Once fruit has set on the tree, it's time to thin the baby fruits for best yield. If they are already about 1 fruit every 4 to 6 inches of branch, they don't need to be thinned. They say the fruit should be about one human fist apart. Do not thin tart cherries, sweet cherries, mulberries. Do thin apples, peaches, pears, plums, unless setting was sparce. I'm not sure if figs need thinning - mine drop a lot so I let the tree decide. In my climate, the time to thin is now, to a few weeks from now. It may be a little early but I get excited.
These are Liberty Apple, a disease-resistant apple that tastes great and bears well every year. This tree is on an ultra-dwarfing stock, so at 8 years old it is only 5 feet tall. The blossom clusters set well, almost every blossom set. There are about 4 to 8 baby apples per cluster. Left in place, the apples will be late, small, and not as flavorful. All but one or 2 should be removed, per cluster. Even with thinning this little tree may have a hundred apples this year.
Some people use their fingers. I find that I pull of the entire spur, or twist and damage the remaining apple. I have fat clumsy fingers. So, I use a kitchen shears. To avoid spreading disease, I run them through the dishwasher between uses. This scissor is in a slightly wrong place - that's the one little apple that I left in place. It's not easy taking a pic while holding an apple branch and a pair of scissors.
After thinning, I have one apple per cluster. I left one per spur, which are about 4 inches apart. In each case, I tried to leave the biggest apple in place. When they get bigger, I may remove a few of the closest-together ones, but basically the job is done. I'm pretty sure I left healthy baby apples - the blossoms that did not set just fall off now, whereas these have a nice start of little apples.
My other preparation today was to spray each tree with some neem oil. Neem is organic. It is an extract from neem trees. Neem oil reduces fungal disease and aphids. I find it helpful, although not as helpful as selecting the right variety. My Golden Delicious got a leaf blight every year despite spraying, and Liberty so far has not got any blight, even when I don't spray. I finally cut down the Golden Delicious, and have new small starts of Karmin de Sonneville and Honeycrisp, both of which I expect to give a few apples this year. Jonagold is in between on the blight issue, so I neemed it well this year. Jonagolds are very good. I wish I could find a Jonathan or some scion wood from a Jonathan, which were my favorite apples when I was a boy.
I've already thinned my asian and european pears, and peaches. The plums set fairly well, but not so extensive that they needed thinning.
In a few weeks, I will also cut the tips from the branches. I do that when they have about 6 inches of growth. Doing so stimulates spur formation for next year, and makes the tree very compact - more a bush than a tree. But for now, they just need some sunshine and an occasional rain.
Thanks Sentient. I have apple trees and I will need to think them. I will follow your wonderful discussion here on the proper way to prune the trees.
Thanks so much!
Wonderful instructions. Your photos demonstrate well how to thin and keep trees small. I planted at least a dozen different fruit trees and then cut them all down because I didn't know how to keep them small and managed. I also needed more light for my huge vegetable garden. Each tree produced way more fruit than I could use and manage, and when working full time I didn't have time or energy to spray and prune or preserve. I have all the time the world now, I wonder .......
Joan, at first I thought I was killing my fruit trees by keeping them so small, but for most of them it works very well. It's hardest making that first cut. The Almaden Duke cherry that I planted last year will already have nice bowl of fruit this year, and the one-year-old Stanley plum will have a couple to taste. Also a Morello cherry will have some to taste. Most fruit trees take 3 to 5 years to start bearing reasonably, when kept small. Some time I'll bring forward some info on keeping them small.