What is thinning, and why do we need it?

Published on November 2, 2020

Fruit trees often set more fruit than they will support or develop adequately. Excessive fruit competes with each other for food and remains small. Leaving too much fruit on a tree can also lead to limb breakage. To avoid this, the fruit thinning process is done that is, removing some of the developing fruit.

Thinning is a standard way to maximize economic returns derived from arable land use. In agriculture, horticulture, and forestry, we find different ways and methods to do crop thinning. Excessive fruit (e.g. apples, kiwifruit) is removed from trees to raise the overall quality of the remaining fruit and thus economic returns from an orchard.

In viticulture, crop thinning is typically referred to as cluster thinning and it is well known that higher grape yields may harm grape and wine quality. Because vines have limited productive capacities, excess grapes are removed from the vine to raise the quality of the grapes harvested. The vast majority of high quality / high priced wines around the world are produced from low yielding vineyards.

In horticulture, crop thinning primarily raise overall fruit quality. Thinning of peach crops could also be necessary to get high yields, which there’s an optimal balance between yield and fruit size, which can depend upon factors like the initial crop load, fruit size potential, time of thinning, date of harvest, and on the worth of the crop.

It is also found that crop thinning costs may be considerable and will depend on the thinning technique used (hand, mechanical, or chemical). Flower bud thinning in kiwifruits before bloom although decreasing total yield, increases the average fruit size and quality.


Definition of Thinning?

Removal of flowers or young fruit (thinning) is completed to allow the remaining fruits to grow sooner and to stop the event of such an outsized crop that the plant is unable to flower and set a commercial crop the following year or Thinning is the process of removing excess seedlings to help ensure healthy growth for others.


What Are the Benefits of Thinning

Most fruits should be thinned. The main benefit of thinning is that it lets the fruit receive more sunlight. This improves color and flavor and allows the fruit to develop to its maximum size.


Methods of Thinning of fruits:

There are two main ways to thin fruit: by hand or by the pole. Thinning by hand is more thorough, but pole thinning is faster.

  • Hand thinning involves the process of removing enough fruit to leave behind the remaining fruit with sufficient space so they do not touch at maturity with each other. Use your fist as a spacing tool and take away the surplus fruit. Remove “doubles” (two fruit fused) and small, disfigured, or damaged fruit.
  • Pole thinning is primarily used on large trees where hand thinning is impractical. Pole thinning is much faster, and although it is less accurate, the results are often acceptable.


Why is thinning so important?

  • Thinning ensures growing plants have adequate space.

    • Some vegetables can be grown in small areas if they get enough other resources. For example, vegetable harvests will suffer tremendously without optimum space. Avoid thinning you will get spindly carrots and thumbnail size beets.
  • It ensures plants have proper air circulation.

    • If plants don’t have plenty of air circulation, they can be prone to pest and disease issues.
  • Thinning also helps ensure healthy plants.

    • When you thin plants you should thin any that show any signs of weakness or disease. You want to keep your best plants for a productive harvest and if you choose to save seed, you will know you’re saving from plants that performed the best from the start.
  • Plants that are properly thinned will get adequate water.

    • In some areas, you may be able to provide plenty of water to thinly spaced plants however if you experience any droughts it’s always better to have a safety buffer.
  • Properly spaced plants will get enough nutrients.

    • If your plants have to compete with each other for nutrients they’ll be less productive and more prone to disease and pest issues for that proper spacing is observed.



  • Avoid damaging other plants roots during the thinning process while doing you can just use scissors to cut your plants off as close to the ground as possible rather than pulling them off the ground
  • Water your plants after thinning to make sure your plant re-establishes well after being disturbed.


You can read more about horticulture jobs in New Zealand here.


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