How and Why to Thin Fruit

how and why to thin your fruit trees Thinning is a term used to describe the removal of fruit from your fruit trees while it is still young. I know it sounds a bit crazy to think of taking off unripe fruit, but it is important to do so because our goal and the tree’s goal are not the same. Our goal is to produce full-sized, delicious fruit and keep our tree healthy. Fruit trees, on the other hand, will produce more fruit than they can comfortably handle. They do this to make sure that they are able to reproduce, sometimes at the expense of their own health and the expense of the quality of fruit they produce. Because we are at odds with what our trees want to do, we have to step in and show them who is the boss in the garden.

I normally thin my trees when the fruit gets to be about the size of my thumb. At that point, our early spring rains have knocked off all the fruit they are going to and what is left will mostly grow to full size and ripen. Your ultimate goal is to take off enough fruit so that the remaining fruit can grow to its full size and the tree is not overburdened by the weight of the mature fruit. If you don’t thin now, large, mature fruit can break branches right off. Better to have a bit less fruit this year, than no fruit next year.

fruit thinning beforeIn the before photo you can see all the tiny little peaches on my tree. This tree is only about three feet tall and had been neglected for several years before I moved in. Last year it produced one fruit. After a year of feeding, watering and some pruning, it is loaded with fruit. If I left all this fruit on the tree I could easily risk breaking branches and having fruit that was tiny when it ripened. With this variety of peach I can expect fruit to be almost 3″ across, so I want to remove fruit so that I leave a space of about 4″ between peaches.


fruit thinning duringIn the “During” photo, I’ve checked all the peaches I am going to remove. I always remove any fruit that has formed on the last 4″ of the branch. Those always want to pull your branch down. I also remove fruit so that the remaining fruit is on opposite sides of the branch, in a spiral pattern. This helps keep the weight on the branch balanced. If you leave all the fruit on one side, the branch will be pulled in that direction.

fruit thinning afterHere is what it looks like when I’m done. If this tree were a bit more mature and the branches were thicker, I would have left on a bit more. The space in between each peach will allow it to grow to full size by the time it is ripe. I remove each baby peach by grasping it firmly and pulling down, away from the direction it is growing. At this point, they snap off easily and I don’t need pruners. As peach pits are toxic to dogs, I’m careful to toss all the removed fruit into a bin because my dog loves found, round objects that he can roll around in his mouth. Total time for this chore, about 15 minutes on a tree this size.

Happy Gardening!

Ripe peaches photo by Tobias used under Creative Commons licensing.

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