We managed to get the fruit trees pruned after the Big Snow, and they’ve had a grand bloom season. The Potomac pear is taking the year off, but our other fruit trees are loaded. And so, the fruit thinning mantra has begun. Pick up little scissors. Go outside and snip back all but the king fruit in each cluster. Do this daily for two weeks, and eventually the task gets done.
Whether you’re thinning dwarf fruit trees or big standards, the payoff for attentive thinning is much bigger fruit with better color and flavor and fewer problems. Big fruits are faster to peel, cut, dip and dry (or whatever) than small ones, too. This is crucial in the fall, when I often face down bushels of bruised fruit in need of attention.
How Much to Thin?
The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service validates what I learned the hard way: you must boldly thin Asian pears to get big, full-flavored fruits (see photos at left).
Auburn University’s Pear Culture in Alabama says to thin Asian pears to one fruit per cluster, or to 4 to 6 inches between fruits. Six inches between fruits is also the goal in Purdue University's Asian Pears, but you can wait until early summer to make the final cut.
The same 6-inch between-fruit spacing is recommended when thinning apples. Scab-resistant Enterprise, our midseason apple and a great one for drying, is a mess until it's thinned. We’ve been snipping our way through the tree for days, and man is it hard to clip down to one fruit per cluster. UC Davis says to expect to thin Liberty aggressively, too, but our tree seems to do a good job of pacing itself. Working together, Roger and I can probably thin it in an hour. We won’t even try to thin the Williams Pride, which is so huge that we couldn’t thin it if we wanted to. Alternate bearing may be its destiny.
Our apple pests are few, but I’m still thinking of bagging some apples that are within easy reach to get a few more perfect ones. At the University of Kentucky, covering maturing fruits with paper bags held in place with twist ties increased defect-free apples by more than 60%. And more big, perfect apples, enough to eat and share, are definitely worth a little extra trouble.