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How to Thin Your Fruit Trees

 Apricots The Prudent Homemaker

The two most common compliants I hear people give about their home-grown fruit is that the tree produces fruit that is too small, and that the tree only fruits every other year.

Both of these problems are easily solved by thinning.

A tree naturally thins itself, to some degree. Wind helps with this, knocking down some of the young fruit.

Thinning your fruit is a very important step in the long-term health of your tree. A tree that isn't thinned can become exhausted, and be unable to bear fruit the next year.

When fruits are dime sized, go out the tree with a ladder and a basket, and thin your trees. It will hurt your feelings to do this, You will feel like you are making less fruit for yourself, but that is not the case at all. You are allowing your tree to make bigger fruit, and you will give it the strength to fruit every year.

You'll prevent your tree from losing branches due to being too heavily laden with fruit. Broken branches result in disease and bugs entering your trees, as well as a loss of fruit from the tree in years to come. Small, young branches with too much fruit at the tips cannot support the weight of fully-ripened fruit. Thin young branches and branch tips more heavily to prevent branch breakage.

 

 Thinned and Unthinned Apricots The Prudent Homemaker

Thinning fruit also greatly affects the size of this year's fruit crop.

You'll want the fruit to be able to get sunlight and air around each piece, so that it can ripen fully.

Stone fruits, including apricots, peaches, plums and nectarines should be thinned. Apples and pears also need to be thinned. Citrus trees do not need to be thinned, as they naturally thin themselves, dropping enough "extra" fruit on their own. Figs naturally grow spaced apart from one another and do not need to be thinned.

 

Plum Blossoms The Prudent Homemaker

Apricots and Plums:

You'll want your fruit to be 3" (6-7 cm) apart. Pick off any fruit that is growing closer than this.

Thinning Plums The Prudent Homemaker

 

Peach blossoms The Prudent Homemaker

Peaches and Nectarines:

You'll want your fruit to be 5" to 6" apart. Pick off any fruit that is growing closer together than this.

 Dorsett Golden Apple Blossoms The Prudent Homemaker

Apples: 

Apples flower in a group, with the center flower usually opening first. This usually results in the center fruit being already larger than the others, as it had a slight head start on the other fruits in the cluster.  When the apples are 1 to 1 1/2" long, carefully pull off all of the fruits in each cluster except for the largest one.

 Thinning Apples The Prudent Homemaker

 

Pears:

 Thinning Pears The Prudent Homemaker

Like apples, pears should be thinned to one or two fruits per cluster.

When choosing which fruits to thin, make sure to thin any diseased fruit. Leave the largest and best looking fruits on the tree.

Discard the fruit that you have picked. Leaving it on the ground (or any other fruit on the ground, later in the season) gives pests a good feeding ground and can introduce bugs to your trees. For this reason, I like to pick with a basket to collect the thinned fruit.

 

Don't be afraid to thin your fruit! You'll have much larger, healthier fruit and trees for years to come.

 

Last modified on
Tagged in: The Garden

Comments

  • Melody April 15, 2015

    Becky,
    I wish I heard about the bat method when I was a kid thinning our peach tree orchard! I would itch so bad from the peach fuzz! I grew up in Hood River, OR. We had orchards of peaches, nectarines, pears, apples, and cherries. Oh how I wish I still had access to all that free, scrumptious fruit!
    Brandy, thank you so much for your blog and all the information I have learned. You and all your responders are such an inspiration. I am addicted to reading your blog!

  • Jenifer April 16, 2015

    This is helpful. And you're right it will/would hurt my feelings and if I haven't seen previous pictures of your bounties, I would not be able to agree - nope just wouldn't happen. :) Our property is loaded with shade trees - to the point where 25% had to come down due to the original owners over crowded plantings. There is enough room for a small fruit tree on our side yard (to do well) and of course I wanted one after we had the mentioned cut down. It has been a few years and now my husband is finally accepting that there will be a pear or apricot tree planted soon. Now I know how to do it right - so thank you!

  • Barbara W April 16, 2015

    I love your blog! Thank you for doing things with such simple elegance.

  • Glenda April 16, 2015

    Thank you for this very helpful post. This explains why our Native Plum tree fruit is small.
    Your blog posts are wonderful.

  • Hilogene in Az April 17, 2015

    Brandy, I agree with the comments. This is a great post. I don't have fruit trees so have no real need to know this but between the photos and explanations I was spellbound. I could actually understand what was needed. Many time, folks with lots of experience in an area give an explanation way over my head. This topic was interesting and informative. Thanks ;)

  • Libby April 18, 2015

    I just can't do it Brandy! I don't even care for peaches but they're so darn cute. Our overcrowding is not so bad, our bigger issue is we have hundreds of peaches and not one of us likes to eat them. It must be genetic. This year I'll be looking for gleaners to clear them.

  • diane June 01, 2015

    JUST YESTERDAY I was wondering how to do this! Thanks much!

  • Powell May 21, 2016

    Bravo for a great (and painful) writeup on fruit thinning.

    Don't compost them. When they are that small either drop them to the ground (they represent no pest carryover threat) to feed the tree, or collect and pickle them to eat like grapes or olives (your pickling recipes). When they are dime/nickle sizes the stone or seeds have not developed hard yet and can be eaten whole. Try a small batch next year when it is thinning time.

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