How We Thin Fruit Trees for Optimum Tree Health

This summer is rolling right along, and here at the orchard there is a constant flurry of activity. This week one of the tasks for our workers has been to thin our peaches and apples. Thinning involves removing excess fruit to give the tree the best chance of producing the loveliest, most flavorful fruit while maintaining overall tree health to keep our trees in production as many years as possible.

When we thin an apple or peach tree we want to make sure the fruit is perfectly spaced for the variety. For example, for some of our more extreme peach varieties, we want to leave three pieces of fruit for every 1 ½ feet of small tree limb. I think it’s such a waste but my husband assures me that this is necessary!

Look at all the fruit on the ground!

The amount we want to leave on the branches will vary from variety to variety. How my husband keeps all this straight, I have no idea.

Before thinning apple trees


After thinning apple trees

If you end up with too much fruit on any one branch of a tree it can lead to various problems; the most obvious would be limb breakage which exposes the tree to diseases and decreased production in the following years. Having too much fruit on a branch can also decrease the flavor, size and shape of the fruit because the tree has to spread its energy to all the individual fruits. If a tree has too much fruit, it can also weaken the health of the tree for the following years as it has to expend so much energy to sustain the excess fruit.

In fruit growing, less often means more: more yield, better flavor and increased coloring as the sun has more opportunity to hit all sides of a peach or apple and it’s not squished together with its neighbor. When a tree can pour all its energy into a select few, the sweetness and flavor will increase.

We thin our trees in a variety of ways, sometimes having workers individually thin out pieces of fruit by hand. This can be hot and itchy work when it involves peaches. Believe me, I’ve tried it! Our tree thinners will take off anything with blemishes or misshapen forms first. They also pay attention to crowding to make sure there are not too many pieces on any given branch.

If a tree has an overabundance of thinning to be done, a more “sophisticated” method involves whacking it with a hose type mechanism. Seriously, I laughed when I first saw this. My husband calls it “natural selection,” as the weakest pieces of fruit will give way and fall to the ground, leaving the strong and hardy ones clinging for dear life. Poor peaches!

While driving about the orchard this morning, we also caught a glimpse of some bees in action at our blackberry plants. We had a competition to see who could get the best shot of the bees at work. I won hands down for the best shot, but I can guarantee there was more screaming involved on my end (as I hate bees buzzing at my head). I can’t wait to taste these juicy blackberries.


Also, we wanted to give you a sneak peak at the baby donut peaches. Aren’t they cute? They are still a couple weeks away from being ready. But hang on, they are coming!

I hope you enjoyed this brief explanation of thinning. Maybe it gives some insight to backyard fruit hobbyists and fellow fruit fans. I can’t wait to bite into my first juicy peach of the season. I’m told to start looking for them in the next 7- 10 days!