every year.

1. Keep the tree well fed and watered in dry spells from blossom until it has fruited. A newly planted tree will need a couple of full watering cans of water every two weeks for the first 2-3 years of its life. So the water goes where it is intended, keep a circle at least 1 metre in diameter around the trunk completely clear of grass and weeds. As the tree grows, make the circle bigger... A good mulch of compost/well-rotted manure over the circle in spring when the soil is wet works wonders. If you have not used Rootgrow, feed the tree in spring (before mulching) with a general-purpose granular fertiliser such as Growmore. Follow the instructions. 

2. Thin out the fruit on the tree when you have a heavy crop. This is always a good thing to do irrespective of whether the tree is a biennial fruiter or not. You get better quality fruit and by reducing the crop size, you stress the tree less and so encourage it to fruit the next year as well year.

3. Thin the fruit buds in early spring in a heavy fruiting year. This is called "rubbing out" and you literally rub them using your thumb and first finger. You can choose between rubbing out every fruiting bud on every other branch, every fruiting bud on every other spur or between half and two-thirds of the fruiting buds on every spur on the tree. Whichever you decide you will rub out the same number of buds on the tree. When selecting a method remember that you will need to do the same thing to the OTHER half of the buds next year. My favoured method is to do every other branch and tie a bit of raffia or garden twin to the branches I have done to remind me which ones to leave alone next year.

For those who are not sure, a fruit bud is a prominent, usually downy, rather plump bud that is obvious from autumn onwards. Leaf buds, by contrast, are smaller and tend to lie flat against stems.

If you are worried about which buds are which, then as quickly as possible after the flowers open cut every other blossom off.

The purpose of this "halving" is to restrict the heavy crop thereby allowing your tree to have enough in reserve when fruiting is over to produce fruit buds for next spring.

Fruit thinning improves your crop and makes young trees establish faster

Reducing the number of unripe fruit on a tree is called thinning, and it is beneficial for several reasons:

  • Fruit trees can produce such large crops that they end up small and misshapen.
  • A heavy crop one year often results in a poor, or non-existent one the following year (called biennial bearing), since fruits are often produced at the expense of the development of roots and shoots. This is especially true of young trees (see below). 
  • Thinning lets sunlight and air into the branches, which helps with ripening.
  • Branches are less likely to snap under a smaller crop. This is common with plum trees, especially heavy-cropping Victoria plums.
  • Thinning helps to stop the spread of diseases such as brown rot.
  • You may get fewer fruits if you thin them out, but they tend to be larger and better formed

Newly planted trees

It may seem drastic, but all fruit must be removed from any tree that’s been in the ground for less than a year. It won’t produce much in the first year anyway and, by sacrificing a small harvest, you will get a stronger, more productive tree in the long run. Removing the fruit in the second year is also a good idea, although less essential. Patience pays off! 

When and how to thin

Wait until mid-July, after the June drop, to thin your fruit. This way you avoid thinning out fruit that would have fallen naturally, thus ending up with a really sparse harvest. The amount you thin will depend on the type of fruit (see below). Use either secateurs, long scissors or your fingers to thin the fruit to the recommended spacing. Get rid of anything that’s blemished or misshapen, along with what’s known as the ‘king’ fruit at the centre of each cluster, which is often a strange shape. Aim to be left with the best shaped, strongest fruits, which will then mature to the best shaped, tastiest fruits.

… and by how much

  • Dessert apple: leave 1 per cluster, 10-15cm apart
  • Cooking apple: leave 1 per cluster, 15-20cm apart
  • Pears: leave 2 per cluster, 10-15cm apart
  • Plums: leave single plums, 5-10cm apart
  • Peaches and nectarines: 1 per cluster, 15-20cm apart

What is the ‘June drop’?

Lots of apple or pear fruitlets on the ground under your precious fruit trees in June long before they are ripe.

While the June Drop can look frightening, there’s usually no need to worry about it. In midsummer, most fruit trees shed some of their fruitlets. It’s a completely natural/normal process that ensures trees don’t overcrop and exhaust themselves. Fruit trees produce many more flowers than they need, as insurance against bad weather. If you get just one fruit from every 20 flowers or so your tree will still carry a full crop. The fruits that remain on the tree will develop normally, becoming bigger and better at the expense of the fruitlets lost earlier. With topfruit such as apples and pears, the June drop also means branches won’t become overburdened, then break. Shame it does not happen to plums...

Most fruit trees will thin themselves naturally like this, particularly apples and pears. However, stone fruit needs extra help with the thinning process, although cherries tend not to neither drop nor need thinning at all.  On an apple tree, the fruits that are lost are usually the size of gobstoppers. These can start falling in late June and carry on dropping until mid-July, with most lost about eight weeks after flowering.

So don’t start to thin out your fruits any further until you’re absolutely sure the drop has finished completely. If you do, you might find you’re left with nothing as fruits continue to fall after you thin.

When to act

Young trees often lose a higher proportion of their fruit in summer, as they’re directing their energies into producing good, strong shoots and roots. This is perfectly normal and losses will reduce as the tree ages.

However, if a tree is relatively mature and you’re certain it’s not your own thinning regime that’s affecting your yields, and you are getting a severe June drop year after year, then it’s worth taking a look at some other factors that might be relevant:

  • Light levels

If a tree is congested and light levels are low, it’s wise to prune the tree to let in more light.

  • Dry weather

If there’s not been much rain in spring (2020 would be an example of such a year) water really well at the roots and then mulch with a good 6-8cm of composted bark or garden compost to keep the moisture in.

  • Bad weather

When water, light and pruning don’t seem to be a problem, the tree might be suffering from a lack of energy. This is often the result of unfavourable weather (cool daytime temperatures, too much cloud or warm nights). In which case, fertilise in spring using a general fertiliser such as Growmore – always following the pack guidelines as, confusingly, too much nitrogen can also cause fruit loss.

Harvesting: How soon will my fruit tree crop? 

Almost all fruit trees will try to bear fruit in the year they are planted: don't let them.

1. In the year after planting, by all means let your fruit tree flower if it wants to, but as soon as the blossom has passed, pick ALL the tiny fruitlets on the end of the flower stalks off. Growing and ripening fruit requires tremendous effort on the part of the tree and your fruit tree is young and has not yet established. Let it take the whole of its first year of growth to do just that and to build up a rootstructure than can support fruiting.

2. In the following year, let it flower and then THIN the fruitlets so that no more than half remain. We recommend taking off at least 2 out of three and 3 out of 4 is even better. Provided the branches do not start bending as the fruit ripens you can let these stay on the tree until they are ready to pick.

3. In the third year just thin your crop to stop branches breaking under the weight of the fruit. Reduce fruitlet numbers by about a third and watch for signs of overloading.

4. In the fourth year there is no need to thin except to stop breaking branches. This will be an ongoing risk with the huge croppers such as Victoria plums, Howgate Wonder apples and Comice pears.


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Lorem ipsum

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Pellentesque sit amet sapien fringilla, mattis ligula consectetur, ultrices mauris. Maecenas vitae mattis tellus.


Lorem ipsum

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut et massa mi. Aliquam in hendrerit urna.

Pellentesque sit amet sapien fringilla, mattis ligula consectetur, ultrices mauris. Maecenas vitae mattis tellus.


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut et massa mi. Aliquam in hendrerit urna. Pellentesque sit amet sapien fringilla, mattis ligula consectetur, ultrices mauris.