sandys gardening advice

Growing larger apples

How to increase the size of apples

By: Sandy Feather ©2013
Penn State Extension

Q. I planted several apple trees six years ago, and they are bearing fruit. They actually produced quite a few apples, but they were very small and disappointing. What can I do to improve the size and quality of the fruit?

A. Apple trees often set more fruit than they can mature to a good size and quality.  If you permit all that fruit to stay on the tree until harvest time, you will wind up with a lot of small apples. Commercial orchards produce large, high quality fruits by careful attention to thinning the crop to improve fruit size and following a spray schedule to control disease and insect pests.

apple          apple          apple

Apples naturally lose some of their abundant crop on their own; some pea-sized fruit will drop after the flowers lose all of their petals (petal fall). These fruits usually have not been pollinated properly due to cool, rainy weather or poorly timed insecticide applications that interfere with bee activity. Late spring frosts can also damage the flowers to the point that the fruit aborts. There is a second drop late May into early June when the apples are larger, commonly known as June drop. June drop occurs from competition among the fruits for water and nutrients. Hot, dry weather in spring can exacerbate June drop.


Although the amount of fruit that falls on its own might be alarming, you often need to do some additional thinning to get the larger fruit you desire. It is ideal to remove all but the largest fruit from each cluster, and space the apples eight to ten inches apart on the branch. While commercial orchards often rely on chemical thinning, hand thinning is a better choice for home orchardists. Chemical thinning does not permit the best positioning of fruit on the branch, and you can remove too many apples this way. Hand thinning allows you to choose the largest, healthiest fruits to keep. Thin remaining fruits as soon as possible after June drop.

More advantages of thinning apples

In addition to increasing fruit size, thinning allows the tree to produce flower buds for next year’s crop. Some varieties will bear crops in alternate years if you do not thin out enough excess fruit. Thinning also protects the trees from breaking under a heavy load of fruit. Properly thinned fruit is exposed to more sun and better air circulation, which can help reduce disease problems and allow more even ripening. It is also easier to get good coverage with pesticide applications when fruits are separate rather hanging in clusters.


Cross-pollination of fruit trees



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