Tree Fruit Crop Thinning

 In Fruit, Gardening tips, Pruning, Seasonal Gardening

Fruit crop thinning is top of my to do list now.

An almost frost free spring has led to a heavy fruit ‘set’. This spring period, when fruit trees were blooming, is critical to fruit growers and dictates whether there will be good autumn harvest.

Of course there are factors other than frost that dictate a good harvest of apples, pears and other tree fruits but this is the key one. You might argue that the prevalence of pollinating insects at this critical time is more important but even a pollinated baby fruitlets can be ruined by a spring frost.

Why do you thin

Thinning now will produce better quality and larger fruits at harvest time. Some gardeners have already been thinning apples but I prefer to wait until the natural thinning process – known as “June Drop” – is over. There’s little point in removing a fruit that the tree is going to abort anyway!

The June drop is the tree’s way of aborting imperfectly fertilised fruits and regulating the crop that it can carry. However it pays to remove more fruits than this natural thinning process does as the pay back will be significantly better quality fruit.


What to remove

apple, fruit, Fruit Crop Thinning

‘King’ fruit showing distortion

The fruits I trim off are those that are in anyway imperfect. They may be already damaged by a cold night. This shows as a roughening or russeting of the skin. It might be because a capsid bug has fed and this shows as a raised bump. Perhaps aphids have had a go at your fruit and the whole shape is now lop-sided. All these fruits are best removed now so that your tree’s energies are focused on the fruit that remains.

apple, aphis, aphids, Fruit Crop Thinning

Aphid damaged apple

I like to remove all but one pear fruitlet from a cluster but will leave two for an apple. One developing fruit that I always remove is the one that is dead centre in the flower cluster. This is called the ‘king’ fruit. It has an odd growth by the stalk but its removal ensures plenty of space for air movement and light to get to those fruits that remain.


I also target the removal of all fruits that are inside the tree canopy where little sunlight can get to them.


Of all the tree fruits it is especially important to thin out plums where the set is heavy. My experience is that not only will the fruits be smaller and less well coloured if not thinned but significant branch breakage can occur if you don’t thin. Plums are heavy fruits!

fruit crop thinning, plum fruits

Victoria plums needing thinning

Of course it’s important to regulate the crop by fruit crop thinning on a newly planted tree. In its first year I would remove all but a half dozen fruits so that the tree can get really well established before struggling to produce a crop.



Preferred tools

I generally use pointed Niwaki hand snips to nip off the fruits by cutting through the stems. For me this tool is easy to handle for fruit crop thinning. However you can use a sharp knife or secateurs.


Where apples are celebrated

On a recent visit to The Newt near Castle Cary I was intrigued to see the French fruit tree training expert thinning apple fruits by cutting them horizontally in half [see main image]. Questioning him on this he replied that this is a traditional practice handed down through the generations of gardeners in France. I don’t think that I will be changing my technique as this looks a bit of a fiddle. I’ll continue to cut through the fruitlet’s stem. But those French gardeners of old knew a thing or two about growing intensively trained fruit trees! This is superbly demonstrated at the newly opened garden at The Newt and I’d strongly recommend a visit! It’s the most exciting garden project I’ve seen for many years!

Read more about fruit crop thinning here.

Fruit Crop Thinning, apples

Fruit thinning can be continued as the summer progresses.

I’ve written more on fruit pruning that you might find helpful here.

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