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Peach thinning is tough but needed task

By Dr. William M. Johnson, Galveston County Extension Agent - Horticulture

March 28, 2007

Gardening - Peach Tree in bloom ImageMost of us especially enjoy the flowers of spring. To a commercial peach producer, the joy of spring blooms signals an approaching task known as fruit thinning. Homeowners should also realize the importance of this not-so-easy task of relieving peach trees of their "overload."

Even though you pruned the poor creature unmercifully after last year’s harvest season was over, the tree may still have too many peaches on it to produce a high-quality crop. Most peach trees in our area produced an unusually heavy set of blooms this spring. This means that most trees are even more likely have too many peaches to produce a high-quality crop of fruits–and that in turn means that some fruit has to go!

How does one properly thin the fruit of a peach tree? With determination, will power, vim, and vigor. Be determined that you will remove a high percentage of that fruit. Have the will power to stay with the gruesome task until the job is finished. And exert plenty of vim and vigor so that you will have the job finished before your spouse comes home and has you committed for ruining the first decent peach crop that you have ever had!

You must be strong! You must make a decision at this point. The decision is whether to have a lot of small, low-quality peaches or a few high-quality fruit. Too many fruit on a tree will result in damaged trees and peaches that mostly pit and little flesh. Remember that it takes 191 peaches of a 1 3/4" diameter to make a half-bushel, while it only takes 79 peaches of a 2½" diameter size to make the same half-bushel.

Thinning is the hardest of all tasks for the novice fruit grower. The idea of removing all of those "baby" peaches is more than most of us can stand. But too many "babies" would be bad on any "mommy." These "babies" can break the "mommy's" arms (limbs) and weaken the tree to the point of death.

Peaches should be thinned when the fruit is still as small as a dime. The longer the fruit has to mature under the ideally thinned situation, the larger it will get–less nutrient competition equals larger fruit. How late in the season can you wait to thin? If you can easily cut through the pits of the peaches with a sharp knife, then it will be of some benefit to thin. However, remember that the earlier thinning is accomplished, the greater the benefits in terms of fruit size and quality.

Fruit should be thinned until all peaches are at least 3-to-6 inches apart on the branch and there are no partner (side-by-side) fruit. This small fruit can be removed by hand plucking or limb beating. Commercial producers use a rubber hose on the end of a broom handle. The rubber hose will not injure the limb upon impact.

When you complete this task, the ground will be covered by small peaches, and you probably will feel that you have lost your entire crop. But in reality, at harvest time you will likely realize that you may really did not thin enough. I thinned a peach tree a few years ago and counted the number of fruits and I removed more than one thousand peaches! (Peaches were thinned at the half-dime diameter stage; trees normally abort a portion of the initial fruit set as fruits enlarge.)

The pretty picture of the mammoth peach in the sales advertisement will not occur in your backyard unless you have the determination and make the effort to thin. If you don't, then get ready for the pits–peach pits, that is!


In this day of supersonic travel and space stations circling the planet, just how important is the ancient practice of removing old plants and diseased foliage to the space-age gardener? It is one of the most important exercises that you will do in your garden.

Before discussing the advantages of garden sanitation, let us first look at what sanitation involves. The removal of dead plants at the end of the season is obviously a part of a good sanitation program, but gardeners must also be watchful to remove dead and diseased foliage as it occurs during the season. Fruits and vegetables that are diseased or damaged by birds should be removed well away from the garden site and not thrown down in the row or underneath the tree. Limbs that are broken should be removed.

Sanitation within the garden removes many of the sources of further disease spread and development. Diseased leaves left on the plant or allowed to drop to the ground continue to produce spores. For those new to gardening, spores are those microscopic structures produced by fungi and bacteria that can cause new diseased areas to develop when placed in contact with susceptible stems, leaves or fruit. Spores can move from the diseased foliage to the healthy foliage by splashing water and by wind. In removing the diseased leaves, the gardener can partially block the disease cycle.

Fruits and vegetables that are left on the ground continue to decay and spores are produced which can increase disease loses. Brown rot of peaches is one of the most common problems that the home orchardist faces. Its development is enhanced by not removing the diseased fruit from the garden as it occurs.

In this day of increased gardening costs, sanitation is a practice that is well worth the expenditure in time. The removal of diseased fruits, vegetables and foliage does require some bending and stooping–consider it as part of a good exercise routine! If we go back to the first question of "How important is sanitation?" I think you can see that it is very important and should be a part of any garden program.

Dr. Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County Extension Office of Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University. Visit his web site at

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