Spring is a busy time in the garden and gardeners often find themselves with a list chores to complete. If you are looking for some inspiration to get started in your own garden, join us at our Spring Open Garden day on April 22, from 9 am – noon. Master Gardeners will be working in the garden and will be available to answer your gardening questions. We will have tomato plants for sale, several displays and demos (including tool sharpening so bring your pruners) and light refreshments. Come on out so you can see how to complete some of these spring garden chores. The garden is located at 2101 E Earhart Ave, Stockton, 95206. If you would like to see pictures from our Fall Open Garden day, click here.
By now, spring fever shopping at the local nursery has lead to a car full of plants that still need a home in your yard, the weeds are abundant, the battle with the aphids is beginning and we can’t forget the planning and planting of summer vegetable gardens. Your fruit tree should be loaded with small fruit and I bet you can already taste that ripe, juicy peach on a hot summer day.
One of the most often overlooked chores is fruit thinning. Fruit trees often set more fruit than they can support, especially if the trees were not properly pruned during the previous season. Excessive fruit compete with each other for carbohydrates (stored energy) and remain small.
BENEFITS OF THINNING FRUIT
Thinning immature fruit at the appropriate time allows each remaining fruit to develop to its maximum size. Less-crowded fruit receive more sunlight, so fruit color and flavor may be improved.
Reducing the fruit load through proper pruning and fruit thinning, especially near the ends of branches, lessens the chances of limb breakage. It’s much less tragic to pluck many tiny peaches off your favorite tree than to lose an entire limb because it was so heavily weighed down. It can also reduce alternate bearing (a cycle in which the tree bears excessively in one year and little the next year).
Fruit thinning can also reduce the spread of some diseases. For example, if the fruit are touching each other, brown rot can quickly spread from one fruit to another just before harvest.
NATURAL FRUIT THINNING
Flowers and fruits naturally thin themselves, often at distinct time periods. Blossoms that were not pollinated turn yellow and drop off just after flowering. Small, immature fruits often drop naturally during what is known as “June drop,” which usually occurs in May in California. Fruits that are diseased or infested with insects may also drop prematurely.
WHAT TO THIN
Cherries, figs, persimmons, pomegranates, citrus, and nut trees do not usually require thinning. However, branches of persimmon trees can break from the weight of a heavy crop and may benefit from some fruit thinning or branch propping. All stone fruits (peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries, plums, etc.) require thinning. Pome fruits like apples and Asian pears as well as most European pears require thinning. Bartlett pears often thin themselves, and harvesting larger fruit early (early to mid-July) allows the smaller fruit to increase in size for a second pick 1 to 2 weeks later.
HOW MUCH FRUIT TO THIN
Fruit should be thinned when they are fairly small–typically from early April (for early-ripening fruit) to mid-May (for late-ripening fruit). The amount of fruit to thin depends on the species and the overall fruit load on the tree. For example, stone fruits such as apricots and plums are fairly small, so they should be thinned to 2 to 4 inches apart on the branch. Peaches and nectarines should be thinned to about 3 to 5 inches. When the crop is heavy, fruit should be spaced no less than 6 to 8 inches apart.
Unlike stone fruits, which produce one fruit per bud, pome fruits (apples and pears) produce a cluster of flowers and fruit from each bud. Thin to no more than one to two fruit per cluster, depending on the total fruit set and growing conditions
HOW TO THIN FRUIT
It’s a simple (but tedious) task to thin fruit and it doesn’t require any special equipment, all you need is your hands. To avoid damaging branches, twist fruit off gently rather than pulling it. Remove “doubles” (two fruit fused together) and small, disfigured, or damaged fruit when you have the option. Extremely small or damaged fruit should be removed regardless of spacing, and leaving the largest fruits on the tree is more important than exact spacing. So, you will have to use your own judgment when making decisions about which fruit to thin and which to leave. Keep the largest fruit whenever possible.
If thinning by hand is impractical you can use a pole to help with the process. Pole-thinning is much faster, and although it is less accurate, the results are often sufficient. Attach a short rubber hose, cloth, or thick tape to the end of the pole to reduce scarring or bruising of branches. Strike individual fruit or clusters to remove a portion of the fruit. With experience, you will be able to strike a cluster once or twice with just enough force to adequately break up the cluster.
Once you have experienced the fruit at its best, thinning is performed with a solid sense of purpose and maybe even some excitement.
For gardening-related questions, call the UC Master Gardener office at 209-953-6112, or use our website: http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/.