Hand Thinning Apples

Over the past couple of months, our crew has worked daily to perfect the quality of our apple crop. By thinning the apples in our orchards, the crew eliminates bad fruit and makes room for the good.

Our excellent fruit quality is the result of multiple rounds of fruit thinning. Surprisingly, it only takes 5% of the total spring flowers to set a full crop. With so much fruit to remove, we start by spraying the spring bloom with organic lime sulfur to knock off  95% of the flowers. Then, once apples appear on the trees, we go in to hand thin the apples.

The 5 W’s of Hand Thinning

I know you’re on the edge of your seat to learn more, so I’ll use the 5 W’s like a formula to share the complete overview of what’s involved with hand thinning apples.


Anyone on our crew, men or women, who have had safety and skill training qualify to hand thin apples.


We have various fruit crops, including cherries and blueberries, but only the apples need hand thinning.


We thin apples in May and June. The earlier, the better, but the apples need to be big enough to pop off the stem using your thumb. Also, the small green apples need to be big enough for the thinners to identify misshapen, marked, or too small apples that need removal.


  • The benefits out weigh the cost.
    • Promote larger fruit size – intentionally spacing the fruit to promote larger size of the apples.
    • Better bloom next year – too many apples on the tree discourages the formation of flower buds for next year.
    • Promote even crop loads – discourages feast or famine years. When the crop is heavy it’s slower to mature. We grow our Honeycrisps at the 2,000′ elevation so our harvest is usually around mid-September. We don’t want a later harvest because of the increased risk of freezing temperatures.
    • Remove small or defective apples – apples with damage from diseases, insects or weather are easily removed.


  • Thinning training
    • Safety training for use of the tools involved such as ladder and clippers.
    • Demonstration of skill with tools involved. Knowing where and how to set the ladder properly aids in the efficiency of the job. When apples are too big to pop off the stem with the thinner’s thumb, palm clippers cut the stems.
  • The Process
    • Often there are 3-4 apples together on a spur. Thinners remove all but the best one on the spur.
      • When removing the apples, leaving the stems intact ensures the connection stays strong for the remaining apple.

Satisfying Results

As we prepare to harvest each fall, it’s clear that hand thinning our apple crop makes a difference in the quality of our fruit. The same crew that does the hand thinning work will also do the final harvesting. Understanding everything involved with hand thinning apples, it’s easy to see how our crew takes pride in the result of their labor. The beautiful apples people buy have an appetizing color, are free of blemishes, and are the perfect size for eating fresh out of hand or baking in a delicious apple pie.