When to hand thin apples

Never tried this before and am sick of biennial, golf ball sized apples.

I start thinning not long after petal fall. If you wait you will find some will self-thin so its a trade-off to some degree; every variety is different. I know some of my trees are really bad about keeping every apple so I thin them hard and early. The main thing is by nickel-sized or so you should have thinning mostly done. There is no need to get all the thinning done at once, especially when starting out its best to do it in waves over a few weeks. The eventual goal is roughly to have an apples worth of space between any two apples at harvest. So, remembering how big a trees apples will be at harvest in your head, leave a full-sized apple worth of space between them. When the apples are just little babies that means leave two harvest-sized apples of space between babies.

One other thing, if you are routinely getting a fair amount of bug damage leave more apples for later thinning. Often the bugs will not hit all the apples and you can thin out the bad ones. I often initially thin apples to two per cluster, then go one per cluster in a few weeks. This is one way I can get a good crop without bug killers.


Scott- I like your ingenious method of delayed thinning in the war on bugs. Will try it here as soon as I get apples, which means I first have to stop cutting off all the branches and grafting to new stuff!!

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I also want to add that to me, thinning apples is easier than thinning pears. For each cluster of apple, there is a king fruit, bigger than the rest. I always leave the king fruit (if not damaged) first and thin other out. For pears, it’s very emotional since they all look equally good.

Like Scott, I do thinning a few times, not all at once. I also bag them early.

I am not worried about June drops. So far, it’s not a big issue for me. Maybe, the apple varieties I have do not drop as much. I tend to believe that early thinning helps lessen severity of June drop.

I would add another vote for thinning in waves to “reduce” insect damage. if it’s manageable and you don’t have to use a ladder.

We get a lot of clean fruit at harvest, but it’s not for lack of damaged apples in spring.

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The experts often say that any thinning after about 4 weeks past petal fall is not helpful to assure annual cropping, and mostly thinning is what they talk about to get production reliably annual but it is just part of the story.

One good idea for me is to strip the blossoms of of every other spur or so when the trees are a mass of closely spaced spurs. No need to have clusters closer than 5 inches, even if you are going by Scott’s conservative rout. The spurs with early blossom removal are likely to form flowers for next year.

It is the spur leaves that make the committee decision about whether to invest energy in forming next years blossoms and it is based on how much energy they have to spend. Too much fruit is one thing, but not enough sun is just as discouraging. That is another reason that having very open trees where branches don’t shade other branches is important.

If a tree is especially biennial I expect that mopping out suckers that are growing on big wood early must be useful if they are casting shade on the spur leaves. They are also sucking nitrogen which will also affect how much energy the spur leaves have. This isn’t about typical summer pruning- by then it would be too late- I’m talking about spring pruning even though the shoots will likely grow back when you take out suckers that early.

Foliar nitrogen applications- one in early spring and another in mid should also help the spur leaves grow quickly and gather more energy.

SFS: nice plan, thanks.

Mamuang: I started to hand thin Empire, today, 80% of the king fruit were dropping,stem yellow and loose. I am leaving 2" between fruit.I was very surprised by the king fruit dropping.

I am surprised to hear it, too. Do you suspect a pollination issue? How big are your apples now? Does your “june Drop” arrive early?

I hope you have plenty of fruit left.

My Honey Crisp is finally covered with fruit buds on every short spurs. I will need to thin many clusters out. They are close to one another.

The amount of fruit is almost overwhelming. Fruit is the size of peppercorns.

Thats a good point Alan, one I keep forgetting about. Its not hard to get nearly all the thinning done in that period even if you are holding back a bit so you have some backups - the curculio damage is pretty mostly over a couple weeks after petal fall.

I have been watching my apples like a hawk every day now, some are approaching pea size which is the curc’s usual kickoff point. Since I have a long bloom period I like to wait as late as possible before spraying my Surround. So far I have found a few curc scars on apricots and thats it.

Any suggestions on how to hand thin about 600 trees in order to remove ALL of the Apples?

It does not look like the sevin and fruitone I sprayed at petal fall is going to strip as many of the apples as I expected, so I need to remove them manually. After a big fireblight outbreak last year I had to chop up the young trees to remove the blight. The apple doctor who visited the farm suggested that I remove all the fruit this year so the tree will grow more and fill the space on the trellis properly.

No signs of fireblight so far this year so far!

Sometimes it’s easier to prune than than thin and 2-year spur wood can be a vigor sink not just for apples but next years blooms. That is not a complete sub for thinning but can be part of the process.

I know we are talking about apples here, but this is also true for peaches. Every variety is different. I write down varieties which don’t set as much fruit or easily abort a lot of fruit once out of the shuck. These varieties need to be thinned last. Some varieties don’t really need thinned at all.

I’ve also noticed this for pears. Something like Harrow Sweet sets a lot of fruit and needs thinned heavily. I have a Red Bartlett which I wait till fruit are pretty good size before thinning, because so many fruit drop.

For peaches I’d really like to wait until fruit was thumbnail size and thin it all in a week but it’s just not practical for me, so we start at petal fall.

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I put fruit sox or ziplocs on now, about the same time as thinning. I check the fruit to make sure they don’t have codling moth, thin those and a few more, then bag the good ones.
JOhn S