It can be rather alarming to discover that the tiny apples that you have been watching form and swell over the past few weeks are dropping from the tree for no apparent reason. Fear not, it is a natural process that has even been given a name; June Drop [although it often continues well into July]. It is reckoned that only 5 per cent of the blossoms on a tree need to set and go on to produce an apple for it to constitute a full crop.
June drop is nature’s way of thinning out the excess immature fruit. A tree will often produce more fruits than it can support in terms of nutrient supply. A very heavy crop puts a strain on the tree’s resources which can result in small, poor quality apples. The weight of the fruit can also damage the branches.
From the tree’s perspective, the purpose of setting fruit is to produce seed. As all the fruit is competing for the same limited resources, it is in the tree’s interest that the strongest apples survive. One theory is that the fruit with the least seed is the first to be shed.
June drop normally occurs about eight weeks after flowering – June/July in the UK – and can be quite a prolonged process. If fruit is being shed much earlier than this, or much later, it may be due to other factors such as poor pollination, adverse weather conditions or disease.
If maximising the size and quality of your crop is a priority, it may still be necessary to continue thinning out fruit after the June drop. However, it is wise not to start doing this until the full extent of the natural loss is known.