Thinning Excess Fruit

Many areas of Missouri and Kansas have avoided late freezes resulting in a heavy fruit crop this year. At first glance, this might seem to be a good thing. However, too many fruit can cause problems that should be alleviated with thinning. For example, a heavy fruit crop can soak up so much energy that little is left for fruit bud development. This can result in a small crop next year. This problem most often appears with apples. Thus, thinning helps ensure that good crops are produced each year. The second benefit of thinning is to promote larger fruit on this year’s crop. Fruit trees are limited in how many fruit they can mature. Too many fruit and fruit size goes down. A third problem often caused by too many fruit is limb damage. Sometimes the weight of a maturing fruit crop can literally break branches. Thinning will help limit weight and preserve branches.

So how much thinning should we do? Thinning recommendations vary with the type of tree. Guidelines for fruit spacing are as follows:

Apples and pears: 4 to 6 inches apart;
Peaches: 4 to 8 inches apart;
Plums and prunes: 4 to 5 inches apart; and
Apricots: 2 to 4 inches between fruit.

These are averages and so you may have several fruit clustered closer than this distance. As long as the average on the branch is close to the recommended spacing, the fruit should size well. Cherries are not thinned and can produce a full fruit load.


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