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Thin fruit to encourage growth

If you have peaches and nectarines, now is the time to start removing fruit so that the remaining fruit gets larger. Remove fruit that are gumdrop sized so that the fruit remaining on the limb is at least 4 inches apart. If the tree is not terribly healthy, then remove more fruit than this.

If you pick immature peaches or nectarines early when they are no larger than a large olive, try pickling them and packing them in oil for home use just as you would olives. They do this in the Mediterranean and Middle East where some people do not let any fruit go to waste.

Q: I live in the Mesquite area and have two nonproducing nectarines. One is a 7-year-old LeGrand and the other a 4-year-old Gold Mine. Both get plenty of flowers but no fruit. They are intermingled with plums, peaches and apricots — all producers. Any idea what could be wrong?

A: First of all, thank you for keeping track of the variety of fruit trees you have. I cannot tell you how many times I have talked with people and they have no idea what variety of fruit tree they planted. Selecting the right variety makes a world of difference in the quality of the fruit you produce.

I will tell you right now I have tried both of those varieties of nectarine and do not give them very high marks for flavor in our climate. I would get rid of them now and put in something better. I know Le Grand is an old-time favorite in other parts of the country but there are better varieties out there.

I also had one nectarine tree, unlike yours, that just would not flower . There was lots of healthy growth, but no flowers. It wasn’t the variety because we had five of this kind of tree and the other four did produce. I gave it a five-year chance and then replaced it. It should have gotten just three years but I felt generous. Generally speaking, if your fruit tree does not produce after three years of flowering, or you get three years in a row of bad tasting fruit, replace it.

If you want to stick with nectarines (this may turn into a regular spray program for thrips control down the road), then I would look very closely at Arctic Star, a white-fleshed nectarine, or, for yellow-fleshed types, Desert Dawn, Desert Delight or Double Delight. We have given all of these very high marks in fruit quality, and they are excellent producers.

Q: My 23-year-old nectarine is always loaded with fruit. I sent you a picture. I usually “thin” out the fruit when they’re quite small but I can’t seem to thin out enough so they get bigger. Should I remove the flowers now before the fruit forms or wait until the fruit is formed and then attempt to thin out? I know the tree in the picture is ugly but the fruit it bears is delicious.

A: I am not concerned with the looks of the tree but I am concerned that it has enough canopy to shade the branches, which helps prevent sunburn on the limbs and fruit. Sunburn damage on limbs attracts boring insects and increases the decline of the tree.

Since the leaves are responsible for collecting solar energy and converting this solar energy into chemical energy in the form of sugars, the number of leaves compared to the number of fruit is a pretty critical relationship if you want larger fruit. You want anywhere between 50-70 healthy leaves for every good-sized fruit.

I know you won’t go around counting the leaves to determine the number of fruit to remove but it gives you an idea that if you don’t have a good canopy of leaves, then you will have to remove a lot of fruit.

This is why it is important for your tree to have good canopy development from proper pruning. This allows sunlight to penetrate onto leaves inside the canopy. Leaves growing in shade produce fewer sugars and may actually rob sugars from developing fruit.

This is why we tell people to leave fruit spaced an average of 4-6 inches apart on the fruit-bearing limbs. Start removing fruit when they are the size of your thumbnail.

I would not remove flowers as an alternative to thinning the fruit. You don’t know which flowers are going to set fruit and which ones will not. You might leave flowers that don’t set any fruit.

Harvest your fruit when they are still firm but have developed their full color. It is acceptable that there is just a little bit of green left on the fruit at the time of harvest. It depends on the variety.

This helps avoid a lot of bird damage to the fruit. The birds like to get them when the sugar content is starting to climb. Following Murphy’s Law, this is nearly always the day before you decide to pick them. Pick soft fruit at the first sign of bird damage and let undamaged fruit ripen on the kitchen counter for a couple of days. After they ripen, put them in the refrigerator to help preserve their freshness.

Q: Help! I planted my bare-root Pink Lady last Feb. 4 and now it’s flowering. I’m happy to see the blossoms; they’re pretty and smell good. This is the first time I planted an apple tree, now I don’t know what to do next. Should I just let it blossom and fruit?

A: Just be calm and take a deep breath. It is OK for your tree to flower. If you go back to some of the old textbooks on fruit trees, it may tell you that some trees take six to eight years to bear fruit. Well there is some truth to that, but with newer varieties bred for precociousness (early production) and budded on to dwarfing rootstocks, it is not unusual to have fruit trees begin to bear fruit after only a year or two in the ground. The question then becomes is it wise to leave the fruit on the tree or remove it?

Some very good gardeners are of the opinion that all fruit should be removed so that the energy of the tree goes into growth rather than split between tree growth and fruit production. Others say to let the tree go ahead and produce some fruit but remove most of it for the same reason.

I am of the latter. If you have some fruit being produced, then enjoy a few the first year and a few more the second until you maximize its production for its size. As it increases in size it can be allowed to carry more fruit.

Remember to whitewash the tree to help prevent sunburn. Cover all the branches and the trunk with diluted white latex paint. This is a mixture, one-to-one, with water. Make sure you cover the west and south sides of the trunk and tops of the branches.

Let it flower. Thin the fruit to one apple per cluster as soon as the fruit forms. Keep mulch at least 6 inches away from the trunk the first few years. Remove the stake this fall. That’s about it. I hope you get a couple of pieces of fruit this year.

Bob Morris is a horticulture expert living in Las Vegas. Visit his blog at xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com.

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