How to Thin Fruit Trees for a Better Harvest

Thinning Fruit for Apple Trees and Other Trees

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

Why Thin Fruit on Trees

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 (which is a common problem known as biennial bearing). 

t’s hard to thin but if you don’t do it, your fruit will be too crowded. 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. 

We remove immature fruits early in the spring, limiting the number of fruits that continue growing to harvest. It increases the leaf-to-fruit ratio and removes smaller fruit that would never reach optimum size or quality.

Apples, European and Asian pears, apricots, peaches, plums, kiwifruits, and persimmons are almost always thinned until the leaf to fruit ratio is favorable for supporting growth of adequately sized fruits. Typically, nut crops and cherries are not thinned.

How to Thin an Apple Tree

Apple thinning is a little harder but it is even more critical than peaches. This is because apples will start bearing ever other year if given the chance.

Thin apples when they are about the size of a nickel.

Use sharp pruners or scissors to thin apples. Apples bloom in clusters. The center bloom has more size potential so that would be the best one to keep. 

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

Peaches and Nectarines

Peach trees can be thinned until the kernel gets too tough to cut with a pair of pruning shears. Then, the fruit has already been stunted although you can still get limited improvement in taste.

The fruit you can get from a tree that is thinned will be the size of softballs or baseballs. If you don’t thin, the fruit may be the size of golf balls or large marbles. There is more weight if you don’t thin but is mostly skin and core. The extra production may cause the limbs to break and apples will be less productive next year.

Thin peaches in stages. First stage on fruit every 4 inches once they are hazelnut sized. Then we would think again at golf ball size to their final spacing of 6 inches on the full sun parts of the tree and 8 inches on the shady side.

Thin nectarines once, to six inches apart. 

See more about taking care of peach trees.

Pears

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. 

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. 

See more about taking care of pear trees.

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

 

 

 

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