Do you have fruit trees? We do! But they are only three-years old. That means that this year is the first year we could possibly get some great fruit – not much, but some fruit! YAY! We have a plum tree, peach tree, two apple trees and a pear tree.
A quick bunny trail that is a lesson for all of us about fruit trees:
We also have an old plum tree (about 13 years old) that was planted by the original home owners, but was neglected for several years. It does bear fruit, but because it was allowed to grow wildly, it has been a nightmare to prune and control this tree every year. Don’t let your newly planted trees go unpruned and grow freely. We have shoots that come up several feet around it and it has multiple trunks of various sizes (and stumps from the times we’ve cut it). The main tree is beautiful and produces nice fruit, but the shoots and low growing branches (that keep coming back) make the whole thing a mess. We’ve talked to several gardeners and tree care companies, and our options are cut it down completely or deal with the mess. So we’ve been dealing with it (partly because it does produce fruit and I don’t want to lose it and partly because removal would cost a lot of money and leave a stump in my yard).
Back on track:
I love growing my own food. We have six sq. foot garden boxes that grow all kinds of veggies of different types every year. We also have many other pieces of the edible garden growing all over in pots (like herbs and regrowing veggies), in the house and all over the yard. You can see our garden category to get some ideas.
But, today I want to share something specific in regards to gardening – Fruit Tree Thinning.
Have you heard of the rule of six when it comes to your fruit trees? This is especially helpful for younger trees on many levels.
But first, before I dive into the “why,” let me tell you what it is.
It is the basic rule of thumb regarding how to thin fruit trees. Basically, only have one piece of growing fruit every six inches on each branch. No more. This is also called “thinning.”
Once I heard this rule, it actually greatly helped me to manage and control my fruit trees. I want healthy growing trees and large luscious fruit.
Now let’s talk about “why” you would want to thin out your fruit trees and why the six-inch rule. I am going to use my recent peach tree thinning has the example and pictures while sharing the why.
Honestly, it was difficult for me to convince myself that I had to take away two-thirds of the peaches on my three-year old peach tree. I mean, come on…we’ve finally reached a year where we should get some fruit, just to rip most of the fruit off to be thrown away?!? It doesn’t make sense and it seems almost painful!
However, it is important to do so for many reasons:
- The tree is young, fruit is heavy. If you don’t thin your tree, you could damage or break branches off your tree…then what good would it be?
- If you leave a lot of fruit in one small growing area, you will get a lot of small, measly fruit. If you thin your fruit, the result is large, luscious, juicy fruit as they tree/branch was able to put more of it’s productive energy into less fruit, rather than dividing it’s resources. A master gardener explained it like this: “do you want tiny fruit, with little flesh before reaching the seed? Or would you rather a nice big round juicy fruit that has a lot of flesh before reaching the seed?”
- It also prevents fruit drop because the young tree is not overbearing. If you don’t thin out your tree, your tree will do it itself by early fruit drop. The tree simply cannot handle it. Fruit drop is when underripe, not-to-be-consumed fruits fall prematurely.
- It helps with the life and health of your tree and future crops. It encourages a pattern of healthful growth and production each year!
So I got to work on this beautiful peach tree (mind you, the wind is blowing strong here and has been for days, so this peach tree is being blown all over by the wind in this picture, but it’s still beautiful).
I had done some thinning already as there were a few more peaches on this one branch, but as you can see they “double up” on one little stem.
To thin, I just gently twisted the peach and it popped off. So I twisted and pulled for several minutes until each branch had about a 6 inch spacing between each of the fruits.
When it was all said and done, it was about two-thirds of the fruit!
Well, now that only one-third is left (which is still a lot for this young tree), we will hopefully have nicer, big, juicy fruits abounding and ripening. I can’t wait to can and fill my storage with canned peaches, pears, apples and plums!
Please note, you don’t have to thin cherry and nut trees. But pretty much every other fruit tree and the rule of six is a pretty universal, easy rule to remember! In speaking with several master gardeners, this thinning process is a wise idea each and every year, regardless of age. It just makes for better tasting, large fruit!
I hope this quick little gardening and fruit tree care tip will be helpful and a reminder to you to take a few minutes and care for your fruit trees and they will give you amazing fruit in return!
Here’s a picture for Pinterest to remind you to thin out your trees!
Thank you for that information l had never heard of the 6 inch rule and how to do it I will share this with friends who have fruit trees.
Is the rule the same for espaliers?
Thank u I will try
I didn’t know about the rule of 6. I love growing my own food as well, we have a garden. I have been considering getting fruit trees, so this is great information to have. Thanks for sharing!
What time of year is the rule of 6 done? Do you wait until the buds are present or after fruit has started to develop?
Does it matter the climate you live in (I am in Minnesota and trimming apple trees)
I have a young tree which had lot of peaches on each of its leaves, but I can tell I never eat even single one, they were big but the worms satisfied themselves with them, they fell and were rotten. is it because of the soil or weather? I am in southern Africa (Lesotho)
We use Neem oil to rid our trees of worms and bugs. Dormant spray is used in winter to keep bugs from entering the tree wood and “over wintering” and ruining the fruit in the spring.
Is there anything that can be done with the ones that are culled?
I have to wonder if you could save the immature fruit for jam making later on, since underrepresented fruit generally has more pectin than ripe. Then you wouldn’t have to purchase commercial pectin.
The fruit is removed while very immature so the flavor is lacking and even bitter in some fruit. The compost bin is the best place for these.
My first year of several Fruit Trees. Of course being the First year I imagine there will be no fruit, however the information you gave is very helpful for the future of my Trees.
Judith A Mellott
Thanks for this info. I’m debating the rule of six as opposed to the only four limbs allowed on the tree which are strapped to supports which is what commercial growers in this area do. They end up looking like crosses tied to 2x 4’s. What is your thought on this. I’m I. N E Pennsylvania.
Great info! I’ll give it a go during the next large fruit set, as it’s too late this year for our crabapple (our only tree with lots of fruit). I’ll have to do a modified approach, though – 6 inches for crabapples would be an extremely low number of fruit, given their size (roughly 1 inch diameter) – so maybe 3 -4 inches? The poor thing has also been left to its’ own devices for many, many years and needs to be pruned very badly, which we’re going to do at the appropriate time.
I also wanted to share that there’s another great reason to thin the fruit after it’s set (and way prior to – that happens because the fruit was not thinned the one heavy year, so the next 1 or more years when the tree’s got little to no fruit it’s recovering from the stresses of overproduction. But, I do have to say, that in this area it’s hard to tell how much fruit might make it to the end of the season… We often get frosts in spring (sometimes even in June!), as well as lots of wind, and sometimes hail – any one of these can kill and/or strip buds, blooms, and even set fruit. But, I think thinning in this area is still a great idea, for all the reasons you’d mentioned, plus to keep the trees from continuing to go through that stressful cycle of overproduction followed by recovery. And, it would also mean a much more likely yearly harvest of a more average amount of fruit – so a more dependable, though smaller, yearly harvest. Plus, the tree will be healthier, and may even produce for a greater number of years – yay! Another good reason! We’ll likely have to wait until later in the season than folks in areas where weather is more agreeable, though, to ensure we don’t overthin.
Oops – some of my comment got erased somehow… To complete it:
…another great reason to thin the fruit after it’s set (and way prior to harvest time), is because of the cycle I’ve seen neighbors’ and our fruit trees go through. We’ve lived in the Powder River Basin in Northern Wyoming (USDA Zone 4b) for 10 years (this house for 3); we lived in the Denver, Colorado, area previously. One year a tree will be heavy with fruit, and the next year or more it’ll have little to no fruit. I’ve spoken with a number of tree folks in the area – they all agree – that happens because the fruit was not thinned the one heavy year…,
Hope that helps readers…! Sorry, not sure what happened.
I love in Indiana when should I thin my fruit trees
Good info but why aren’t the above questions answered?