Dropped fruit drives tree owner plum crazy – The Virginian-Pilot – The Virginian-Pilot

For the past two years, my plum tree has produced plenty of fruit, but they all drop off while still very small. What am I doing wrong?
– P.L. Samuels, Norfolk
Do we have a plum tree? We thought this was a peach tree. It was one of the many trees that had sprung up from our mulch pile, and we knew we had thrown peach pits in there. But the fruit does not look like a peach. I don’t know how a plum got in there. Maybe a bird brought us a present.
– Iris Vann, Suffolk
First to Ms. Vann in Suffolk: Yes, you have a plum tree, based on the photo you sent me.
As for why a plum tree drops fruit, there are several causes.
Trees compensate for conditions like late frost, insect damage and drought stress by producing more blossoms or fruit than it can carry to ripening. In years when these factors do not affect the tree, the owners may need to thin the fruit themselves, leaving a space between plums of 3 to 4 inches.
If all the blossoms developed into fruit, the limbs would break from the weight.
A common cause for fruit dropping is a lack of pollination. An indicator of poor pollination is that the tree develops many small plums that soon shrivel and drop off, usually while still green.
Some plum trees are “self-pollinating” but do better with at least one other tree close by, so always plant at least two. Make your yard pollinator-friendly by planting lots of flowers, leaving some clover in the yard and, for gosh sakes, do not hire someone to spray your property for mosquitoes!
Insects can also be a problem. The two most common are borers and the plum curculio.
Borers do just that, bore into the tree. They are very common here, and all fruit-tree trunks should be inspected often for signs of small holes, sometimes with sawdust-looking material around the hole, and sometimes with sap running down the trunk.
Kill each borer by sticking a small wire in the hole with slight force, and then seal the hole with a dab of wood glue.
The plum curculio attacks the unripe fruit of many trees by drilling a hole and laying its eggs in the fruit. The site will leave a dark pockmark, causing the unripe fruit to drop.
Keeping the area under the tree free of dropped fruit will interrupt their life cycle and also help with the last cause of fruit drop: disease. Several fungal diseases are more common to fruit trees, especially here with our high humidity. They can be kept in check by regular applications of a fungicide.
If you mulch around your trees, keep it to no more than 2 inches deep. Resist the trend of piling mulch, sometimes a foot or more, against the tree trunk. Mice love to spend the winter in this piling, where they also can eat the bark.
Treat your fruit trees with an all-in-one fruit-tree spray once a month during the growing season, April through November.
Do it on a calm day, and time it so you’re not spraying when the tree is in bloom. Pruning should be done in mid- to late winter. Start by removing dead wood and eliminating any crossing branches. Then prune to a height that makes harvesting and spraying easy.
Have you seen any monarch butterflies yet? Several readers have, and one reader sent a photo of a butterfly laying eggs on milkweed. Upload your photos to my Facebook page.
ASK US If you have a garden gem, question or tip, send an email to Tim Mansfield at tgardenman@gmail.com or in his care to Home + Living, The Virginian-Pilot, 150 W. Brambleton Ave., Norfolk, VA 23510. Or visit his Facebook page, Tgardenman.
Copyright © 2022, The Virginian-Pilot
Copyright © 2022, The Virginian-Pilot

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