Apples, pears and some other tree fruits will naturally drop their fruits in early summer during the so-called ‘June drop’, but further thinning by the gardener can improve the quality of the harvest.
Thinning out fruits prevents them from rubbing together, which can cause wounds that provide entry points for diseases such rot. It also avoids the phenomenon known a ‘biennial bearing’, where trees crop heavily one year, only to produce very few fruits the next. Some fruits, especially plums, can become too heavy if they aren’t thinned out, with the result that branches may not be able to take the strain and will snap.
Thinning gives fruits plenty of room to grow into bigger, healthier fruits that are more useful than lots of tiny ones.
You’ll need a sharp pair of pruners to thin apples, or if the fruits are really close to each other scissors may prove easier. Thin to just one or two fruits per cluster by first taking out any misshapen, damaged or diseased fruits, then removing the smallest fruits and any that are badly placed. Thin until only the biggest and healthiest fruits remain, spaced 4-6 inches apart for dessert varieties, or 6-9 inches apart for cooking types.
Thinning Other Fruits
Pears: It’s less crucial to thin pears than apples, but thinning will help produce consistent harvests. Thin fruits clusters to two fruits, with 4-6 inches between fruits.
Plums: Plums can be thinned using just your thumb and finger. Leave one fruitlet every couple of inches, or one pair every six inches if it’s easier.
Peaches: Thin in stages. Once they reach the size of a hazelnut, thin to one fruit every four inches. Thin again when the fruits are golf ball size to their final spacing of 8-10 inches.
Nectarines: Thin once, to six inches between fruits.
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