Thinning is one of those jobs that grew on me. It took me many years before I began to understand it’s value. I used to hate plucking those sweet little baby fruits off, but now I love it! Such a peaceful job among the trees, and the fringe benefits are many.
A huge crop of fruit is an exciting moment for humans, but not so fab from the trees point of view. A young tree's growth is set back, fruit doesn't ripen fully, codling moth and other pests flourish in the close quarters, branches break under the load and because next year’s spurs don’t get a look in, you run the risk of setting up a biennial bearing pattern (an enthusiastic big crop followed the next year with an exhausted little crop).
The time to thin is when the young fruits reach marble sized. Wander your fruit trees regularly in spring to catch this moment.
How to Thin Fruit Trees
Work your way systematically branch by branch. Use seceteurs to cut pip fruits and your thumb and finger to twist stone fruits. Pulling is disastrous!, you risk taking the whole spur (next years fruits) off.
Remove deformed or stunted fruits. Leave the best.
Leave only fruit 1 per cluster. For some of you this'll be oh so hard! I can but encourage you.
- One fruit receives optimal sunlight and nutrition.
- One fruit is not as enticing to codling moth (there is no cosier bug hotel than 3 apples squashed up together!)
- One fruit is not as conducive to fungus. Think of spaces between fruits like a firebreak, preventing wild fire like spread of disease.
- Feeding one fruit per cluster leaves the tree resources for spur development, ensuring good production for the future.
Either leave enough space so each fruit can grow to its full size without touching its neighbor, or use this guide to help you decide how much space to leave between each fruit.
- Peaches and nectarines 10 - 15cm
- Apricots 10cm
- Plums 5 - 10cm
- Apples 15 - 25cm
- Pears 10 - 15cm
Drop the thinnings on the ground beneath the tree, and return all those hard won carb’s.
Thin Young Fruit Trees
Thinning takes the pressure off young trees and speeds them on their way. Without fruit development to concentrate on, trees can pour all their energy into building a robust frame and strong root system, creating a far better tree in the long run.
Completely remove all the fruits from 1 – 2 year old trees and if your tree is still not up to scratch, do it in year 3 as well. If you need more patience, you’ll learn it here!
From year 3 onward, let your tree carry as many fruits as its canopy and frame can support. This is one of those “less is more” moments.
Thin Struggling Trees
For the same reason we thin young trees, its a big support for poorly trees to have their fruit thinned or completely removed.
Roll With It
Be aware that each variety produces in different way. Some tend towards biennial bearing, some produce huge loads every year and some produce consistently just the right amount, steady as a rock. Each year is different too. As trees grow and expand they can carry greater loads.