How to Thin Fruit Trees for a Better Harvest

Thinning Fruit for Apple Trees and Other Trees

July 27, 2018

It may sound counterintuitive, but to get the best harvest of apples and some other fruit, we actually need to remove some of the fruit – a technique known as thinning. In this short video, we show you exactly how, when, and why to thin fruit.

Why Thin Fruit

Many tree fruits, including apples and pears, naturally drop some of their fruits in early summer. But selectively thinning further can help prevent problems. It avoids fruits rubbing together, which can create entry points for disease, and also stops trees from cropping heavily one year, only to take the year year off—a common problem known as biennial bearing. 

If they aren’t thinned, some trees such as plums can crop so heavily that branches may actually snap under the weight. 

Thinning enables the fruits that remain to grow into bigger, healthier fruits. Fewer, larger fruits are usually more useful than lots of tiny fruits. 

How to Thin an Apple Tree

Use sharp pruners or scissors to thin apples. Clusters of fruits should be thinned to just one or two fruits. First remove any misshapen or damaged fruits. Then cut out the smallest fruits, and any that are badly positioned. Continue thinning until the fruits are evenly spaced, and only the biggest and healthiest are left.

Leave about 4 to 6 inches between apples of eating varieties, or 6 to 9 inches between cooking apples.

See more about taking care of your apple trees.

Thinning Other Fruit Trees

It’s not as critical to thin out pears, but it is still beneficial. Thin clusters of pears to two fruits, so there’s around 4 to 6 inches between fruits. See more about taking care of pear trees.

Thin plum fruitlets using your thumb and finger. Leave one fruit every couple of inches, or if it’s easier, one pair of plums every six inches. 

Thin peaches in stages to one fruit every four inches once they are hazelnut sized, then again at golf ball size to their final spacing of 8 to 10 inches. See more about taking care of peach trees.

Thin nectarines once, to six inches apart. 

Interested in planning a fruit orchard? Try out our excellent online Garden Planner—free trial!


Leave a Comment


Sign up for our email newsletter by entering your email address.

BONUS: You’ll also receive our Almanac Companion newsletter!

The Almanac Webcam

Chosen for You from The Old Farmer's Store