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How to Thin Apple Tree Fruit

July 10, 2015

Knowing why and how to thin apple tree fruit (and other tree fruits) is important to producing a better harvest. It may seem counterproductive to take several fruits off of your pollinated tree, but pruning out crowded clusters of young fruit actually does a few good things for your trees and your crop.

Cluster of young apple fruit in need of thinning

In late spring/early summer, check apples, pears & other fruit trees for young fruit clusters. Then begin selecting for the best in each cluster.

Fruiting trees often produce an abundance of flowers to ensure some are successfully pollinated. However, if all of the flowers are pollinated, which leads to fruit production, trees may not be able to access sufficient resources to convert every one of those fruits into big, juicy edibles. And, if branches are over-burdened by an over-abundance of developing fruits, they may become stressed and may break under the weight. So, it’s important to both reduce each crowded cluster from several fruits to just one or two and to be sure individual fruits that remain are well spaced on branches, which helps disperse the weight maturing fruit adds.

Choosing which fruit in a cluster to thin out.

Begin thinning young tree fruit clusters by removing the smallest fruits in any group.
These aren’t likely to mature and sap resources during the growing season.

By manually removing any of the smallest, most damaged or withered of these young fruits early in the season, you will help your fruit tree divert its limited resources to a small number of remaining fruits. Yes, you will harvest fewer individual fruits, but those you do harvest should make for better eating since they will benefit from growing space and more sweetening feeds from the tree.

how to thin apple tree example

Not only are the smallest fruits ideal to remove, but taking out damaged or poorly formed young fruit like this one keeps the tree from wasting resources on it.

Left to their own devices, by early-to-mid-summer, many trees will drop a number of immature fruits on their own. But, the tree may release more of the fruit you would choose to keep, so make your own selections and hope the tree doesn’t over-ride your choices later.

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And, if you haven’t protected your fruits from apple maggot and coddling moth, learn how to do that here.

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