While you’re thinning…

It’s the time of year to start thinning your apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums (too early for apples and pears in our part of the world yet). We’ve explained the basics of thinning here.

Apart from the four main reasons you should be thinning all your fruit trees, it’s also just a great time to get out among your fruit trees, which gives you a chance to notice things like this.

A young apricot in close proximity to flowers that have died from Blossom blight disease
A young apricot in close proximity to flowers that have died from Blossom blight disease

There’s no thinning to do here – there’s only one apricot in this site, and it has plenty of room to grow during the season.

But while you’re checking all your fruit, you may notice instances like this where diseased flowers or shoots are touching the fruit.

It’s hard to see but the apricot is attached to the branch on the left hand side of the photo, and touching a diseased part of another branch on the right hand side that is covered with dead flowers infected with a fungal disease Blossom blight.

The disease that causes Blossom blight in flowers also causes Brown rot in fruit later in the season, so left alone, the fruit is very likely to develop Brown rot at the spot where the diseased flowers are touching.

A clean apricot with plenty of space around it to grow into
A clean apricot with plenty of space around it to grow into

So it’s super important to remove the diseased twigs either by pruning them out (it’s always a great idea to keep your secateurs in your pocket while you’re thinning) or just remove them with your fingers.

Doing a spot of summer pruning at the same time as thinning
Doing a spot of summer pruning at the same time as thinning. 
Photo credit: Biomi photo

Depending on your climate most peach, nectarine and plum varieties will have finished flowering by mid-spring and you can see whether or not they’re going to have a good crop and get the thinning well underway.

Though thinning is a crucial job in the lifecycle of your fruit tree, it’s also a quiet and reflective time to spend a dedicated half hour or so with your tree and having a really good look at what’s going on. Enjoy!

Things that can go wrong with apricots

We love apricots, but we hate them a little bit too, because they get SO many diseases, are prone to frost, and can generally be very fussy to grow.

An Earlicot apricot showing rain cracking
An Earlicot apricot showing rain cracking

This photo is a variety called ‘Earlicot’, which, as you’ve probably guessed, is very early! We planted them because they help to start the fruit season earlier which spreads the harvest over a longer period and therefore increases food security.

But there’s also a downside to this variety – they like to crack! They are particularly prone to doing this in a wet year, but even in a relatively dry spring some of them always crack regardless.

From a home garden point of view they’re not a dead loss, as they’ll usually hang on to the tree and ripen anyway, and can be used for jam or preserving (or eating, if you don’t care what they look like!).

Another thing that can happen at this time of year is a disease called Freckle.

A young apricot showing signs of Freckle
A young apricot showing signs of Freckle

Freckle can even show up on your leaves…

A freckle infection on apricot leaves
A freckle infection on apricot leaves

A really bad case will definitely downgrade an apricot from a “first” to a “second” grade, but this is usually just a cosmetic problem that affects the skin, and the fruit underneath will be perfectly good to eat and delicious.

It’s just one of a number of fungal diseases that can affect different types of fruit, and is prevented with a spray regime using organic fungicides, as well as good hygiene practices.

Last but not least, here’s a great example of how resilient your apricot tree can be, and how it can turn something bad into something good.

An apricot tree growing out of a Blossom blight infection
An apricot tree growing out of a Blossom blight infection

You can see the remnant evidence of Blossom blight on this shoot, where the flowers rotted and died, and then the shoot also died back. But the tree has managed to isolate the disease, stop it spreading any further back towards the trunk, and has then put out three magnificent new, strong shoots – healthy new growth to replace the old!

Apricots are fussy, but they’re also tough – and of course they’re absolutely worth persevering with because they are one of those fruits that suffer most from modern picking and storage techniques, making it hard to find that “home-grown” deliciousness when you buy them off the shelf. If you’re keen to go pro with your apricot tree check out our short course devoted to all things apricot-y.

Hello peaches…

Anzac peaches need thinning
Anzac peaches need thinning

The Anzac peaches (one of the first to flower at our place) have set a good crop as usual, and it’s time to start thinning.

This is a good time of year to start assessing the impact of a couple of common diseases that can play havoc with our fruit trees, often without our realising it. 

You’ll also be thinning your apricots soon (if you haven’t already started), so while you’re doing so, it’s a good time to be looking our for signs of blossom blight in your tree.

Castlebrite apricot tree with blossom blight
Castlebrite apricot tree with blossom blight

Even though this disease does most damage when the tree is flowering, it can also affect the fruit that has set – because the disease that causes blossom blight also causes brown rot.

It’s not unusual to see remnants of it alongside healthy apricots, if you’ve had a mild case.

Flowers infected with blossom blight
Flowers infected with blossom blight

If you notice any of these diseased flowers on your apricot tree and you also have healthy fruit, it’s a good idea to knock or prune any diseased flowers and shoots off, for two reasons.

The first is that they can contribute to disease outbreaks next year, but the more urgent reason is that the pathogen that causes blossom blight also causes brown rot later in the season, and developing fruit is very vulnerable, as you can see in the following photo:

Photo showing Brown rot infection of a young apricot (blue arrow) that started from a flower that died due to Blossom blight infection (red arrow)
Photo showing Brown rot infection of a young apricot (blue arrow) that started from a flower that died due to Blossom blight infection (red arrow)

The other disease to check for is leaf curl, which is usually fairly obvious, the red leaves are a dead giveaway.

Leaf curl on a peach tree
Leaf curl on a peach tree

Only peaches and nectarines are affected by this tree, and if you’ve had a really bad case, it can also affect the fruit, so this is another thing to be looking out for while you’re thinning because you may as well pull the infected fruit off.

Affected fruit looks like this:

Leaf curl infection on a Goldmine nectarine
Leaf curl infection on a Goldmine nectarine

It’s not uncommon to end up with one of these infections despite having sprayed, which is super annoying.

There’s a couple of potential reasons for this. The first is that you may not have the right spray equipment for the size of the job you need to do – you can review the various options in this short course (because if you’ve gone to the trouble and effort of spraying, it would be really good to make sure it’s going to work!)

The second reason is that you may not have got the timing quite right, and the right conditions were in place for the fungal disease to take hold in the tree unimpeded.

Of course the long term aim is to get our orchard and trees healthy enough so they don’t need spraying, but while we’re building this biodiverse paradise, a bit of crop protection can go a long way!