How to get a better harvest by fruit thinning – Retail

PlantNet's Guide to Fruit Trees

Follow our guide to growing the best fruit trees in the neighbourhood! Get professional tips and tricks on all things fruit trees.

Why is fruit thinning important?

Fruit thinning might seem counterintuitive, but it’s actually a very important step in growing a luscious fruit tree. Don’t go running for the secateurs just yet – there is an art to thinning your deciduous fruit tree.

What is fruit thinning?

When your fruit trees produce fruit, sometimes, because there is too much growing on the trees, the entire crop is disappointingly small. By deliberately cutting away fruit, you’ll allow what’s left over to develop into a larger, healthier crop.

Fruit thinning is important because:

  • When a tree carries too much crop, the fruit will likely be small and of lower quality.
  • There is a risk of branches breaking if the fruit crop its producing is too heavy.
  • Thinning lets more sunlight into the branches, which improves the evenness of ripening.
  • Young trees may be stunted if they overproduce too early.
  • Your fruit tree is at risk of biennial bearing where one year the crop is good, and the next year it is poor.
  • It can reduce the risk of pests and diseases.

How to thin fruit trees

Fruit thinning is quite easy; you’ll need sharp secateurs or just your fingers.

  • Fruit thinning should begin on stone fruit when the fruit is the size of a 10-cent piece and for apples when fruit reaches 25mm in diameter.
  • Leave the most advanced fruit where possible, as these will often be the largest fruit at harvest. Pull off any twins/doubles and split up fruit growing back to back to give fruit room to grow.
  • For young trees up to 2 years old leave one fruit per lateral or twig; for stone fruit at 2 years old leave no more than 40 fruit per tree and apples the same.
  • For trees 3 years and older leave 1 fruit on small laterals and 2-3 on thicker laterals for stone fruit. For apples, leave no more than 3 fruit in a bunch.
  • Aim for 40-70 fruit per tree for strong, healthy trees in year 3 and increase fruit numbers yearly.
  • At 4 years old for dwarf stone fruit, healthy, well-established trees planted in the ground will carry 200 fruit per tree, 100 fruit per tree if planted in a pot and apples 150-200 fruit if planted in the ground, 70-80 fruit if planted in a pot.

When to start thinning fruit trees

Early summer (December) is the best time to thin fruit trees in Australia. It should happen after pollination occurs and when fruits are no bigger than an inch in diameter.

Leprechaun Apple fruit tree from PlantNet

Apple tree growth stages

Bud swell on apple tree.
Apple blossoms.

Thinning time for apples.

Apple ready for harvest.

Stone fruit tree growth stages

Bud swell on peaches and nectarines – centre bud will be a shoot and side buds will be flowers shown in this image.

Stone fruit flowers

Thinning time for stone fruit.
Stone fruit at harvest.