This same scenario applies to adult gardeners and homeowners.
There are times when tough decisions have to be made, and things must be done that are best for the long term.
Thinning fruit: It is so exciting to see a peach or pear tree just loaded with fruit. However, we all know, deep down inside, that most fruit trees cannot support all that fruit and weight. But knocking off excess fruit -- reducing the amount on the tree likely by half -- is just hard to do. “Why? Why instead of 200 peaches can we can only keep 70?” Think ahead to the time of harvest. Would you rather have 70 large, juicy, sweet peaches, or 200 little bite-sized peaches?
Thinning can also help reduce limb breakage and maintain tree vigor, promote regular flower production, and make insect and disease control more manageable. It also reduces labor at harvest.
Begin thinning fruit after the natural drop in April and May. Thin early in the season when the fruits are about 1 /2- to 1-inch in size. Thin apples, peaches, and pears to 6 to 8 inches apart and plums to 3 to 4 inches apart.
Thinning young seedlings: Another tough task is thinning young vegetable plants or seedlings. As a young child, I never quite understood this practice. I remember watching my dad take a hoe and thin the corn or okra to keep them from becoming too crowded. My reaction was, why would he just kill what he wanted to come up and grow? I can remember feeling sorry for the pulled-up corn seedlings, and taking the leftovers and replanting them in other portions of the garden to live. They would now be “my” corn, since my dad didn’t want them in amongst his “good” corn.
Removing the extra seedlings seems wasteful, especially to new gardeners. But remember: Seeds are inexpensive, so gardeners plant twice as much as they need just to ensure good germination and a good plant stand.
However, all plants need space. When the majority of seeds germinate and the seedlings survive, the plants become crowded, which can reduce yields, make the plants more susceptible to disease, and generally starve the plants for water and nutrients.
After the seeds sprout and the seedlings are about 6 inches to a foot high, go ahead and remove all unwanted plants to prevent crowding and develop proper spacing. Try to keep the strongest seedlings. A garden hoe, rake or your finger will do the job in most instances. Using a pair of scissors or your fingers to pinch them off at the ground works very well for crowded seedings, and doesn’t disturb the sensitive roots of the seedlings you wish to keep.
Removing trees: Many times after a long winter, people fail to look up and notice if something is wrong with their trees. By mid-spring, every deciduous tree should show some sign of life, either by blooming or putting on new leaves. Any tree that has yet to become green is a potential hazard.
A hazardous tree is any tree that might fall and cause property damage and/or bodily harm; it should be removed immediately. This includes trees with dead branches, dieback in the top of the tree, extensive damaged or diseased areas, hollowed out areas, and/or completely lacking foliage when they should not. Extensive decay, bark falling off, and/or cankers are major warning signs.
Any time the roots, the most sensitive area of the tree, are attacked directly or indirectly, the tree will be harmed. Construction near the tree, digging within the root zone, old age and insects are the most common reasons.
Once trees begin showing symptoms, they may live several more years — or could come tumbling down at any moment. Either way, they will not recover and must be removed.
Shane Harris is a regional extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System serving east central Alabama.