Thinning Peaches, is it ever too late?

rjingaMay 4, 2010

And when you have so many different sized ones on the branch at the same time, is it survival of the fittest? and the small ones go? And what about a tree that has grown too tall for hand thinning? I cant get up on a ladder these days for fear of further injurying my back...So whatever can I do?

Does a peach trees fruit mature at different times or all at once? I know that I should know this, as this tree has been here since I moved in...but it truly seems to do something different EVERY year.

which brings me to another question...

Is there any way to attempt to regulate these trees? or again, is it mother nature at play? Clearly cant control the rain, sun and the bees...but can pests contribute to it's inconsistant performance?

Almost seems that when I did NOTHING at all, it had fruit, I ate them, all was well...since I've been "learning" all the right ways to manage these trees, seems that production and problems have changed (decreased and then increased). Of course this could simply be a coincidence...but I'm just saying...

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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Last night I finally completed thinning on peach trees. It only took b/t 15-20 man hrs, but standing there with your arms extended, reaching all over is back breaking work. It just reinforces in my mind, why I will never use a ladder.

I tried to thin off a ladder once, fortunately it was a pear didn't need much thinning. I can't imagine thinning peaches off a ladder. If your trees are too tall, cut those buggers back to a height you can reach. I have one peach tree that is really out of reach and doesn't have any low wood. I plan to replace it.

I recently had this same question about thinning out smaller fruit. In other words does fruitlet size take precedent over fruit placement, when thinning? The answer is fruitlet size is more important.

Early fruitlet growth results from cell division. However, late fruit swell results only from cell expansion. So by keeping the larger fruitlets at thinning, they have more fruit cells and therefore more potential to increase in size during the final fruit swell.

Here's a few summary points to keep in mind about thinning:

-Early thinning promotes larger fruit.

-Thin fruit to approx. one per 8-10" of branch space (Thin early varieties a little heavier, and later varieties a little less.)

-The fruit need not be evenly spaced. Instead keep the larger fruitlets, as long as they are not so close they'll crowd each other at harvest. In other words, if you have a 16" shoot, leave two large fruitlets somewhere where they won't crowd each other.

-Get rid of any fruit in crotch angles (As it grows it will get squeezed and be hard to pick. Picture it as a 3" fruit.)

-Get rid of all Siamese twins.

-Get rid of at least one of all regular twins.

-Thin fruit more heavily at the interior of the tree.

-Get rid of all exteme low hanging fruit in the interior (It's low quality anyway.)

For a little more in-depth approach at thinning, see the link below.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to grow big peaches

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 11:40AM
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Excellent link, olpea. Just thinking about the height question, a lot of commercial orchards do mechanical topping and hedging when the trees are dormant. Not sure where they set the saws for peach trees, I'd guess 7 or 8'. Still have to hand prune, just a lot less of it.

Would it hurt rjinga's tree to cut the top out now? I've been thinking of doing it to a couple of pear trees that are close to 15' tall (and growing).

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 1:48PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

RJ, I would definitely hack those trees back, and the sooner the better. My trees are not allowed to grow out of my reach; if so I reach up and cut.

Re: olpeas link, if you are selling thats good advice but for a backyard grower there is some advantage to less and later thinning. The later you thin the more bug-infested fruits you can thin out for "free". Just leave more around and get more, but smaller, fruit. I eventually will thin to around 4"-6" on peaches. You will overall get more pounds of fruit at 6" than 12". Overall I follow the Peaches of New York method from 1917:
Peaches are thinned to improve the fruit that remains, to save the vigor of the tree, and destroy insect- or disease-infected fruits. Commendable as these objects are, the practice is all too seldom observed in New York. The objections are scarcity and high cost of labor. Still the best growers always thin, doing the work soon after the summer drop which usually occurs six to eight weeks after the blossoming-time and just as the pits in the embryonic fruits begin to harden. It requires good judgment to tell at the time of thinning what will prove superfluity at the harvest. Vigor of tree, variety ^ fertility and moisture in the soil, the season, diseases and insects, all must be considered. The common advice is to thin the fruits so that they will* not be nearer together than from four to six inches but the skillful growers adjust the size of the crop to the orchard and seasonal conditions. Thinning really begins, it should be said, in the winter when the trees are dormant and redundant branches and superfluous wood on the parts remaining are cut out. By delaying winter-pruning until danger of winter-killing is passed many growers save labor in summer-thinning, since, as early as this, fruit-prospects are fore-shadowed.


    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 3:52PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


Nearly all my stone fruits including peaches mature over a 2-4 wk period.

Guess I'm a bit obsessive about thinning. I do it early leaving the biggest fruit. I want all the available energy going to the best fruit not something that's going to fall off on it's own. I'm sure yield is higher if you leave more fruit but yield is far below quality on my objectives.

I always thin early enough that there is no natural "June" drop. But I don't need to worry about insect damaged fruit.

I'm not sure how much better, if any, quality is using my methods than Scott's. Do have a small experiment going comparing two fruit loads on nearly identical Superior plum trees. Will report later on that.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 4:20PM
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I agree with scottfsmith for the most part. But it's more art than science. It's good to thin early at almond size leaving behind a few more pieces than appears to be right. Thinning continues all the way up to harvest due to stinkbug and other damage. Better to sacrifice a few pieces of fruit to nature than to chem-spray the heck out of them. Also, you never really know how every branch is going to handle the fruit load until they are actually loaded with fruit.

Not all thinnings are equal. The trade-offs are to leave a beautiful piece of fruit out on the tip where it can get more sun but potentially (or dangerously) weigh a smaller branch down. Or alternatively leave the other piece of fruit that is closer to the main trunk where the branch can better distribute the weight (at the expense of getting the ideal sun exposure). The correct answer is to leave some pieces out on the tip of branches that can handle it and leave the fruit in tight on the smaller/weaker branches. That said, it's best to avoid hard and fast rules. Just apply trial & error principles, and don't forget to have fun with it. :)

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 5:11PM
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I'm going to get a picture for you to see the overall size of this tree. It was NOT this tall last year, but last year was the first time I ever pruned it!! So maybe it got a growth spurt? To make it as you say, I fear that it would have to be cut back nearly in half to be "reachable" Is that too much to cut back now?

Great info and thanks all for the ideas and info. I really do enjoy growing things and of course it's even more satisfying to see a good edible harvest. It's a lot of work though and that's where I have trouble keeping up with it all.

I think the rain is done, so I'm going to get out there and spray tomorrow as best as possible. and thin some too.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 9:59PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)


The commercial peach orchards I've seen keep their trees around 7-8'. They don't mow the tops around here, like they do in some orchards. However, they do use those pneumatic pruners. A few years ago I watched one of them prune his trees and helped a little bit. Those pneumatic pruners are fast. I was dragging the prunings to the middles and couldn't keep up.


Nice picture. I don't think it will hurt to cut your tree back now. However, if this tree is your only source of peaches, cutting it back 50% may sacrifice too much fruit for you. In that case, I'd wait until after the tree fruits to cut it back.

I've had good luck pruning peach trees after they fruit. You don't sacrifice any fruit, and they seem to put on about the right amount of growth after the pruning. It also slows their vigor down. However, don't prune late maturing varieties that way. It's too late in the season for them.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 9:54AM
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Consider reading about Backyard Orchard Culture, and then watch these videos:
* How To Thin A Fruit Tree
* How To Prune A Fruit Tree

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 11:04AM
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