Fruit Drop in Tree Fruits

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist;

Fruit trees commonly set more fruit than they will carry and chemical, mechanical, or hand thinning is done to reduce fruit loads, increase fruit size, and limit alternate year bearing. Natural fruit drop also occurs and is often called “May Drop” or “June Drop”. This is often accompanied by some leaf drop, especially in stone fruits.

Natural fruit drop is a result of unfertilized or poorly fertilized seeds, cold injury, competition between fruits, or shading. Poor pollination may be a result of cold, rainy weather during bloom in self-fertile fruits such as peaches or poor insect pollinator activity during flowering in insect pollinated fruits such as apples. In stone fruit, some fruit that is not fertilized will remain on the plant for 25-50 days after bloom and then will drop before pit hardening starts.

Another wave of natural fruit drop occurs in late May or early June. This fruit drop is due to competition between fruit for sugars stored and produced by the tree. A tree can only carry a certain load of fruit and will naturally drop smaller and weaker fruit during this period. However, thinning should have been accomplished before this competitive fruit drop occurs. Having fruit remain on the plant until natural competitive drop will use up food reserves in the plant and reduce the size potential of remaining fruit. Fewer cells will have been produced by the fruit remaining on the plant and therefore fruit size will not be recovered.

Another cause of fruit drop is cloudy weather during the period 5 to 7 weeks after bloom. A continuous 4-day period of cloudy days during this period will also cause fruit to drop. In addition, defoliation due to disease such as peach leaf curl, chemical injury such as copper fungicide damage, or severe storms can cause fruit drop during this critical period.