Thinning Fruit

Fruit thinning improves your crop and makes young trees establish faster

Reducing the number of unripe fruit on a tree is called thinning, and it is beneficial for several reasons:

  • Fruit trees can produce such large crops that they end up small and misshapen.
  • A heavy crop one year often results in a poor, or non-existent one the following year (called biennial bearing), since fruits are often produced at the expense of the development of roots and shoots. This is especially true of young trees (see below). 
  • Thinning lets sunlight and air into the branches, which helps with ripening.
  • Branches are less likely to snap under a smaller crop. This is common with plum trees, especially heavy-cropping Victoria plums.
  • Thinning helps to stop the spread of diseases such as brown rot.
  • You may get fewer fruits if you thin them out, but they tend to be larger and better formed

Newly planted trees

It may seem drastic, but all fruit must be removed from any tree that’s been in the ground for less than a year. It won’t produce much in the first year anyway and, by sacrificing a small harvest, you will get a stronger, more productive tree in the long run. Removing the fruit in the second year is also a good idea, although less essential. Patience pays off! 

When and how to thin

Wait until mid-July, after the June drop, to thin your fruit. This way you avoid thinning out fruit that would have fallen naturally, thus ending up with a really sparse harvest. The amount you thin will depend on the type of fruit (see below). Use either secateurs, long scissors or your fingers to thin the fruit to the recommended spacing. Get rid of anything that’s blemished or misshapen, along with what’s known as the ‘king’ fruit at the centre of each cluster, which is often a strange shape. Aim to be left with the best shaped, strongest fruits, which will then mature to the best shaped, tastiest fruits.

… and by how much

  • Dessert apple: leave 1 per cluster, 10-15cm apart
  • Cooking apple: leave 1 per cluster, 15-20cm apart
  • Pears: leave 2 per cluster, 10-15cm apart
  • Plums: leave single plums, 5-10cm apart
  • Peaches and nectarines: 1 per cluster, 15-20cm apart
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Thank you, The Ashridge Nurseries Team.

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