PHOTO: Daniel Johnson
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August 13, 2019

As we charge through August and near Labor Day, fruit trees across the country busily produce impressive crops of apples, pears, plums and more for autumn enjoyment.

Chances are, you’re waiting for the fruit on an apple tree or two to start ripening, but as the fruit grows larger, you might notice your trees are struggling to support the weight of their abundant crops. It’s relatively common for fruit trees to produce beyond their means. This, weighs down the branches so much that they snap and damage the tree.

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If this happens, you can get creative in trying to save the branches, but a smarter solution is to address the issue before any branches get broken. How can you help your trees produce fruit without damaging themselves in the process? Consider these ideas.


1. Thin the Fruit

In a perfect world, you would have thinned the fruit crop in the spring, three or four weeks after the tree blossomed, when the fruits were still small and the tree hadn’t put much effort into producing them. But farming is a busy job, so if time slipped away and you didn’t thin sufficiently (or at all), it doesn’t hurt to thin the fruit crop at this stage to ease the burden on the branches.

You can start by removing small, damaged or otherwise blotted fruit to see whether it makes a difference. If the branches don’t spring back up as much as you’d hoped, consider removing some of the larger fruit.

2. Build Branch Supports

If you hesitate to prematurely remove fruit that your tree worked hard to produce, consider giving helping it carry the load with branch supports. These can be simple and straightforward—a stick in the ground. They can also be more elaborate and protect the branches—say, metal T-posts with soft foam to protect the bark of the sagging branches.

A pretty easy approach I like to employ involves finding a long but sturdy branch in the woods, maybe half an inch thick, with a fork toward the end. Branches from ash trees are great. They’re strong but flexible. There’s a reason they’re the wood of choice for producing baseball bats and tool handles.

Once I find an ideal branch, I’ll trim it to size with my pruning loppers (leaving the two fork ends about three or four inches long) and shove the stick into the ground while propping the fruit tree branch in the center of the fork. The fork helps prevent the fruit tree branch from slipping out of position on windy days.

3. Prune the Tree

If you have a lot of trouble with fruit trees overproducing and breaking their own branches, your trees might be growing too vigorously. Long, spindly branches struggle to hold up even a modest fruit crop.

So think ahead. Consider pruning your fruit trees in late winter, cutting back long and overambitious branches to more reasonable lengths. Pruning trees in this manner helps the branches grow shorter and stouter so they can support larger crops of fruit in the future.

With a little time and effort, you can reap bountiful crops of fruit from healthy, undamaged trees. This is a victory for trees as well as farmers.

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