Issue: May 18, 1998

Thinning fruit to prevent broken branches


In the past the fruit on my fruit trees has broken the branches of the trees when the trees produced a lot of fruit. What can I do to prevent this?


There are several actions you can take, but right now I would recommend that you thin the fruit on your trees. There are several benefits, one of which is that the damage from branch breakage is reduced. Fruit spacing on apples, apricots, and peaches should be approximately four to six inches between fruits. Cherries, plums, and smaller fruits can be allowed to remain closer. The time to do the thinning is while the fruit is still very small.

To thin the fruit, remove some of it - especially at the ends of the branches. Fruit which develops at the end of the branches are more likely to stress the branch than those closer to the trunk where the wood is thicker and the "lever arm" (leverage effect) is less.

When you thin, you also increase your edible yield. This is because, although you have fewer fruits, you also have fewer apple cores and peach pits. With fewer fruit on the tree, each one becomes larger, but the core or pit doesn't change as much in size, so your edible portion increases while the inedible portion decreases. The larger fruit at the end of the branch can do as much damage as fewer smaller fruit, so be sure that you thin well at the ends of the branches.

Some gardeners thin by hand, others "sweep" the branches with a broom, and others use high pressure water from power washers. Whichever method you choose, minimize the damage you do to the leaves and remaining fruit. Except for the highest elevations and northernmost parts of New Mexico, it is too late to use chemical thinning. Chemical thinning, the use of a substance sprayed onto the very young fruit, is better used in large orchards than in home orchards anyway.

When to plant grass in Northern New Mexico


When can I plant grass in Northern New Mexico? I want a lawn which does not use too much water, so what grass should I plant?


When to plant depends on the type of grass planted. In Northern New Mexico you can plant fescue or Kentucky bluegrass for long seasons of green, but they require more irrigation. They are the ones to consider if the grass is to be used heavily as an athletic field or for a childrens' play area. These grasses you can plant now in Northern New Mexico. At lower elevations they will be stressed by the heat in late June, so plant soon so they will be established before the heat reaches its maximum.

To conserve water in areas which are for aesthetic (ornamental) use, not athletic use, consider planting our native warm season grasses. Buffalograss and blue gramma grass should do well for your landscape. For athletic use in the southern part of the state, bermuda grass may be planted by sod, plugs or seeding. These warm season grasses may be planted now but prefer warmer soil for germination and may also be planted later. If you choose to delay, an important thing to remember regarding them is to give them at least a month to a month and a half to establish before the first killing frost in the fall is expected in your area. This allows time for the "crown" to form. This is the part of the grass plant from which the leaves and "tillers" are formed. If the crown has not been formed, the plants are subject to winter kill.

In either case, be sure to get any existing weeds under control. Perennial weeds can be especially problematic in a lawn. To identify your weeds and determine appropriate control measures, you may wish to contact your local Cooperative Extension Service office or a reputable nursery.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!