Carrington Research Extension Center


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Thinning Apples


This cooler weather gives me a break from finishing apple pruning so that I can tell you about a future activity: thinning apple fruit.  If you thin the young fruit on your apple tree, you will increase the size and sweetness of the crop and reduce stress on your tree so that it might bear fruit every year.

Early June is a perfect time to do this when the fruits are dime- to nickel-sized.  Just use your fingers. Gently, but firmly, tip the little apples to the side and they should crack off.  Drop them on the ground. If there’s no disease, you can just let them dry up in the grass. Be gentle enough so that you don’t break off the whole fruiting spur.

Thin to 1 apple per cluster and 1 fruit every 4-6 inches. You might have to remove a whole cluster to achieve this. Keep the biggest apple in the cluster (the king fruit). If you have a choice, chose to keep the apple nearest the main branches.  The farther out they are toward the tips, the more they will bend or break the branches as they get grow.

Gently, but firmly, tip the little apples to the side and they should crack off.

After you thin the apples, wait about 2 weeks and thin again. This time the apples will be larger and you will see all the clusters you missed or perhaps you would like to widen the space between fruits. Note: If you wait to do the first thinning until the fruit is bigger, you will not influence the final crop or the next year’s crop near as much. It really needs to be done at the dime- to nickel-size.

Remember that pruning is your first line of control for the number of apples on the tree.

Below is an example of a Zestar! apple tree that was not thinned or pruned. It had both ripe apples falling off and still-green apples at the same time. The photo was on the north, shady side of the tree where no direct sunlight could penetrate. The fruit I am holding is from CREC trees, which I picked in 2 sessions about 5 days apart. Our harvest was complete the day before this comparison photo was taken.

Kathy Wiederholt
Fruit Project Manager

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