This week we continue our series about fruit thinning—a very relevant topic in spring.

We’ve already talked here about the main reason for thinning. Today we’re talking about how to use the same technique to protect the structure of your trees.

The key is removing the right amount of fruit.

Most fruit in your fruit tree is carried on the small side shoots, or laterals, that grow from the main branches. As such, they are a very precious part of the tree, and need to be protected.

Left to its own devices, your tree will often bear so much fruit on a branch or lateral that the weight breaks the branch. You can see this in the photos above and below (we have LOTS of these photos).

The weight of too much fruit has broken branches in this apple tree
The weight of too much fruit has broken branches in this apple tree

How much fruit should you leave on the tree?

Your job when thinning is to remove some of the fruit that the tree has produced. One of the factors guiding how much fruit to leave behind is to leave only as much as that part of the tree can easily carry.

Bebeco apricots after thinining - not too much weight for the lateral to carry
Bebeco apricots after thinining – not too much weight for the lateral to carry

Try to imagine how large and heavy the fruit will be when it’s fully mature.

As a very rough rule of thumb, a short lateral can only bear the weight of one piece of fruit, and a longer or stronger lateral can carry two or more pieces.

However, this totally depends on the size of the fruit, and the strength of the lateral. You’ll need to make a judgement call in every case.

Clingstone peach after thinning - notice just one peach on the lateral
Clingstone peach after thinning – notice just one peach on the lateral

Of course the actual amount of fruit you can leave on the tree depends on many variables:

  • the type of fruit,
  • the variety (cultivar),
  • the ultimate size of the fruit at harvest,
  • whether the tree is heavy, medium or light crop,
  • when it’s due to be harvested,
  • age of the tree, etc.

It’s fine to just follow the rule-of-thumb guidelines we provide.

However if you’re keen to make sure you protect your tree, or in a hurry to get good results, you’ll need the more detailed chart that’s included in the Grow Great Fruit program and the Fruit Tree Thinning short course. The chart is designed to help you make a simple calculation that considers ALL the variables, which might just save you (and your trees) a few years of trial and error!