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estreya_gw

Do all fruit trees need to be thinned?

estreya
13 years ago

Hi, everyone! Last year, i didn't sufficiently thin the apples on my apple trees. I know this because there are far fewer clusters of flowers this year, and i kind of had the feeling i wasn't thinning enough while i was doing it (i just couldn't bring myself to pluck off so many adorable baby apples). Alas, we live and learn.

While the apple trees seem to more or less be taking a year off, i've got plums, peaches and figs that are just laden. Just absolutely laden with adorable baby fruit clusters. Do i need to thin these also, or is it only apple trees that require thinning in order to produce fruit every year?

Comments (28)

  • jellyman
    13 years ago

    Estreya:

    Figs do no need to be thinned. All the others do, no matter how adorable. Apples should be thinned to one fruit per cluster for best quality, but I guess you already know that, especially on young trees.

    Thinning is not, however, the only factor in return bloom on apples. Some apples are alternate bearing, and that is all there is to it. Thinning apples will greatly improve the size and quality of the fruit, but will not affect return bloom, although removal of blossom clusters before they open can help. Summer pruning is the best technique I know of for increasing bloom on apples, along with branch selection and spreading. You cannot expect young trees to mathematically increase their bloom and production each successive season.

    Plums and peaches definitely require extensive thinning to produce decent size fruit, so get to it. Leave the largest, fastest growing specimens, and take off the smallest. Spread them out; plums to about 4 inches, peaches to more like 7 or 8 inches. Do not allow your empathy with the baby fruits to influence your thinning decisions.

    Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

  • estreya
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    "Do not allow your empathy with the baby fruits to influence your thinning decisions."

    ~ rofl ~

    This is so great! Thank you, Don. I'm capturing your entire post with that last sentence highlighted and adding it to my gardening file.

    So unlike pruning (my other bugaboo), there's really no risk of overthinning, yes? It seems i can rest assured that if i thin with abandon, i will be emphasizing quality over quantity and contributing to the overall health of the trees?

    For example, in the photographs below, i'm now inclined to snip off all but one fruit per frame. The peaches are already less dense than the plums. And i guess cherries need to be thinned also (though the birds polish those off before i can get to them regardless).

    I guess i'll have to wait till next year to see what the apples do. With only a few flower clusters this year (on all but the crabapple), there's really not much to snip.

    Thank you again (as always) ...

    e
    {{gwi:104927}}

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  • Scott F Smith
    13 years ago

    I don't think cherries are thinned. I never have.

    Scott

  • jellyman
    13 years ago

    Right Scott. I forgot about cherries, which seem to be in photo #4. But pretty much everything else.......

    Photos 1 and 2 look like some kind of plum, and #3, of course, peaches. It would be nice to know for sure. Nice photos though.

    Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

  • softmentor
    13 years ago

    More thoughts about thinning. don't do it too soon. Some fruit will drop anyway and you want to wait till the tree has done it's own thinning that way.
    Next I like to shake the tree. A really vigorous shake limb by limb will shake off some of the weaker fruit.
    Then last of all I do a little hand pinching to thin what's left ... just right.

  • alan haigh
    13 years ago

    Jellyman, I read of some research in "Goodfruit" that showed that Honeycrisp actually bears larger fruit if you leave 2 in a cluster in the 1-year tip spurs- go figure! I guess you just leave more space between couples. If it's true on HC chances are there are other varieties that it is also true of- maybe ones without real dominant kings.

  • lycheeluva
    13 years ago

    For my apples, i plan on allowing approx 10% of the clusters to devlop 3 apples, 40% of the clusters to develop 2 apples, and 50% to develop 1 apple.

    My trees are about 4 years old. If I thinned to this plan, and all the fruit developed to maturity (& of course i will not achieve 100% maturity rate), I would be left with about 150-175 apples per tree.

    Is this thinning plan insufficient? I don't need to have massive apples. I just want medium sized apples that will reach maturity. Because of the immaturity of the trees, and to a smaller extent some pruning, the tree only has about 75-100 bloom clusters that contain at least 1 viable fruitlet. If I only left 1 apple per cluster, I would would only stand to yield a maximum of 75 apples.

    Do commercial apple growers thin to only 1 fruit per cluster?

  • myk1
    13 years ago

    lycheeluva,
    You don't say how big the trees are or how big the trees should potentially be. A 4 year old dwarf could conceivably be in full production, or it could not be.
    Have you actually counted the clusters or is that an estimate? I bet there's more or your trees must be very small.
    80-90 apples per bushel. Some non-spur type dwarfs can produce around 5 bushels. That's 425 apples.

    I'm only going by what I've read because I just started spraying where I can actually see what a tree can produce. I have seen 1 bushel for half dwarf size espaliers and 4 bushels easy for a semi-dwarf spur type. That is all the way to harvest without a good spray program.

    I've never been big on thinning so I've had many that set multiples per cluster over the years.
    A good reason to leave one apple per cluster is bugs. I don't know how they know but codling moth larvae seem to be able to go from one apple to the next at the exact spot they are touching.
    If the stems are short the cavity where the apples meet makes a great hiding place for everything with a mouth. And it can be a hiding place from sprays.
    Earwigs are terrible for living in there.

    Also with short stems the apples get very tight. If you don't have one push the other off early (and inevitably it's the one you would've rather stayed on) it's impossible to check if they're ripe and ready to come off the tree easily.
    So even if bagging keeps the bugs away there are some pitfalls of having more than one per cluster.

  • estreya
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    Yes, the plums in the photographs are Shiro and Satsuma (or they may both be of the Shiro - i can't really tell). The peach is a Frost, and despite the name, last year, a late frost took all the fruit. I think that cherry picture is the Stella.

    I won't thin the cherries.

    It's interesting information about the Honeycrisp. I've got two of those, though they're not the ones that inspired my question. It's Melrose and Gala that are so drastically underproducing this year as compared to last.

    Lots of follow up information here, so thank you all. I'll read it really carefully.

    ~~ scoots off to look up "spur type" versus "non-spur type" apples ~~

  • lycheeluva
    13 years ago

    they are semi- dwarfs. one if is about 12-14 ft foot

    the other is about 10ft.

    the numbers i gave are really just a guess. they could be quite inaccurate!

    (about 15% of my clusters dont look like they will set any fruit.)

  • glib
    13 years ago

    Hardy kiwis, mulberries, various nut trees, currants, and most brambles don't need thinning either. Surely also aronia, sea buckthorn, goumi and the other small-fruited shrubs, such as blueberry.

  • alan haigh
    13 years ago

    In the literature it's often spelled out as a specific # of leaves per fruit. Generally, I like to make sure that at least things are spaced far enough apart that ripe fruit doesn't touch (ok, maybe I'll make an exception of Honeycrisp just to test what I read). If I leave more room than that so ripe fruit is seperated by a couple inches it can improve overall quality. But I'm in the northeast where it often helps to notch up the sugar a bit.

    It is very hard to thin the trees even on my own property enough. Seems like I've done the job and I come back a few days later and evil elves have reattached half the fruit I removed! Now I error on the side of more thinning and never regret it - except when it still isn't enough.

  • myk1
    13 years ago

    "~~ scoots off to look up "spur type" versus "non-spur type" apples ~~"

    Spur types are like "Starkspur" (from Stark obviously) and "Compspur" (from Miller). They're usually mutants that produce a ton of spurs. Everything seems to be a spur, even the spurs have spurs (literally, I have some flowers branching off other flowers). I imagine they would give someone who's obsessive about thinning nightmares.

    My guess is that types that tend to go biennial don't make it as spur types because thinning even one small spur-type would be tedious.

    "they are semi- dwarfs."
    My S-D took 5 years to set any fruit, but it is a slow growing spur type.

    I wouldn't worry about thinning for the sake of future production. They sound like they are just coming into bearing age going by my experience, are on the low side of their abilities and their size is enough to handle those fruit amounts while still having energy for growth.

    Do you want to be thinning 12'-14' anyway?
    Remember I'm not a big fan of thinning but if it was me and I wanted to thin for the sake of insect hideaways it would be later after nature took care of the thinning and when the fruit is large enough to see from the ground and knock off with a stick.

    "Seems like I've done the job and I come back a few days later and evil elves have reattached half the fruit I removed!"

    I've noticed that trying to thin my McIntosh to 1 apple per cluster before the tree drops apples to 1 cluster per branch but leaves 4 apples on that cluster.
    Seems every time I go out I'm finding a cluster left that still has 3-4 apples gaining in size.

  • olpea
    13 years ago

    "It is very hard to thin the trees even on my own property enough. Seems like I've done the job and I come back a few days later and evil elves have reattached half the fruit I removed."

    Alan,

    Do you use a thinner first, or all by hand? Also, do you thin your client's trees? If not, how do you get the millionaires to thin their trees, just curious?

  • alan haigh
    13 years ago

    I haven't started complicating my life with chemical thinning- maybe I should, but the nightmares commercial growers have trying to get it right makes me nervous- plus I don't want Sevin in my program (a necessary component)- too many mite flare-ups.

    The thing about thinning apples with chemicals is there is no specific recipe and each variety reacts differently- dropping relatively more or less fruit with the same ratio of Sevin and NAA. Even on specific varieties the amount of chemical is calculated by factoring in preceding and current weather temps. My sites have a wide mix of varieties with usually only one or 2 of each- so I think you can understand my being timid- I can't very well make a seperate mix for different varieties.

    Yes, my multi-millionaire clients often pay dearly to have huge apple trees and the rest thinned by hand. I bring help for that particular task- It's almost as onerous as grafting and not very good for my shoulders, keeping my arms outstretched for endless, tedious hours. Planting and pruning are what I love to do.

    Besides pest control, I consider thinning the single most important factor in producing high quality peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, pears and of course apples. Grapes are worth thinning also, but by removing the smaller bunches.

    In the same way inexperienced growers have difficulty removing enough wood when they prune even more do they hate to strip that precious fruit. Sometimes I have to send my clients back into their houses so their crying doesn't distract me and cause me to allow too much fruit to stay on the trees.

  • lycheeluva
    13 years ago

    harvestman- "Sometimes I have to send my clients back into their houses so their crying doesn't distract me and cause me to allow too much fruit to stay on the trees."

    funny (almost as funny as "jellyman can be, shall we say, a little bit indelicate"

    btw- HM, what do u make of my thinning plan (a few posts up this thread). insufficient? also, do commercial apple growers limit their clusters to a single apple? i seem to recall when going to pick your own operations that there were plenty of multiple apples from single clusters?

  • alan haigh
    13 years ago

    LL, wait, Jellyman is a perfect gentleman, I'm the one with the obnoxiously blunt trademark. It's not my fault, mother nature drew me this way. Some plants are thorny.

    Your plan sounds like a great one to learn the benefits of thinning without sacrificing too many really nice apples. But you should know- it's not about how many apples per cluster but how many well exposed leaves per fruit. The leaves need to be in close proximity of the fruit they are serving. The leaves make most of the sugar.

  • larry_gene
    13 years ago

    I've never thinned my quince tree and several others in the vicinity are not thinned and bloom & produce year after year.
    Fruit size remains constant; the larger quince are in newer growth in the top of the tree.

  • alan haigh
    13 years ago

    "Fruit size remains constant; the larger quince are in newer growth in the top of the tree."

    The top of the tree is where the leaves get the best light which not only allows them to efficiently harvest light but more sap is pulled through better exposed leaves so the picnic is complete. All the needed materials delivered by the roots are amply available.

    I bet if the trees were pruned to expose all branches to similar light, you'd get larger quinces throughout the tree and their quality would be improved over all. I forgot to credit pruning as one of the obvious components important to quality fruit.

  • keepitlow
    13 years ago

    Don, my peaches and nectarines are not producing anything so far. Are some peaches alternate year bearing? The trees were just planted last year and produced maybe 8 or so small fruit then. Trees are about 6 to 7 feet tall.

  • alan haigh
    13 years ago

    Stone fruit reliably produce annual fruit if weather cooperates and they are in adequate vigor. sorry I'm not don.

  • murkwell
    13 years ago

    estreya,

    In my experience those smaller yellower plumlets in your first picture will fall off by themselves whether you want them or not.

    You can see that event their stems are thinner and yellower than the larger green plumlets.

    Congratulations. My plums seem to be off to their best start in the last 3 or 4 years. My apples are very sparse. It may be something with our weather, or you and I may be on the same biennial cycle.

    I have the same quince as Larry and that thing is the most precocious fruit tree I've ever seen. Geez, its less that 4 feet tall and must have had at least 100 flowers that all wanted to set. I pulled off all but maybe 10 near the trunk and may get the rest too.

    Apparently if you want to improve the biennial bearing of pommes by thinning you need to get them VERY early, well before the fruit are big enough to tell which are the good ones.

  • larry_gene
    13 years ago

    harvestman, that is interesting. I think my tree is somewhat odd. All the other quince trees within 2 miles have evenly-sized fruit all over the tree; at least 3 quince varieties are represented. My tree has trouble setting fruit on the north side only--lending to the better light/pruning theory. But having only a single tree, so much pruning would be required (quince has very dense foliage), that the total harvest weight might be reduced by trying to get bigger average fruit.

    murky--my tree always self-thins, dropping fruit marble to golf ball size until late July, reducing the fruit count from 1000-2000 down to 100-200. I'm guessing yours would do the same. The tree guerrilla-planted down at Trader Joe's and about 7 feet tall last year had about 50 fruits, all the same size (well-sized fruit). Nobody's thinning that tree either.

  • larry_gene
    13 years ago

    ..after doing some reading, maybe I'm lucky the quince tree blooms before bee season, otherwise a more productive set would require thinning.

  • alan haigh
    13 years ago

    What bees you talking about? Here we have an extremely vigorous showing of various bees and flies attending the earliest blossums of spring- weeks before even apricots. They're all over the crocus and pussy willows.

  • larry_gene
    13 years ago

    Any bees. The quince bloomed late this year by 2 or 3 weeks and as a result the bloom caught a couple of warm spells. There were various bees all over my rosemary 40 feet away. Can't say there were no bees on the quince, but I never noticed any. My truck is parked right next to it and I come & go all the time. Never see any bees around that quince, but plenty of walnut husk flies in late summer on the ripening fruit--and they're not nearly as obvious as bees.

  • alan haigh
    13 years ago

    The one thing that the internet has taught me or at least strongly reinforced is the concept that horticulture is extremely regional when it comes to troubleshooting and with understanding the behaviors of insects and wildlife in general. You only really know about what goes on in your region or sometimes just your own backyard. In my backyard all flowers seem to get tended to, even the supposedly much less attractive pear blossums are swarming with some kind of a pollinating fly when they're in bloom. I suspect quince has a similar, less nutritious pollen as pears. Oldtimers used to hang decaying meat from fruit trees sometimes to attract flies that would feast on meat and have a bit of pollen for dessert (OK, maybe not in that order).

  • larry_gene
    13 years ago

    Yup. On another forum thread, a fellow says quince was the LAST to bloom of all his fruit trees and here it is among the FIRST to bloom.

    Now this meat thing could be interesting. There seems to be a lot of forum-discussed squirrels going to waste when they could be hanging from fruit trees, drawing flies.