A tree laden with a full crop of developing fruit is a wonderful sight, but there can be too much of a good thing. Our pear cordons are putting on a great show this year. I had thinned some out, but still they are groaning under the weight of the crop. Except one. It tried groaning, but gave up. The top couple of feet broke away under the weight, snapping the cane it was tied to for training purposes, and dragging the supporting wire down.

The broken branch, brought down by the large crop of pears
The broken branch, brought down by the large crop of pears

The pears – Duchess d’Angouleme – are only a couple of weeks from picking, so I brought the broken branch indoors where the pears may yet ripen well enough. The cordon, though, is now rather shorter than I would like. I pruned the split branch neatly, and it may develop a new shoot now that the terminal shoot is lost, but this is older wood, and perhaps it will remain like this now indefinitely. It is still carrying an impressive crop, and plenty of well developed fruiting wood, so it could be worse.

It is a timely reminder of the importance of proper thinning. It is not just the risk of damaged stems, either. A tree, regardless of size, can only bring a certain amount of fruit to perfection. Allowing it to bear more diminishes the size and quality of the fruit. Bearing a heavy crop in one year can also lead to a poor crop the following year, as energies are expended to develop this year’s fruit at the expense of next year’s fruit buds. This can result in what is commonly referred to as biennial cropping. Some varieties, particularly of apples, have a tendency towards biennial cropping anyway and need judicious thinning to discourage this. One can attempt to break the habit by considerable thinning of bumper crops in the good years, and with minimal thinning in the poor years. In any event, paying attention to the weight of the crop and either thinning or providing extra support where needed will save the disappointment of broken branches.

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