Fruit Thinning In Citrus: Why Should You Thin Citrus Trees

Fruit Thinning In Citrus: Why Should You Thin Citrus Trees

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By: Teo Spengler

Thinning fruit on citrus trees is a technique intended to produce better fruit. If you want to know how to thin citrus tree fruit, or techniques for fruit thinning in citrus, read on.

Why Should You Thin Citrus Trees?

As a gardener, you want the biggest crop of oranges, lemons or limes you can get from your citrus orchard. So why should you thin citrus trees, pruning out some of those immature fruit?

The idea behind thinning fruit on citrus trees is to produce less but better fruit. Often, young citrus trees produce many more tiny fruit than the tree can bring to maturity. Removing some of these by fruit thinning in citrus trees gives the remaining fruits more room to develop.

A more mature citrus tree might have enough room on its branches for all of its baby fruits to develop fully. This does not mean that thinning citrus fruits is unnecessary. Branches bearing a maximum amount of fruit can break, crack or split from the weight. If you lose a major branch from your tree, you will get reduced fruit amounts. Fruit thinning in citrus can be essential to protect the branch structure.

How to Thin Citrus Tree Fruit

Once you understand the purposes of thinning fruit on citrus trees, the process makes a lot of sense. Then it’s just a matter of learning how to thin citrus tree fruit.

Mother Nature usually steps in to do the first round of fruit pruning. Once the citrus flower petals fall, young fruits develop quickly. It is common for many of these tiny fruit to drop on their own about a month after the flowering.

Generally, it’s a good idea to hold off on fruit thinning in citrus trees until after this natural fruit fall. But act quickly after that point, since the earlier you start thinning citrus fruits, the better results you get.

Manual thinning means plucking or clipping off fruit by hand. It is the most precise and least risky way to do fruit thinning. Simply pluck off about 20 to 30 percent of the remaining fruitlets. Start with the smallest fruit and any deformed fruit. Just pinch the fruit between two fingers and twist it off gently.

Pole thinning is another technique for fruit thinning in citrus trees. It is mostly used on taller trees. How to thin citrus tree fruit with a pole? Attach a short rubber hose to the end of a pole and strike individual branches with enough force to break up a citrus fruit cluster.

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Read more about Citrus Trees

When Should You Pick Fruit From a Tree?

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Waiting for fruit to reach the peak of ripeness before harvest can be frustrating. It seems the birds always get there right before you do and steal half the fruit. Harvest is one time you should pick fruit, but there are others. Keep your tree healthy and producing when you know when that right time is.

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Q: Is it better to buy bare root fruit trees or should I buy them already in pots?

A: There are many advantages to buying your fruit trees bare root and planting them now. One advantage is that they are often less expensive. When you purchase bare root, you can easily see what kind of root system your tree has. Look for a nice mass of fibrous roots, with a few (preferably 3 or 4) branching roots. The branching roots should not be too short, firm and not mushy. Sometimes you will see bare root trees with their branching roots cut very short. This could have been done because the tree has developed circling roots from being grown in a pot for an extended period. Trees that have badly circling roots, or are pot-bound, are not likely to thrive when planted in the ground.

Another advantage to buying bare root is that you are planting the tree during its dormancy (when it’s “asleep”). Transplanting is somewhat traumatic to plants because their root system is disturbed, and they can’t take up enough water to keep up with the water lost through their leaves. Since it is dormant, there aren’t any leaves. In the earliest part of the spring, when the weather starts warming up, your tree’s roots will begin to grow before it starts to leaf out. By the time the leaves appear, the roots have grown enough to keep up with the rest of the tree. For this reason, trees planted bare root will fare better than trees planted from a large pot in the spring.

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How to Use

In order to be effective, ethephon and Napthalene acid must be applied to the tree at the proper times. Ethephon must be applied on most trees while they are in full bloom but before fruit production begins. Napthalene acid, however, can be applied during full bloom and during early fruit set. Both inhibitors may need to be applied a second time. The specific amounts of chemical to be used varies based on the type of fruit being inhibited, temperature and tree vigor. The foliage of the trees should be sprayed so that leaves and blooms are thoroughly wet but not saturated to the point that the chemicals are running off the leaves. It is imperative to carefully read the product label, and follow mixing and application instructions.

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The fruit won't be bad. It takes longer than you think for it to ripen. The quality of the fruit will improve as the tree matures, so if the first few years the fruit is so-so, it will get better. Fruit production typically won't be much until the tree is more than 3 -4 years old.

Here is a link that might be useful: Growing citrus

The answers to amending soil, thinning citrus and planting fruit trees

The blossoms of a Meyer's lemon tree. (Photo: SUBMITTED)

Question: What should I use to amend raised beds? Mine need to be rejuvenated. Sulfur, rock dust, chicken manure, worm castings, I am not sure which ones to use or to use them all!

Answer: There is a lot of hype on the Internet regarding soil amendments. I can understand why it’s confusing. Sulfur, rock dust, coconut coir, worm castings, chicken manure all make promises of miracles.

Stay with the basics. Amend your soils with compost each year, and your raised bed will be productive every year. The best quality compost is rich in nutrients, consistently black or dark brown in color and a pleasing aroma. Composts that deviate from these characteristics are poorer in quality.

Compost work best if they are mixed with native desert soils. Many of the subdivisions have extremely poor soils because “fill” was used around the homes rather than soil. In many cases, raised beds filled with soil mixes is the least expensive option to having a garden.

If compost is applied to these soils every year most of these amendments are usually not needed. Adding compost and growing a productive garden helps to lower its the soil pH so sulfur is usually not needed.

Over a year ago I tested three different rock dusts in several locations around Las Vegas and found no benefit to these additions as long as the garden soil was amended with compost.

The type of compost, whether it is traditional compost or compost made from worms, is up to you and your personal preference. Certainly, if you sleep better at night by adding these amendments to your raised beds by all means apply them. They will not hurt anything as long as you don’t apply too much.

Virtually all of the animal manures are effective if they are composted correctly. The only additions I would suggest when first starting off with raised beds are inocula for legumes such as beans and peas.

The type of fertilizers to use are your personal preference but organic fertilizers typically add more to the soil than conventional fertilizers but cost more. However, if your soil is amended properly at the beginning of the season then small amounts of conventional fertilizers would benefit the plants.

Question: My neighbor has a cactus that has these holes on one side. I am hoping you can tell us what is causing this and if this plant is doomed to die.

Answer: Nothing substantial came to me regarding the holes in your cactus. Generally speaking, these holes can occur from overwatering.

My first suspicion was a bacterial disease that causes holes in some cacti but I don't think that is the case with yours. Usually this would occur during wet or humid weather. Not if the plant has been dry.

The only thing I can tell you to do is be careful how often you water. Make sure the plant has good drainage. If the hole does not have any soft tissue around it, just consider it a temporary thing and do not get too excited about it.

Question: I am hoping you can advise me on how to save my rose bushes I planted last spring. I sprayed my them accidentally with a concentrated insecticide, not diluted. The next morning the leaves looked like wilted spinach and I cried. Will the bushes die? A friend told me I should have applied it to the soil.

Answer: They will come back. You burned the leaves with the concentrated insecticide. You should see new leaves and growth popping out in a week or so. During this time be careful not to overwater. Water them normally or even less often if they do not have leaves.

Always follow the label directions when applying and don’t listen to friends. Application depends on the insecticide. Some insecticides are root systemic and applied on the soil around the roots and watered in. Others are foliar and applied to the leaves.

You do not know which is which unless you read the label. The label will tell you how to apply it, when to apply and the application rate.

Question: We have a two-foot tall, two-year old Meyer's lemon with 40-50 young blossoms. Shouldn't some clusters be thinned and if so how?

Answer: Don’t thin them. In most cases, citrus does not need to be thinned. The plant will drop the fruit it cannot support.

It is not like a peach, apple, plum where small fruit must be removed to make way for larger fruit. Just let it be and see how well is sets this year. My guess is that it will drop most of the blossoms or fruit that it cannot support. It may drop all of them if the tree is too young to support fruit growth and branch growth at the same time.

That being said, sometimes citrus does have too much fruit on a limb. If the fruit is closer than the diameter of a large fruit, start removing some when they are the size of a quarter.

Question: Our backyard is in full sun, gets very windy, and has very poor soil. We are landscaping around a new pool and would like a tropical look. We would love to put in a queen palm but we read they may not do well here. Any suggestions for a different palm like Kentia or Foxtail?

Answer: The queen palm won’t work in your situation. It does not like poor soils, heat, lack of humidity and wind. It is not a good choice for our hot desert climate in general.

Be careful planting palms near a pool. Most people do not like the seeds dropping and the mess it makes.

The only palm which stays small and hearty for our area is the windmill palm. The pygmy date palm is a possibility but it is sensitive to our winter temperatures and may suffer from winter freezing. The Mediterranean fan palm stays short but can get quite large in diameter. Both Kentia and Foxtail palms are not meant for our climate.

There are plenty of plants that give a tropical look to a landscape that are desert adapted and tolerant of our soils. Mesquite, desert bird of paradise, flax, ornamental grasses, canna lilies, rose of Sharon, crape myrtle, Gold dust plant (shade), papyrus, nandina, mock orange, cats claw vine, can be used to mention a few.

Tropical looking landscapes should be densely planted and designated as a high water use area. Use compost and wood chip surface mulches that won’t blow easily to improve our soils and their growth.

A ripe plum hangs on a tree. (Photo: SUBMITTED)

Question: I lost two fruit trees this winter because of an irrigation problem. I would like to replace them with 4-in-1 pluot and plum tree. I’m hoping it’s not too late to plant.

Answer: It is not too late to plant fruit trees in containers but it is too late to plant them bare root or sold in packages.

I am not a big fan of fruit trees that have more than one variety on the same tree. In a few years the more aggressive varieties dominate and kill the weaker varieties. In a very short time the tree is dominated by one or two varieties instead of four.

I prefer separate trees planted very close to each other and managed as one tree. I would plant these trees about 12 to 18 inches apart one on the east side of a large hole and the other on the west.

In the case of pluots and plum, the plum tree should be a Santa Rosa which is a good pollinator for pluots. Pluots are self-pollinating in our climate but having a Santa Rosa plum tree close by helps with fruit set and increases yield.

Two rules should be followed when planting trees close together never let them grow back into each other and keep them both pruned and trained to the same size.

How To Thin Fruit (And Why You Need To)

For top quality fruit and a better performing tree – thin your fruit this month! Thinning removes the excess to improve the remainder – and it’s a lovely job, so peaceful among the fruit trees (apart from Nellie the pig’s grunts for more!)

I thin because thinning looks after my trees. It lightens their load. (I love the thought of a benevolent being plucking jobs from my list – wouldn’t it be great!) There’s a heap of carbs required to create fruit, and carbs don’t come easy. In this way you’ll prevent biennial bearing (enthusiastic big crop followed by exhausted little crop). There are other advantages too – improving light for better ripening, airflow for disease prevention and a better size, better quality fruit. Spaces between fruits means less of a wildfire approach to disease spread (like having a firebreak) and less insect hotels too.

Thin when your fruits are small – up to marble sized. Don’t yank the fruits off – you’ll damage the spur. Either bend them backwards and snap them off or pinch or cut them off.

Remove the disfigured and retain the biggest ones where possible.

And work with the rule of um. For big fruiters like Peasgood or Monty leave only one fruit per cluster. If it’s a heavily laden young or poorly tree, thin plenty off so you don’t exhaust the poor thing.

Apples and Pears – Leave 1 or 2 fruits per cluster and about 15cm between clusters.
Plums, Peaches and Nectarines – 5 – 10cm spacings between fruit.


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