The end of June is such a busy time around here, it's sometimes hard to know which projects to prioritize. Planting, weeding, mulching, staking, pruning...so many things seem to suddenly need doing, all at once.
Today, it was the peach tree that was calling to me most loudly, so I spent every moment of the kids' naptime thinning out hundreds of tiny peaches from its branches. I'd pulled off 247 when I lost track and stopped counting.
"But WHY?", you might ask. "Don't you WANT all those peaches? Are you a crazy lady?"
And I hear you! It's been a miserably long winter, peaches are make-me-blush expensive in the grocery store, the very sight of fruit appearing on the trees is enough to make me giddy...and yet here I am throwing away baby peaches!
It really is about enough to make a body cry. But I do it because I know what a difference thinning makes, both in the quality of harvest and health of the tree. When a heavily-set tree gets properly thinned, at the correct time, it sets us up for the best possible harvest. So thinning is a high-priority task on my crowded June to-do list.
Here's why peach trees should (usually!) be thinned:
Growing up, I don't remember us ever thinning our peaches. And it always seemed a bit of a mystery why we'd have laundry baskets filled with peaches one year - only to be carefully sharing a precious handful of fruits the next.
Now I understand a bit more what was happening. Like most stone fruits, peach trees are notorious for setting fruit too heavily. An over-heavy harvest takes an enormous toll on a tree's health, and it takes a year or more for the tree to regain sufficient vitality to produce another decent crop. Many trees never fully recover.
When a fruit tree bears heavily every other year, then sparsely (or not at all) in alternating years, it's called biennialism. By thinning fruits to prevent overwhelming the tree, it helps to balance out the tree's fertility for yearly harvests.
Thinning also helps to prevent breakage of branches. Peaches get heavy as they ripen, and it's very common for limbs on a heavily-laden tree to break under the weight. Over-heavy harvests also make a tree more susceptible to pests, disease, and even sun damage.
Along with helping to safeguard the health of the tree, thinning also leads to better harvests. The fruits on a tree that is allowed to set too heavily stay smaller, harder, and less-flavorful than those on a properly thinned tree.
No matter how rich the soil, a tree has only so many resources to go around. Uncrowded fruits are able to take full advantage of their share of nutrients from the tree. Crowded fruits have to compete for a finite supply of nutrients and most don't end up with enough to reach their full potential.
Thinning also makes for more beautiful, less-blemished fruit. Skin color is better on uncrowded fruits that receive more sunlight. And uncrowded fruits dry more quickly after dew or rain, which makes brown rot less likely to start and spread as it quickly can among crowded fruits that are touching each other.
Here's how to thin peaches on a tree
Most fruit trees do thin themselves naturally to some extent, soon after small fruits begin to form. This is commonly known as the "June drop". Sometimes, this June drop might be enough to adequately thin your fruit crop - but, as with almost all stone fruits (like nectartines and plums) this usually is not the case with peaches.
Once your peach tree finishes its June drop, that means it's time for you to go to work and finish the job!
You can generally plan on doing your thinning just about one month from when your trees are in full bloom. For those in warmer climates, that might be as early as April. Here in Maine, it's in late June. You'll want to tackle this project when young fruits are between 3/4" and 1" in diameter.
You don't want to thin too early, when the fruits are tiny, because this can result in split pits in the mature fruit. However, if you wait until the fruits are larger than about 1", the tree's resources have already been quite drained by the extra-heavy load. Fruits will not reap the full benefit of thinning, and will be less likely to get as large as they would have if thinned at the perfect time.
Most expert sources suggest thinning to a minimum spacing of anywhere from 3" to even 8". I use a minimum of 4" spacing as my rule of thumb, and I generally err on the side of greater spacing if I'm wavering on whether to thin a particular fruit - especially in a year like this one, when fruit has set very evenly and heavily over the whole tree.
I find that a twisting motion - much like the motion you'd make for snapping your fingers - works best for removing fruits without damaging the branches, or the young peaches that you want to leave.
When I'm choosing which fruits to remove and which to leave, I start by thinning out any with obvious damage. In the picture above, you can see that the peach on the left has obvious bug damage. So I removed that fruit, and left the perfect one right next to it.
Next, I try to remove the smallest fruits, while leaving the largest, as I aim for a final goal of 4-6" spacing between fruits. The one last criteria I use, if I'm deliberating which peach to remove, is to favor the peaches closer to the trunk end of each branch where the limb is stronger, rather than those out at the tip, where it's more likely to break.
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Lori Thornton says
My peach tree was loaded with peaches this year. It looked great and strong until today! The branches were obviously over burdened and my tree looks more like a weeping willow now. I found your article here and did as you said...thinned the fruit. My tree perked up a little. Am hoping it will perk up some more. I didn't prune the branches this past winter. Should I do that now, wait until fruit is harvested or wait until winter? I live in Arizona. Thanks.
Hi Lori! If it were me, I would wait at this point and prune the tree when it's dormant next winter. That will be easiest on the dear thing, and I truly bet that it will perk up for you! If you haven't fertilized it this year, I might give it a dose of a good organic fertilizer (something like this one), and make sure that it stays adequately watered throughout the season. Other than that, it sounds like you're doing everything right, and I bet that it will perk right up for you. Wishing you a WONDERFUL harvest this year!! Best wishes, Anna
Anthony L. says
Love this information. My peach tree was loaded with fruits but most got bugs on them and I never got to eat any. We finally trimmed some lower limbs to be able to get around it with the lawn mower and I have a good feeling with some thinning we will get some good peaches this year!
Rose Butler says
Hello, over winter we moved into a new to us house and were delighted to discover a peach tree this spring. Fruit tree care is new to me, and I thinned very heavily about 6 or so weeks ago. I am now concerned that I didn’t thin enough... we staked and netted the tree a few weeks ago and the peaches are turning a lovely shade of looking ripe but they are still very small. I suspect I did not thin enough. Is it too late to thin more? We are in midcoast Maine, and I’m not even sure when to expect them to be ready to harvest. There are a few peach trees in our village which have peaches also still on the small side, however none of those trees have the color ours do. Any advice is much appreciated!!
Amy H says
We moved in our house a year ago and now I noticed we actually have a peach tree and didn’t know it. The peaches are about 2-2 1/2 inches around and peach colored and there’s lots. Should I go ahead and thin them out? I don’t want the tree to break branches because it gets to heavy.
Thanks for the information. My lone peach tree is now 3 years old and I have a ton of small, crowded peaches. This is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks again
Kathy Oakes says
Thank you so much for this information. This will be the first year I get peaches on my dwarf tree. I noticed it is loaded with tiny peaches and now I know how to thin it out to get larger and better peaches.
Kathy, I'm so delighted you found it helpful. It's truly amazing HOW much bigger the peaches get, on a properly thinned tree! I'm wishing you a bumper crop!!
Alma Hernandez says
Thanks for posting useful information! But along with thinning, adequate watering and fertilizing are needed for peach tree to achieve 10 to 18 inches of fresh growth each season.
Thank you for such a detailed explanation of how and when you thin your peaches! I also live in Maine and we're getting our first peaches on a relatively small, young tree. It is covered and definitely needs thinning. I was a little confused about timing, but knowing you do it around late June is very helpful! I have one question I haven't been able to find an answer to; perhaps you might have some guidance. Since this tree is so young, some of the branches carrying peaches are quite thin and I'm thinking they might not support many, if any, mature peaches. Do you have any advice about what minimum branch diameter you would leave peaches on? Thank you!
Just out of curiosity... What does everyone do with the baby peaches you thin out? Compost? Trash?
We have two little peach trees, as well as a fig, a plum, and an apricot tree!! This is the first year we've had any fruit and I'm watching them like an earnest mama! ?
Hi Shannon, you bet! Into the compost they go. It's kind of painful dumping a big bucket of baby peaches in there - but SO worth it!! Congrats on your first crop, by the way!! Woohoo!!
Elaine W says
Thank you for this comprehensive description of how to do this . It is precise and insightful. Now if I can figure out what is stealing all of my peaches I will be better off. Whatever it is steals every one in one night and doesn’t leave a trace.
Oh, Elaine! That would be enough to make me sit down right there in the yard and cry. EVERY single peach? That's awful! You know, I have heard stories that a family of raccoons can be capable of pulling off such a heist. Most critters leave at least some sign, but from what I hear raccoons are capable of being pretty sneaky, and working as a team. Two years out of the last 4, they have definitely make a HUGE dent in my corn crop, all in one night. This is what I'm thinking of setting up this year, to try to deter them: https://amzn.to/2G9uY1J . At any rate, I really hope you have better luck this year! And thank you so very much for your kind words! Good luck with your crop!!
Garden Goddess says
Elaine, your problem is SQUIRRELS, I had the same problem when I started my home orchard. They ate my plums , munched on my green pomegranates and went after my few peaches the first time my tree had fruit. Since my trees are semi-dwarf I can control their height and shape. I built cages out of PVC pipe and chicken wire. I made panels 4 ft by 5 ft and keep my trees with in that size. I zip tie the panels together. It also makes them easy to store. Last year I made a cage for a 2nd peach tree that was 3 or 4 years old and sent 6 peaches, as I was putting the roof panel on top, a squirrel start running around me, leap on the side panel, ran up the side panel and tried to get in. I never saw anything like that. He was mad and unafraid. I made 5 cages for around $90.00. I consider them an investment, since they will probably last for every. Hope this helps.
I'm so glad i came across this information seeing how my husband and i just planted 3 fruit trees today in back of our property. Now when it starts to bare fruit i know how to take care of it
Abbie, I'm so glad you found it helpful! And congrats on the new trees - I LOVE the feeling of planting a new fruit tree. So exciting!!
Sean Hale says
It was the first year our tree fruited and we had masses. I didn't think of thinning and wish I'd known. The fruit isn't very pretty, but under the blemishes it tastes wonderful. Do you have any tips on pruning?
Wow! I'm very happy to read this because I saw my peach tree dropping some small or baby peaches and I felt mad about it ! But at the end the ones that remained looks big, healthy and yummy. So it means that the tree did all the work with out my help !
Well, I am so happy that this was able to set your mind at ease a bit! I know what you mean though - it's about enough to break your heart seeing all those baby peaches on the ground, isn't it? Wishing you a WONDERFUL harvest!! = )
Also, for me, another good take away from this post, was the reminder to, " Just get it done! " which applies to so many areas of life, including thinning peaches! 😉
Haha! SO very true! I feel like that is my mantra lately...just get it done!! ; )
Thanks for the excellent and timely post! After reading it, I went right out ( in the rain! ) and thinned the fruits on our peach tree. It definitely is a good year for peaches in our area! Even though we keep our tree pruned small, to be able to reach all of the branches without using a ladder, I still ended up removing 387 peaches -- and this is after the natural June drop!
Oh, thank you so much for the sweet comment. I'm so delighted that you found the post helpful! And I'm tickled that you counted how many peaches you thinned - 387! Holy cow! This really does seem to be a perfect year for peaches. Can't wait til they're ripe!!