Sacramento Digs Gardening logo
Sacramento Digs Gardening Article
Your resource for Sacramento-area gardening news, tips and events

Articles Recipe Index Keyword Index Calendar Twitter Facebook Instagram About Us Contact Us

To save your fruit tree, bravely thin your tree fruit

Overloaded branches can break under the weight

How not to grow peaches: This tree at Cal Expo last July should have thinned months earlier. The guide: A hand's width between fruit.

How not to grow peaches: This tree at Cal Expo last July should have thinned months earlier. The guide: A hand's width between fruit.

Kathy Morrison

The pride of fruit tree gardeners in their crop is something to see. After all, they've battled gusty winds, late frosts, a lack of pollinators, weather-borne diseases -- and that's before the fruit ripens, when the birds and squirrels come after it. On top of this, why would they want to thin that crop they're so proud of?

Because an overloaded fruit tree is a stressed tree, and it might break under all that weight.

Last summer, the Sacramento County master gardeners who worked at the State Fair could not get over the predicament of the little peach tree that was just a few feet from their booth. It had never been thinned that year, and was jammed with ripening fruit. It looked uncomfortable at the very least. Fruit that touches while growing like that also makes it easier for diseases or pests to spread through the crop.

On a much bigger tree, that crop could bring down a branch or even split the tree.  The full-size fruit trees in the back of The Farm area were just as jammed. (Also disease-ridden, but that's a post for another day.)  Fortunately, there are few walkways back in that area, so fairgoers weren't in too much danger from falling branches.

Here's "The Home Orchard," the UCCE master gardeners' guide, spearheaded by the late Chuck Ingels, on the subject:

"A tree's leaves supply energy for growth; if there are not enough leaves to support the number of fruit that set, the fruit will, in effect, compete with each other for carbohydrates and so remain small. ... Although thinning reduces the number of fruit and total yield, it improves the size and quality of fruit."

Most stone fruits except cherries require thinning most years. Fruit can be thinned any time from just after bloom to a few weeks before harvest, "The Home Orchard" notes. The book suggests April to mid-May (ahem, now) as the best time to thin, when fruit are big enough to assess but not so big that you risk breaking branches. 

Peaches or nectarines on a healthy tree growing under ideal weather conditions should be thinned to 5 to 7 inches apart (about a hand's width), the book notes. Apricots and hybrids such as apriums are smaller, so 3 to 5 inches apart is recommended, and 4 to 6 inches for plums and pluots. Get rid of one of the "doubles" that develop and retain the largest fruit. Toss rejects into the organic waste bin.

So buck up, fruit growers -- bravely thin those unripe peaches and plums now. Your tree will thank you later.

For more on orchard tree care, visit on the Sacramento County master gardeners' website.


2 comments have been posted.
  • Top level comment icon 😑 Laura Bell (Sacramento County) • Posted May 23, 2023, 6:15 a.m.

    Rather than toss those little green peaches, make them into refrigerator pickles. This is the first year I've attempted this and they are still 3 weeks from being ready to test, but I'm happy that there is a use for them other than as compost. The recipes I followed came from the Crafty Cookery website - one sweet, one savory. Note that these are not processed and thus must be stored in the refrigerator, so be sure you can dedicate the space to it before starting. There is not safe tested recipe for processed green peach pickles. At least not yet.

    • Comment reply thread icon 😑 Kathy Morrison (Sacramento County) • Posted May 24, 2023, 11:11 a.m.

      Cool idea! I've made other refrigerator pickles. Will have to check out that website.


Taste Spring! E-cookbook


Find our spring recipes here!

Newsletter Subscription

Sacramento Digs Gardening to your inbox.

Thanks to our sponsor!

Be Water Smart

Local News

Ad for California Local

Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

Contact Us

Send us a gardening question, a post suggestion or information about an upcoming event.