How to do it and why it is essential

When I first planted my orchard to reap big harvests, the worst mistake I made was not thinning the fruit.

It seemed counter-intuitive to remove the fruit before it’s ready, but it’s actually healthy for the tree, allows for bigger harvests, and ensures that next year’s crops are bountiful.

The key is how and when to do it. Don’t repeat my mistake of admiring a tree laden with fruit and then regretting the quality and size at harvest time.

Do your trees and yourself a favor. Consider thinning the fruit. If you are curious and have never done it before, join us and learn all about it.


What is fruit thinning?

If you’ve never thinned fruit before, you could be forgiven for wondering what it is. What you are doing is removing some of the immature fruit to make room for the remaining fruit to grow.

Often, when growing conditions are good, fruit trees set more fruit than they can sustain and grow to a decent size and good quality. Some trees will abort excess fruit on their own, and gardeners call this June drop when it occurs in early summer.

But most trees need help. The problem is that the tree often bears too many fruits and you end up with small fruits, which is disappointing. Sometimes the tree does not drop any and keeps crowded clusters.

Although thinning by definition yields less fruit, it provides larger, more usable and higher quality fruit. Thinning also helps prevent diseases caused by overcrowding.

Reasons to Thin Fruit

Although many of us thin fruits in order to obtain larger fruits and a better quality harvest, there are also other equally important reasons.

  • Thinning can help air circulation and sunlight penetrate the tree and fruit.
  • When too many fruits are piled up, they can get damaged when they expand and when the wind blows on the branches. This results in imperfect berries with damaged skin.
  • If all the fruit grows, the branches may break. The sight of a fully laden fruit tree at fruit set can be exciting, but it becomes biting when the branches begin to bend at sharp angles from the weight of expanding fruit.
  • Thinning helps prevent biennial production. This is when fruit trees harvest heavily one year, then very little or none at all the following year. When a fruit tree produces too much fruit one year, it reduces the resources available for the next season. When fewer flowers are produced the following year, the tree accumulates resources for the following season, again producing too much. This pattern grows and repeats unless you thin out the fruit. Apples and pears often fall into this pattern.
  • You can help reduce the spread of disease by thinning out any damaged or diseased fruit early in crop growth. This includes moths, scabs and brown rot.

Fruits that Respond to Thinning

Not all fruit trees respond to thinning or even need it. Walnut and cherry trees can usually get through the harvest without needing this type of intervention.

These trees will need heavy fruit set thinning:

When to Thin Fruit

The best time to thin out your fruit is early summer to give the best growth to the remaining fruit.

You can also wait for the tree to drop fruit around June and remove any excess afterwards if you are unsure when to start. Perform thinning in mid-July so the tree has time to direct resources to remaining fruit for the upcoming harvest.

If you have early or late fruiting fruit, you just need to adjust things for your particular fruit trees. Early-setting fruit may need to be thinned in mid-spring and late-setting fruit in July.

I have apples that are ready to pick early in the season, mid-season, and very late in the season. If I’m very busy, I can thin them all at once, but the best time is different for each tree.

How to Thin Fruit

Each fruit tree should be thinned slightly differently. Don’t worry though. If you have lots of different fruit trees, or just one or two, this is an easy task. In addition to the following, avocado, persimmon and kiwi fruit should also be thinned out.


The timing and method for apples varies depending on whether you are growing cooking or eating apples.

Baking apples

Cooking apples generally grow much larger than eating apples. This means you need to thin out a bit harder, providing more room to grow.

Thin each cluster of fruit down to one or two apples. Typically, one baking apple is spaced about six to eight inches apart from the next.

eat apples

If the clusters of fruit are close together, leave a well-formed fruit and remove the rest. If the clusters are further apart, leave two fruits, but make sure they will not touch each other as they grow. Visualize them growing to the medium size of the apple variant.

Leave about four to six inches of spacing between the fruits.


Pears (both Asian and European) require less thinning than apples. Leave two fruits per cluster and leave a spacing of about six inches between the fruits. If you have a large variety of pears, leave only one fruit per cluster.

A rule of thumb for thinning pears is to start when the fruit begins to turn downward.


Plums often overcrop, especially when young and in the middle of their life. If you’re lucky, plum trees can over-harvest their entire lives.

Leave two fruits per cluster, with a space of about six inches between the clusters. If you’re leaving fruit, leave a three-inch gap.


I find peach trees excellent at shedding excess fruit, so be sure to do this after the June drop. When the peaches are the size of a hazelnut, thin out to one peach every four inches. Once they have reached the size of a walnut, thin them to one every eight inches. Some may have fallen between your thinnings, so be sure to account for that.


Nectarines only need one thinning exercise. When they are the size of a walnut, thin out to one fruit every six to eight inches.


You should only need to thin apricots if the growing conditions are perfect and the tree is well established. Thin only if there is a significant excess.

When the apricots are the size of a walnut, thin them to one fruit every three inches.

Thinning Dwarf Trees

Also, be sure to thin your fruit from dwarf trees. These trees can be quite weak structurally, so excess fruit can break the branches.

Most dwarf fruit trees flower more in the first two years when they are young, so you need to protect the branches from excess fruit weight.

Fruit thinning techniques

When you start your thinning, you can sit there and wonder exactly which fruits to remove and which to leave.

  • Remove the king fruit if necessary. It is the largest fruit in the middle of the cluster. It is often deformed and easily damaged because it is in the middle. This is particularly the case on apple trees. If the king fruit is perfect, leave it and remove the others around it.
  • Remove smaller fruits and those that are damaged, diseased, spotted or damaged by insects.
  • Leave the most perfect fruit on the tree for harvest.
  • Weak branches should have all fruit removed to prevent breakage. If you don’t want to delete them all, delete the majority.
  • Consider removing all berries from trees less than two years old to allow the tree to put all of its resources into forming strong root systems.
  • Do not tear or tear the fruit. This will damage the spur or break the branch. I prefer to pinch them, but you can cut them or bend them back.

Pruning helps with thinning

Pruning is important for a number of reasons, including contributing to successful thinning.

When you prune trees, you remove the wood on which excess fruit grows. A well pruned, compact and tidy tree helps prevent excessive fruit set.

7 tips for thinning fruit

  1. Safety is first in the garden. Use an orchard ladder if you can. They are designed for use on soft, uneven ground and have a tripod base.
  2. Thin apples before they were the diameter of a penny. You want to provide as much energy as possible to the remaining fruits.
  3. Do not break the spurs when thinning the fruit. The spur is the short branch of the branches that bears the fruit buds. They also bear fruit for next year.
  4. Thin fruit within 30 days of flowering for best results on plums, nectarines, peaches and apricots.
  5. Once you’ve thinned the fruit, be sure to provide the tree with plenty of water. This is essential for healthy, good-sized fruit.
  6. Don’t be afraid to thin the fruit. It is estimated that if you look at all the potential fruit blossoms on a tree, only 5% is needed for a full harvest.
  7. Fruit thinning can be tedious, but it helps the quality and size of the fruit as well as the health and longevity of the tree.

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