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Thinning; for most deciduous fruits, it's the way to better quality.

Should you thin the crop on your fruit trees? For citrus and small fruits such as cherries, thinning is not necessary But for most deciduous fruits, the answer is almost always yes.

In a home garden, the most important reason to thin is to protect limbs from breakingunder the weight of a heavy crop. Thinning also encourages consistent crops year after year-instead of alternate years of overcropping and scarcity-and it improves the fruit's flavor, size, and color.

Start when fruit is pea-size

Although most gardeners wait until fruit is marble-size or until after the June drop, experts advise that the sooner after bloom you remove excess fruit, the more the remaining fruit will improve.

Thin apricots, plums, and early-ripening varieties of other fruits this month. For apples, Asian pears, nectarines, and peaches that ripen later, you can wait until May, though substantial thinning now is a good idea even for these fruits.

Small-fruited plums used for cooking or preserving (such as 'Damson' or prune types) can get by without thinning but taste richer if heavy crops are thinned. In the Northwest and other short-season climates, thin pears the same as apples; in California, they rarely need thinning.

How much to thin?

Thin more aggressively in years of very heavy fruit set and on young, sparsely leafed, or weak trees. In many years, that means taking off more fruit than you leave on the tree. In years when fruit set is meager, thin less. Quality depends on the balance between fruit and leaves over the entire tree, not just on one limb.

On small trees, leave one healthy fruit from each cluster. For maximum size, you can thin to the spacing recommended for commercial growers: 6 to 8 inches apart for apples, nectarines, and peaches; 3 to 5 inches apart for apricots and largerfruited plums.

For slightly smaller, snack-size fruit, thin to half that spacing, as shown at left; just be sure to reduce the crop enough so branches can support the mature fruit.

Here's a short-cut

If you have large trees or many of them, jar loose excess fruit by tapping along limbs with a pole such as a hoe or broom handle (pad the end to protect tree bark). This works best when fruit is marble-size or smaller, and on kinds other than apples. Be especially persistent on weak limbs that could break under an abundant harvest, finishing by hand if you can.
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Date:Apr 1, 1989
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