How To Thin Fruit (And Why You Need To)

nashis pre thin

Removing excess fruit from an over-burdened tree rewards you with a more robust tree and better fruit (this year and next).  From mid-spring on keep an eye on your fruit trees and thin heavily loaded trees as fruits reach marble size.

Because Steady is Good

Thinning is removing extras to improve the remainder. And it keeps your tree’s equilibrium steady. This, to me, is the golden bit – when you thin out the load it distributes the trees juju’s evenly over the years. Did you know that at the same time your tree is growing fruits for this year, its also putting energy into spur development – that’s next years fruits? So if you stress your tree out this year, theres gonna be less in the pot for next year.

There are of course exceptions to this rule. Some fruit trees carry a mother load year after year without skipping a beat – many plums are like this. Some fruit trees like Tydemans Late apple, are natural biennial bearers – heavy load followed by a light load. So feel free to follow your gut here. Don’t thin or thin very lightly. Follow it up with regular visits to watch what unfolds.

Luisa pre thin

Luisa plum is – as usual – carrying way too many fruits

Bonuses of Thinning

  • improved light for better ripening
  • airflow for disease prevention
  • prevents biennial bearing (enthusiastic big crop followed by exhausted little crop)
  • a better size, better quality fruit
  • less of a wildfire approach to disease spread (like having a firebreak)
  • less insect hotels (nothing cosier for codlings than three apples squashed up together!)
  • a lovely peaceful job among the trees

How To

Thin fruit when it’s marble size. Drop it on the ground, returning it to the tree.

thinnings

Work your way systematically branch by branch.

Use seceteurs to cut pipfruits and your thumb and finger to twist stone fruits. Pulling is disastrous! you’ll end up taking the whole spur off.

Remove deformed or stunted fruits, leaving the biggest and best to grow on.

Leave 1 fruit per cluster. Yes – you can.

Young trees and struggling trees will feel deep gratitude if you remove all of their crop.

Spacings

The amount of space to leave between each fruit depends on the full grown size of each variety. As a guide use these

  • Peaches and Nectarines 10 – 15cm
  • Apricots 10cm
  • Plums 5 – 10cm
  • Apples 15 – 25cm
  • Pears 10 – 15cm

Before Thin

Captain Kidd pre-thin

After Thin

Captain Kidd apres-thin

Comments

  1. Hi Kath,
    Love your tried and true advice for keen home gardeners, it works.

    Does this same principle apply to a 3 yr old grapefruit tree? It didn’t fruit last year and I thought that was good as the growth went into the roots. This year it is covered with flowers that look to set fruit.

    • Yes Rosie it does! Get thinning for sure. The sooner you do it after fruit set the better. You are spot on, its good that it didnt set fruit at 2 years old – its still a baby, so don’t leave too much fruit on it this year either.

      • Ruth Harrison says

        Hi Kath – what is fruit set please? I’m assuming it means once fruit has formed? How big does it need to be, before removing it? I planted a lemon this year and it is covered in flowers – but assume I wait until tiny fruit form until I remove a whole lot?
        thanks
        ruth

        • Good question Ruth – fruit set is the when the flowers are pollinated and turning into baby fruits. At this stage they are little wee balls that are easily picked off. Its fine to thin up until fruits are marble sized. In the case of new trees you can flick the flowers off if you want because you are taking the whole lot off – either way is fine 🙂

  2. Patricia Sarr says

    What about citrus, Kath? My lemons are LOADED, and the grapefruit were, in their day. Mandarins coming on. Should i thin them as well? arohanui, Trish

  3. Valda Nicol says

    Hello Kath, I have a three year old mandarin which fruited heavily and last year nothing. This year heavy flowering ,should I thin the young fruit back as you instruct for other fruit trees please advise.
    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge,

    • Yes Valda – you are on the right track for sure. Biennial bearing is common in citrus and thinning will help restore equilibrium as well as much better fruits. I find this especially so for mandarins and oranges. Thin as soon after fruit set as you can.

  4. Valda Nicol says

    Thank you so muchKath. Happy gardening. Valda

  5. Ruth Harrison says

    Also, I assume that because my lemon and mandarin were only planted this year, that I should remove ALL fruit that appears for the next couple of years?
    thanks again
    Ruth

  6. Helen Hancox says

    I didn’t have to ask about citrus cos others did. I already know the answer Kath:)

  7. Rosalynn MacGregor says

    Hi, Kath
    I’m new to your website, but I’m impressed, and hope you can help me with my problem! I’m having the opposite problem to having to prune fruit. I’ve had one red currant and one black currant bush for about 10 years. The red currant bears lots of fruit–no problem there. But the black currant gets lots of flowers at the same time as the red currant next to it does, and I’ve seen bees etc. at those flowers, but I never get more than one or two black currant fruits on that bush. Most of the flower clusters drop off, amounting to nothing. I don’t understand why the red bears but the black doesn’t. I got the bushes from a neighbour and she had lots of black currant fruit at her place (she had multiple specimens of both). Do you have any suggestions for what’s wrong? (Sorry to post this comment here, but your general contact webpage link didn’t work for me….)

    • Hmmm curious. Generally black currants are hardier than red so its an interesting one. And overall a very hardy shrub. The solution will be something very simple you can be assured.
      Fruit drop on currants usually related to lack of pollination, frost, wind, too dry, hungry, lack of pruning and too much clutter or an old shrub thats past its best.
      Do a bit of detective work and find the difference between the location of the red and black and see what you can come up with.
      Is the currant in good health I wonder? If you prune a branch is the wood good all the way to the centre?
      Lots of questions for you!
      Happy detective work 🙂

      • Rosalynn MacGregor says

        Hi, Kath
        Thanks sooo much for the quick reply! I’ve asked Agriculture Canada for help on this and have been completely ignored. The two bushes are a few meters apart on level ground, so it probably isn’t location. I just pruned them both this week, following your instructions to be courageous, and the wood looks good to me. I’ll monitor the bush next season for the other potentials. I don’t think frost can be the reason for no fruit for 10 years in a row and we get very little wind here, but food and water might be a factor, though neither of those appear to have held back the red currant fruits 3 meters away. Maybe our pollinators prefer the red currant blossoms! It is an old bush, but it’s been pruned and had LOTS of flowers this past spring, so I don’t know how it could be age, but maybe? I’ll baby it along next season and try to monitor how many pollinators visit the two bushes.
        Thanks again for your reply!

        • Hey that’s cool Rosalynn, to be fair Ag Canada would have a heap more queries than I do! plus its a bit of a tricky one remotely. It’ll be interesting to see what you notice this season. I love these puzzles – they really hone our powers of observation as we hunt out the missing link… of particular importance will be watching the pollination process to see exactly what happens – how many bees on how many flowers/ fruit set or no fruit set/ blossom drop or fruit set drop. For sure it could be age – you know how our baby making faculties loose their mojo whilst we still keep going 🙂

          • Rosalynn MacGregor says

            Thanks, Kath! If anything interesting/different happens next season, I’ll let you know! Sad but true about the age thing, but I’ll give it one more year. Cheers,
            Rosalynn

  8. Thanks for explaining it in a very simple way. I’ve always lived in apartment and can’t wait to have a house and start growing my own vegetables.

  9. Hi Kath, just wondering whether I need to thin grapes? It’s a cutting I got from my sister which didn’t set any fruit last year but now has plenty of small bunches. I followed your pruning instructions in winter, but also wondered whether I should snip off any wandering shoots throughout the spring/summer? Many thanks.

    • Nicely observed Julie – yes its worth it too thin grapes after fruit set. In your case I’d be removing all the fruit or nearly all of it so as the young grape can put tis energy into growing a strong frame this year. You can trim back wandering shoots at anytime, though its ok to let a young grape have its head a bit in the name of a strong frame, so do so lightly.

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