Thinning flower buds for annual production of apples

This is the time of the year we can look at our apple trees and know the crop potential based on the number of flower buds or open flowers, although how many of those flowers will set fruit is dependent on many factors, but their very existence is the result of a high expenditure of energy the previous year. The decision to expend that energy is supposed to be settled within 3 weeks of petal fall, although I’m not certain that is true. Clearly, it can be and is mostly decided by then, or I assume it is, because commercial fruit growers have centuries of anecdotal experience and there is plenty of research in the last century about fruit thinning during the 2 or 3 weeks after petal fall to help assure a good crop the following year.

I always get my apples thinned early to the point that at least a lot of individual spurs (those clusters of leaves that on bearing years contain a cluster of flower buds changing to fruit) have no fruit at all and most remaining have only a single one. Nevertheless, this year, several of my orchard apple trees have almost no flowers after providing a bounty of pretty well thinned fruit last year. Last spring had many rainy, cloudy and cool days which may have challenged the energy reserves of the trees regardless of early thinning.

However, my two Goldrush trees are loaded with flower buds after providing the same kind of bounty last year- so are my early and regular Pink Lady apples. Baldwin, Hudson’s Golden Gem, Bookscop, Fortune, Spygold, Spitz and a few others, not so much. Jonagold may have adequate bloom for a moderate crop. It is always the late ripening, important storage apples that are difficult to keep from being biennial- which is one reason I have some doubt about spring being the only season that determines the formation of flower buds the following year.

All varieties were spring pruned to assure max light reached spur leaves through spring and then summer pruned to keep light reaching the leaves that matter to me in a bearing age, full sized tree- that is, the leaves that serve the fruit.

My site is near the base of a hollow, unfortunately, that truncates early morning and late afternoon sun, which I am convinced is a liability for annual production (by way of a great deal of comparison over the years with orchards that get sun dawn to dusk). I used to have trouble getting Goldrush to bear annually in my orchard until I started a campaign of thinning all the flower buds or just opened flowers from at least half the spurs on a tree in addition to the pruning I do during the growing season. I don’t do that for Pink Lady, but it seems to reliably tip-bear on one-year shoots. That “decision” by the tree seems to have been made well after spring.

The bad news is, I won’t have a huge surplus of apple this coming season, the good news is I won’t have a huge surplus of apples this coming season. If all goes well I will have plenty for my own family without having to worry about distributing my surplus. Hopefully I will only have to give away surplus stonefruit, which is always the most appreciated anyway. The tedium of thinning apples will also be hugely reduced this season.


@alan my Early mcintosh apple had a very nice crop last year… and this year I noticed the apple blossoms were quite a bit thinner on the tree. Probably 1/2 to 1/3 of the previous year… I may have very little thinning to do.

My 3 yr old gold rush has blooms galore.
It bloomed some last year in year 2 and set some fruit… which unfortunately dropped late Sept b4 ripe.

Hopefully this year I get to try a gold rush.

My Akane and Hudson Golden Gem (now yr 3) have leafed out but no blooms… I was sure hoping to get some of those this year.
Is it common for some apple trees not to bloom until year 4 or later ?

Since there are no other pollinators near by for my gold rush… I hand pollinated it with blooms from my Early mc… and also cut a few bloom covered limbs off my backyard crabapple put them in a bottle of water and tied them up in my gold rush. It should be well pollinated this year.

I have been impressed with gold rush… it seems to have a great desire to produce fruit. It does not like my eastern red cedars though… gets the CAR pretty bad.

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Very common, on 111 many varieties take about 6 years to come into production. Goldrush begins flowering the first season, it is what is classified as a spur-type apple, like the most commonly grown Ark Black strain. Ark Black is too much and difficult for me to size up as a nursery tree, no matter how early I remove spurs. I should start grafting it on already decent sized, more vigorous trees.

With our sun I’ve never had an apple miss a crop. Bosc pear will but not apples. Even a loaded down apple is covered in bloom the next year.

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Sun and long season. What varieties do you grow?

I have a client with huge, over century old apple trees. Baldwin’s, RI Greenings and Macintosh mostly. The trees in the open sun reliably bear literally tons of fruit every year- my Baldwins are very biennial. I believe I have observed a correlation between seedling rootsocks and less bieniality but she also has the advantage of full sign- it was originally a commercial endeavor. There’s a big root cellar built into the side of a small hill apparently used to store apples.

Right now just Goldrush, Golden D, and Ginger Gold. Maybe I’m just Golden.

In the past, dozens of varieties. They don’t alternate bear here.

Three relatively reliable annual croppers. Ginger Gold always bears here, or at least tries to by flowering every year. .

Hey all… and calling out @BlueBerry since I have heard him mention growing apples in containers.

I got this NovaMac on B9 a few weeks back… and healed it into my compost pile temporarily… then moved it to a container (shown above). It is 24 inch wide 15 inch deep and filled with a mix of topsoil from my field and compost. About 60 soil 40 compost.

Notice the top shoot on it has buds/blossoms developing.

Should I remove the blooms on this start up apple tree in container ?

Note after the soil settles some I will mulch it good.

I have never grown a fruit tree in a container…
Have I started off ok on this one ?

Would you change anything ?

Note… when I ordered this tree our plans were to Clear land and build at a new location. With the crazy cost of building materials… we have put that on hold a while… and instead we are doing some nice improvements to our current home, granite in the kitchen, concrete patio out back, etc.

I may just keep this novamac on b9 in this planter until fall and then plant it at our new location. That is sort of the plan.

Any tips for growing container apples ?
At least for this growing season ?

Remove the blooms or leave them ?


At this point, removing or not the blooms is of little consequence. But, if they get pollinated, you need to pinch off the fruits. (Or, like me sometimes be tempted to let just one stay, but it stunts the tree.)

You’ve over-done (good job I should say!) the potting. I put my 100 or so bench grafted trees into the smallest pot that can currently accommodate them and not trim much on existing roots.
My plan is to move such to a larger pot next spring (or later if they didn’t look like they need a bigger pot yet). And/or plant in soil or sell some possibly if I have extras of a variety. But, I have some 5 year olds in 1.5 gallon pots, and they probably are getting root bound. So, I’ve not taken as good a care as I should. Many I intend to plant out (the ones on standard and simi-d roots)…but the B-9, G-11 and B-10 I may keep in pots, just moving up to a pot like yours in 3 to 5 years. (And to a 15 gallon size eventually if I plan that as a permanent home for a B-9 or something.)

So, you’re fine. You’re over thinking it…but your plan to plant in the fall or next spring should be great…and you have a big enough pot you can keep it there a second or third year if need be!


ps. You can set in partial shade and rainfall may take care of it for you. Potting soil drains/dries so fast, but a 60/40 is probably going to save a lot of time using the garden hose!

Thanks @BlueBerry … I would rather over do it than under do it.

I don’t recall any of my other first year apples blooming… Gold rush did yr 2.

Perhaps that is a good sign for novamac… going to be a very fruitful tree. Hope so.

I will remove any fruit that happens to set this year.

After that soil settles some I am going to put a heap of mulch on top to help it keep moisture and not have to water so much.

It has no store bought soil in there… all real top soil and homemade compost + my usual adds… bone meal blood meal gypsum greensand epsomsalt.

I can see it right out my home office window… about 20 steps from my back porch… so watering will not be difficult at all… within reach of my back porch hose pipe.

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