Thinning Fruit

Young trees seldom set so much fruit that they need to be thinned. But once apple, pear, peach, and plum trees start bearing well, thinning produces larger, better-colored, and higher-quality fruit. If you don't thin fruit, trees

Train peaches to vase-shaped trees.

may expend so much energy ripening the crop that they will not rebloom the following year.

The proper time to thin fruit is about two to three weeks after bloom, after early fruit drop when fruits are about the size of a quarter. The first step is to remove small and insect- or disease-injured fruit. Then remove all but one fruit where there are several in a single cluster, leaving the largest of the fruit.

Then with peaches remove additional fruit so that the remaining ones are spaced 4 to 8 inches apart (early cultivars require wider spacing). Thin plums so the fruits are 4 inches apart (cherries do not require thinning).

Fruit thinning is especially important with apples. Excessive fruit set reduces flower bud formation for the next season and results in alternate bearing—a heavy crop of small-sized fruit one year and little or no crop the next. Thinning within the month after bloom helps prevent alternate bearing. Space apples 4 to 6 inches apart so that one apple occupies every second or third spur. Thinning actually requires very little time, and the improvement in size, quality, and repeat bloom is worth the effort.

Be cautious about postbloom use of the insecticide carbaryl (Sevin), which also acts as a fruit thinner.

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