After watching your fruit trees flower out spectacularly in the spring and then seeing the tiny fruits beginning to form, it is devastating to see them start to fall in large numbers from the tree before they mature. Don’t panic: this is normal for fruit trees. The behavior even has a name; June fruit drop. In warmer climates, though the fruit drop may occur a month or two earlier, in May or even late April.
June fruit drop refers to the natural tendency of fruit trees to shed some of their immature fruits. It is a biological adaptation of the species, which exists to protect the overall health of the fruit crop. Fruit trees often set more flowers than they need for a full crop as a means of offsetting the possibility of sudden losses from weather or other cultural factors. According to Purdue University Consumer Horticulture, “Only one bloom in 20 is needed for a good crop on a full-blossoming apple tree.”
What Causes June Fruit Drop?
Fruit trees set fruit so that they can produce seed. Too large a crop will strain the tree’s resources and result in smaller fruits, possibly of lesser quality. So the tree protects itself and the quality of its seed by automatically thinning the crop once it senses weather and growing conditions are stable. The immature fruits are all competing for the same food and water, and the June drop ensures that only the strongest survive.
Fruits that contain few seeds are the first to drop.
Fruit trees may actually start this thinning process earlier in the season by shedding some flowers that weren’t pollinated. This rarely alarms anyone, since we expect flowers to fall. But when you see actual fruits starting to fall, it becomes more alarming unless you understand the reasons.
Is There Anything You Can Do to Lessen June Fruit Drop?
Trees that healthy and in good growing situations will have a greater percentage of healthy fruit and therefore will drop less immature fruit. You can make sure your fruit trees get plenty of water and also that they’re not sitting in wet soil. But preventing June fruit drop entirely is not something you should strive for. The tree and its fruit will grow best if the immature fruit is thinned slightly. In fact, some fruit trees don’t naturally thin themselves enough and need some help from us. Fruits that don’t have a lot of seeds, like stone fruits (peaches, plums, nectarines), figs and persimmons usually need hand thinning in order to produce the best fruit crop. Oddly, and for reasons not fully understood, cherry trees seem to be able to hang onto all their fruit without any problems.
Accepting June Fruit Drop
The bottom line is that June fruit drop is not just normal but is actually good for the fruit tree, and for you, too. You’ll not only get larger fruits, but the branches of your fruit trees will be lighter and less likely to break or require propping up.