There’s nothing better for a gardener than seeing a fruit tree laden with blossom and then young fruit – and nothing worse than seeing your crop ruined when the branches snap.
Many healthy fruit trees drop fruit naturally in the ‘June drop’. Where a heavy crop has set, too many fruitlets may remain on the branches. Deliberate thinning of the fruitlets produces better-sized, ripe and healthy fruits.
This is particularly true of plums, which are not great at regulating the size of their crops.
If the branches don’t snap, you’ll get a huge crop one year and the tree will wear itself out, bearing little or no fruit the next year. This is why it’s vital to thin plums in early summer.
Thinning allows sunlight and air to penetrate the canopy, improving ripening and reducing the spread of pests and diseases.
The tree is able to make good growth and develop fruit buds for the following year.
Using your thumb and forefinger, remove fruitlets to leave one every 5-8cm. Finish thinning by mid-July.
Heavily laden branches may need extra support with stakes and ties even after thinning.
Once fruit has set, they may need thinning again to ease weight in the canopy, as well as to boost fruit size (you could cook with these plums).
Nitrogen-based fertilisers and watering can really boost the crops of plums, gages and damsons.
Apply a mulch of well-rotted farmyard manure in mid-spring, supplemented with a top-dressing of dried poultry pellets, plus a top-dressing of sulphate of potash in late winter.
To get the best flavour, plums need to ripen on the tree, so pick over several times, as they ripen quickly and in a glut.
Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist who runs www.mandycanudigit.com.
A plantaholic with roots firmly planted in working-class NE England, she aims to make gardening more accessible to the often excluded – the less able, the hard-up or beginners.
Advocate of gardening for better mental health.