Fruit Drop Seen by Some Home Fruit Growers

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My part of the world has been hit with an inordinate amount of rain in recent weeks. Now that the rain has slowed and warm temperatures have set in, we are seeing some of the unwanted results of excessive rain.

My old friend Joe Noel called earlier and asked why nearly all his plums had dropped from the tree. He has seen this before through the years. There will be no insect or disease issues to be found on the tree – just small, undeveloped fruit all over the ground.

When fruits and vegetables fail to produce fruit and appear to otherwise be in good health and have no apparent issues, I always go to lack of pollination as a likely culprit. If the blooms of your fruit tree were never pollinated by one of our much-needed pollinating insects, then there will be no fruit.

We can safely assume that not a single person reading this has picked a plum, or bought fruit from the grocer thinking about the viability of the seed within it. We really don’t care if the seed will germinate or not. I’m just excited about the sweet fruit surrounding the seed.

But the plant that bears the fruit, is bearing fruit in order to perpetuate itself with its seeds.  If the flower has not been pollinated then the seed will not be viable. The tree knows if the seed is viable and, if not, will drop the fruit and save its resources for next year’s crop.

The next question is “why wasn’t it pollinated?” If you have paid any attention to the gardening press releases for the past several years, you know that we need to be mindful of protecting pollinators. Most folks think about honeybees as the primary (and perhaps only) pollinator, but in fact we are blessed with a huge number of pollinators.

These pollinators include butterflies, moths, wasps, flies, beetles, hummingbirds, and all kinds of native bees that may live solitary lives quite different from the hive structure of honeybees.

I always ask folks if they saw any insects working the flowers while their trees were in bloom. Of course, spraying fruit trees with any kind of insecticide, organic or otherwise, is a huge no-no during bloom. Honestly, while we admire the blooming trees, many of us don’t study the blooms for pollinators during that time.

Now, if pollinators are present in your garden, and you’ve noticed them working on other plants, I wonder about the weather when Joe’s plums were in bloom. If his plums were blooming during the extended time of cloudy, rainy weather, then the likelihood of pollinators getting out to do their work during the rain is greatly reduced.

I remember visiting with a peach grower outside of Tyler some years ago. It was early April when we were talking, and he was already saying his peach crop was going to be a failure. I asked how he figured that out so early in the season. He confidently replied that during the peak bloom of his peaches, there was a string of wet, rainy days without sunshine. The honeybees that he cared for and relied upon are just not that great at working in the rain.

Rain does keep our prized honeybees from foraging and pollinating. Though the bees can certainly still fly in a light shower, they prefer not to do so and certainly don’t head out during heavy rain. Even cloudy weather can put them in a foul mood. Ask any beekeeper, we prefer to work hives in the middle of a calm, sunny day when the workers are out gathering pollen and nectar. When we open the hive during a windy, wet, overcast day, those workers are still in the hive and cranky.

As I think happened this year to my friend Joe, recent rainy weather will hamper production of those fruits and vegetables that bloomed during the wet, rainy weather.

 Looking ahead, rain seems to be much less in the foreseeable forecast and the hot weather with temperatures in the 90’s is already upon us. I do have more peaches on my Red Indian peach tree. I’ve just got to keep them safe from pests till they are ripe.

Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

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