By: Amy Grant
If you have a nectarine tree, then you know that they tend to set a lot of fruit. Certain fruit trees set more fruit than the tree can handle — among these are apples, pears, plums, tart cherries, peaches and, of course, nectarines. If you wish to increase the size of fruit, thinning is of paramount importance, so the question is, “How to thin nectarines?”
Thinning nectarine trees allows the energy of the tree to go toward selected fruit, engendering larger, healthier fruit. Nectarine fruit thinning also reduces the possibility of breaking a limb due to overly burdened branches. There is another reason for thinning out nectarines: nectarine fruit thinning increases the plant’s ability to produce flower buds for the successive year. To accomplish the second goal when thinning nectarine trees, the thinning must be done early.
So how do you go about thinning nectarines? Thin excess nectarines when the fruit is about the size of the end of your little finger. I suppose everyone’s little finger end is a bit different in size, so let’s say about ½ inch across.
There isn’t a quick way to thin nectarines; it must be done by hand, patiently and methodically. Timing will vary according to variety somewhat. Once the fruit has attained a size of between ½ and 1 inch in diameter, it goes into a bit of a dormant phase, not gaining in size for a week or so. This is the time to thin the nectarines.
Simply select healthy looking fruit and remove others surrounding it, spacing the selected fruit 6-8 inches apart to allow them to grow. If the fruit set is overly abundant, you can thin fruit to 10 inches apart on the branch.
Remove damaged fruit first. Next, remove fruit that is at the tip of branches that can potentially drag the limb down due to weight and break it. Start at the tip of a branch and systematically remove fruit. It may seem painful to remove all those young nectarines, but if it helps, keep in mind that only about seven to eight percent of the flowers are needed to set a full crop of fruit. You won’t regret it in the end when you sink your teeth into a big, juicy nectarine.
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Read more about Nectarines
Nectarine trees (Prunus persica var. nectarina) are simply fuzzless peaches, and the same problems you have with peach trees can be experienced by nectarine trees. These fruit trees grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 8. If your trees do not produce fruit that are as large as you expected them to be, there could be a problem with how you are caring for the tree or it may be natural for the particular variety of nectarine you are growing. The only way to know is to check your gardening habits and the nectarine variety to be certain you are doing everything correct for your tree to grow full-sized fruit.
Pruning is a very important part of proper fruit tree care, but many people find the task overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be! Keep these things in mind:
NOTE: This is part 8 in a series of 11 articles. For a complete background on how to grow nectarine trees , we recommend starting from the beginning.
When your tree is dug up from our fields to be shipped to you, the root ball loses many of its tiny feeder roots, which are needed to absorb moisture and nutrients. Pruning helps balance the top growth of your tree with the root system, giving the roots time to re-establish in your yard before spring growth.
When your Stark Bro’s bare root tree arrives, our professionals have already pre-pruned your tree for you. Because of this, you DO NOT need to prune them again when you plant. The only pruning done at this time would be any broken branches or roots.
Plan to prune your fruit trees during every dormant season. In Zone 6 and farther north, you should wait until late winter. A good reference book, such as Pruning Made Easy, can be invaluable for answering questions and guiding you through the pruning process.
Note: The basic rule for pruning the Crimson Rocket Peach is to do more thinning cuts than heading cuts.
Fruit trees develop better if they’re pruned at the right times in the right ways. Here’s how:
Remove weak, diseased, injured or narrow-angle branches, the weaker of any crossing or interfering branches, and one branch of forked limbs. Also remove upright branches and any that sweep back toward the center of tree. You want to keep your tree from becoming too thick and crowded some thinning is necessary to permit light to enter the tree and to keep its height reasonable. All these objectives promote improved bearing, which is your overall aim. You’ll be pleased with the results.
Select and maintain three to five main scaffold limbs arising from the trunk to control the shape of the tree. These limbs should point in different directions and originate no less than 18” and no more than 36” from the ground, balancing growth evenly between the scaffold limbs. Those branches remaining in the center above the primary scaffold branches or any growth below the scaffold branches should be cut off. Any growth arising on scaffold branches within 6” of the trunk should be removed.
If for some reason the primary scaffold branches could not be selected the previous season, they may be chosen at this time. All branches above or below the scaffold branches should be removed. Avoid cutting (heading) the main scaffold branches unless necessary to maintain balance in the tree. If one scaffold branch dominates the tree, it should be headed back to a size proportionate with the others. It is necessary to have all scaffold branches growing at approximately the same rate to maintain a well-balanced tree.
Prune back to 28-36” above the ground at planting time. After the new branches have grown 3-5”, select a shoot to become the leader and scaffold limbs.
Sometimes pruning needs to be done even when the season isn’t the best. If a branch is broken by the wind or by a heavy load of fruit, emergency treatment is necessary. Prune back the ragged edges making a smooth cut that leaves no stubby stump. Fast-growing “water sprouts” can be removed as soon as you see them rather than waiting until winter.
There are several reasons to thin fruit:
Home gardeners thin fruit trees by hand. During May and June, many fruit trees will drop or abort fruit. This is a natural process that allows the tree to mature the crop load.
Trees may bear biannually, that is bear fruit every other year, bear heavy one year, then light the next year. Thin the heavy crop to correct bearing habit.
The best time to thin apricot trees is when fruit is 1 inch in diameter. Because trees are heavy producers, apricots should be severely thinned. Space fruit 6 inches apart after frost hazard has passed.
Best time to thin peach and nectarine fruit is when its about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Spacing fruit 6 to 10 inches apart on the branch.
Follow the same principles used after the first growing season. First, remove low-hanging, broken, and/or diseased limbs. To maintain the open center, remove any vigorous upright shoots developing on the inside of the tree, leaving the smaller shoots for fruit production. Prune out poor-quality fruiting wood, such as shoots less than pencil-size in diameter or branches that hang downward and are shaded. The desirable wood left for production should be about the diameter of a pencil and from 12 to 18 inches in length. If the length exceeds 24 inches, cut off about one-third of this fruiting branch. Finally, prune the vigorous upright limbs on the scaffolds by cutting them back to an outside-growing shoot.
The same principles used to develop the tree are used annually to maintain the size and shape of the mature peach tree. Remove low-hanging, broken, and dead limbs first. Next, remove the vigorous upright shoots along the scaffolds. Lower the tree to the desired height by pruning the scaffolds down to an outside-growing shoot at the desired height.
Prune out extremely vigorous shoots developing on the inside of the tree because they shade out the center. Leave the small shoots alone. Do this in early or mid-July. Never prune a bearing peach tree heavily enough to make eventual thinning of the fruit unnecessary. Such heavy pruning drastically reduces the crop as well as the size of the tree. Lightly head back terminal growth on the scaffold limbs to outward-growing laterals to maintain the open center or bowl-shaped tree. The objective is to open up the tree to allow sunlight penetration and air movement and to improve spray coverage. When the tree is well-grown, pruning consists mainly of moderate thinning and heading cuts back to outward-growing laterals to keep the tree low and spreading. A height of 8 to 9 feet is preferred.
Pruning: Remember to prune your tree's branches equally (this is called balancing). You should balance your multi-grafted Fruit Salad citrus tree every 2-3 weeks during the growing phase of Spring & Summer and as the weather cools, once a month for best results!
When your stonefruits have nearly finished fruiting it's a good time to reduce some of their leaf canopy, allowing light to reach the last of the ripening fruit. On both nectarines and peaches it is advisable to remove branches that have fruited as they fruit only on new growth.
Notes: If you live in a fruit fly prone area then fruit fly preventatives are a must - consider bagging your fruit for protection.
While I started by planting nectarine seeds to sprout my Grandma’s nectarine tree, this method works with other stone fruit varieties as well. I’ve been successful in starting several plum trees this way, too. Peaches, plums, and apricots are all worth trying. This is a plum pit sprouting:
Will these nectarine trees grow true to seed? It’s hard to say, but my understanding is that unlike some fruit — apples and pears, say — stone fruit trees are more likely to produce offspring with the same flavor and characteristics.
The nectarine trees I’ve planted from seed have all produced fruit in their third year. It certainly can’t hurt to try!
As a tree, peaches and nectarines are the same species, Prunus persica. Nectarine fruit is fuzz-free, and somewhat smaller and sweeter than the peach. Peach trees may sometimes grow nectarines, and nectarine trees may grow peaches, but professional growers control their crop by growing grafted branches that previously produced nectarines, and grafting them onto peach trees. Fuzziness is a dominant trait, but if your peach trees decide to go rogue and produce a nectarine crop, consider it a two-for-one bonus.