How to Thin Fruit Trees and Why You Should

Have you ever thought… “My peach tree only produces small hard fruit.” 

Or… “My apple tree’s fruit tastes good, but all the fruit are so small!”

Properly thinning your fruit trees can change the tree from one that’s nice to look at to one whose fruit you look forward to and enjoy!

Most fruit trees set more fruit than they can support

Pruning the tree correctly before the season begins removes some of the potential fruit, but it is still necessary to thin the remaining fruit on most trees. Thinning the fruit helps produce the large, delicious fruit we like to eat.

How to Thin Fruit Trees and Why You Should

Thinning trees supports the overall health of the tree

Too much fruit uses up all the tree’s stored energy, which depletes the tree and makes it more susceptible to damage from disease, pests and sunburn. In addition, reducing the fruit load of the tree by thinning can prevent limb breakage to branches that cannot support the weight of the fruit.

Thinning trees produces larger and higher quality fruit

Too many fruit on a tree will compete with each other for the energy that was stored by the tree. When there isn’t enough energy (carbohydrates) to go around, the fruit will be small. Also, fruit that touches each other can quickly spread diseases like brown rot because air circulation is limited. Fruit that has been thinned will have better air circulation and prevent this problem.

Peach trees should be thinned to produce the best quality fruit

What about thinning fruit on newly planted trees?

Remove most (if not all) fruit on most trees for the first two or three years. Wait to see which blossoms set fruit and then remove the fruit, rather than removing the blossoms. This allows the energy to go to the structure and root system of the tree rather than the fruit. Heavy fruit can also damage branches on young trees. Labeling your trees helps you to remember when the tree was planted.

Most trees naturally thin themselves to some extent

Unpollinated blossoms wither and fall off, and fruits infested with disease or insects often drop early. Natural fruit drop usually occurs during the spring when fruit that the tree cannot support naturally drops from the trees. Often, this is all the thinning that citrus trees, cherry, fig, pomegranate, persimmon and nut trees require. Check the load on young trees branches to ensure the branch can support the weight of the growing fruit.

Citrus Trees often Self-Thin
Citrus trees often self-thin, dropping all but what the tree can support.

Types of fruit trees that require additional thinning

Stone Fruits – (plums, peaches, cherries, apricots, etc.)

Plum trees should be thinned to produce the highest quality fruit.

Pome Fruits – (most pears and all apples)

Apple trees should be thinned to produce the highest quality fruit.

When is the best time to thin fruit?

Fruit should be thinned before it is an inch in diameter. Thin fruit within about a month after full bloom. Fruit thinned later than this lessens the chance that fruit size will increase.   

Thinning trees produces larger and higher quality fruit
Thin fruit before it is an inch in diameter

How much fruit should I remove from the tree?

Larger fruit like nectarines and peaches should be pruned to about 5 inches apart. Thin smaller fruit such as plums and apricots to 2-4 inches apart. Apple clusters should be pruned to no more than 1-2 fruit per cluster. Choose the largest fruits to retain on the branches. Remove fused or double fruit, as well as disfigured or damaged fruit.

Thin peaches that have fused together
Remove fused or double fruit
Thin apple clusters to 1-2 fruit per cluster.
Apple clusters should be pruned to no more than 1-2 fruit per cluster.

Spend a little time thinning your tree at the beginning of the season and your tastebuds will thank you later! Nothing beats biting into a big juicy warm peach fresh from the tree!

Thinning peach trees helps ensure a tasty harvest