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Tiny Fuji apples from our first harvest. Didn't thin - how else can you fit 7 apples in one hand?

Thinning Fruit on Apple Trees

Every gardener does it. We get so excited about impending fruit that we don’t do what’s best for the tree. We see all those tiny blossoms, then tiny orbs, and we stop using our rational brain in hopes of more, more, more. Thinning fruit from our fruit trees ensures larger fruit and a healthier tree. Young trees often become misshapen when they are laden down with more fruit than their branches can bear. So let’s review techniques for thinning fruit trees.

Here’s what happens when you want don’t thin your apple tree:

Tiny Fuji apples from our first harvest. Didn't thin - how else can you fit 7 apples in one hand?
Tiny Fuji apples from our first harvest. Didn’t thin – how else can you fit 7 apples in one hand?

Don’t get me wrong, every one of those apples was delicious. They were just right for an Alice in Wonderland movie. This year we’ll do things differently.

Apple experts recommend thinning fruit to 1 or 2 per cluster of fruit. Use the iron fist of pruning, as we say, and get the job done.

4 apples are cramped for space. We need to reduce this by at least 2.
4 apples are cramped for space. We need to reduce this by at least 2.

Use shears or simply pinch off the fruit, just be sure to use two hands so you don’t pull off the whole cluster. Also use this time to remove any blossoms that didn’t set fruit (brown debris in the center of the cluster above). Thin out center fruit and leave the outer. By the time the apples reach full size, they’ll be touching.

Now these apples will have more room to grow.
Now these apples will have more room to grow. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.

If you notice any branches weighed down by fruit, take the time to tie the branches for training, so they’ll grow straight. Apples have a tendency to grow straight up, so we’ve tied down a few scaffold branches to train them outward. Other branches are dipping down, so we’ll tie those up.

As fruit matures, the remaining fruit will grow larger. You’re trees will be happier in the long run. Use this technique for stone fruits, apples, pears and citrus (if needed).

Apples in a cluster we didn't thin. They'll be small, but still delicious.
Apples in a cluster we didn’t thin. They’ll be small, but still delicious.

A parting note about thinning fruit trees: when you plant a new tree, remove all the fruit. You heard me–all of it. We want the tree to focus on root production, not fruit production. Give your tree the boost it needs in the beginning and it will reward you with fruit for years to come.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Tina Blakeman

    Great idea! How about any ideas for keeping squirrels from my fruit trees?

    1. Christy

      Tina,

      It’s a tough one, but here are some ideas: 1) try wrapping bird netting around the clusters of fruit, rather than the whole tree. It will be easier to access and less of a mess with the bird netting. 2) Hang mesh bags of dog or cat hair in the tree to ward off squirrels. 3) sprinkle cayenne pepper around the fruit (wash well before you eat it if you get any on the fruit itself). 4) Put out a water source – we’ve heard that many times the critters are thirsty and they are going for your fruit to get moisture. Try these in combination and see how they work.

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