I used to be pretty laissez-faire about thinning my apple crops. It didn’t matter that much to me whether a tree produced a couple hundred good-sized apples or a gazilion little ones; they all taste fine, and sometimes a small apple is just what you’re in the mood for.
What eventually made me change my ways was realizing that whenever a tree would produce an especially heavy crop of apples, it would exhaust itself ripening them and next year there would usually be no crop at all. Not cool!
I have seven apple trees, all different varieties, and some are more self-regulating than others. They all tend to produce blossoms in clusters of five or six, but if the blossoms all get pollinated and start to develop into little apples and no hard freeze comes along to damage them, the trees will voluntarily drop some of their fruit to ease their own burden. Some varieties will have two or even three separate fruit drops, and those are the ones that don’t require much help from me. Others will drop a little fruit, but still end up with four or five (or more) little apples per cluster. When I’m sure they’ve all dropped all the fruit they’re going to, then I have to go in with a pair of scissors and snip stems until they’re down to one or two apples per spur. Purists say that you should have four to six inches between apples, but I’ll leave them a little closer if it looks like they’re not going to crowd each other too much. I don’t need great big fruit, I just want to keep the trees producing every year.
Here’s a before-and-after shot from a tree I did today:
It takes me about a day and a half to thin all seven trees, but they really do seem to appreciate the lighter load. It’s totally time well spent.