Apple Thinning Pays Off Big

August 16, 2015 lawanda Newspaper Columns

This year, I finally did what I’ve known I should have been doing for 25 years but never had the nerve to do. In early July, and then again a few weeks later, I ruthlessly thinned the apples growing on my ‘Liberty’ apple tree.

Mother Nature gives us a head start at thinning with what is known as the “June Drop.” Up to hundreds of tiny apples fall off the tree near the end of June. But Mother Nature needs a little help. Like every other plant, apple trees are trying to propagate their species, so they produce many more blossoms and apples than necessary in an effort to produce as many seeds as possible. Too many apples can result in stress on the tree this year that might mean fewer or no apples next year, and even worse, cracked or broken limbs.

Apples grow in clusters of two to five fruits. Experts tell us that each cluster of apples, no matter how healthy and beautiful they look, should be thinned to just one fruit. Even if there are five gorgeous apples in a cluster, four must go. Here’s where I confess than sometimes I just had to leave two apples in the cluster!

I left the largest apple in the cluster and removed any others that were touching it. Then I went back two weeks later and did the same. The rewards were almost instantaneous! It seemed that within a few days of the initial thinning, the remaining apples tripled in size! After the second thinning, they seemed to redouble their size again.

There are still many, many apples on the tree, but they are on track to grow much larger than those the tree has ever before produced. The merciless thinning will result in more apple volume overall. Fewer, larger apples means less work when canning and freezing time rolls around.

Thinning should be done with a clipper or sharp garden scissors to avoid damaging the spurs by ripping or jerking the tiny apples off the tree. Spurs that don’t produce apples this year will likely produce one next year so you don’t want to injure them.

If you have an apple tree, especially if you choose organic methods of pest control in lieu of chemical sprays, you’ve probably noticed that where the apples touch is where coddling moth larvae hide to tunnel inside one or both apples. One of the goals in thinning is to make sure they don’t have a place to do that. Thinning also allows air to move more freely around the fruit, which helps to prevent disease.

I check the tree every few days. I inevitably see small or distorted apples that I missed on the initial thinnings. Even at this point in the season, it pays to remove those fruits. The tree can only provide so much water and nutrition and for every apple that is removed now, there is a little more for the remaining apples to share.

 

Fruits and vegetablesGardening techniques and tools


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