How to Prune Peach Trees

Two peaches hanging from a peach tree branch

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Overview
  • Working Time: 0 mins
  • Total Time: 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Peach trees are one of the least demanding fruit trees you can grow. There are a few diseases and pests that plague them, but because the fruits ripen early in the season problems generally don't get out of hand. However, the one maintenance task that shouldn't be overlooked is pruning. Your peach trees will be healthier, more productive, and easier to work with if you set up an annual pruning routine. Peach trees are pruned into an open "V" or vase shape, with three to five well-spaced main branches forming the vase. This differs from other fruit trees that have one central trunk. The main branches should be at roughly a 45-degree angle, leaving the center open to sun and air.

When to Prune Peach Trees

Unlike many other fruiting plants, peach trees should not be pruned while they are dormant. Pruning them when the weather is still cold makes them susceptible to dieback and causes them to be less cold-hardy overall.

Ideally, you should prune peach trees annually just as the buds swell enough for you to start to see pink. It's better to prune a little late than early. However, you can remove shoots developing in the center of the tree at any time. They will block sun and air from getting to the fruits. Plus, taking them out during the summer usually means less to remove the next spring.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Bypass shears
  • Long-handled pruners
  • Pruning saw (optional)
  • Stepladder (if needed)
  • Thick gloves
  • A long-sleeved shirt

Materials

  • Mature peach tree

Instructions

  1. Prune Dead, Damaged, and Diseased Branches

    Use long-handled pruners or a pruning saw to remove all branches in poor condition. Such branches should be removed whenever you see them. This is true of all trees but especially for trees that bear fruit on new wood, such as peach trees.

  2. Trim Tall Branches

    Use a pruner to trim the ends of tall branches. The goal here is to keep the tree at a harvestable height. If you prune without a ladder, this will mean cutting the branches to a height that you can reach from the ground.

  3. Choose Main Branches and Prune the Others

    Select three to five main upward-growing branches along the outside of the tree. Then, remove any competing large branches using a pruner or pruning saw. Pay special attention to removing branches in the center of the tree and those growing downward or horizontal. The goal is to create a tree that has a V-shaped profile with an open center.

  4. Remove Spindly Branches Growing Toward the Interior

    Prune any small, spindly branches growing from the main branches inward. Make sure to remove any shoots that point straight up or down, as they won't allow the peach tree to properly grow into the desired V shape.

  5. Cut Back Remaining Red Shoots

    Use pruners to cut back the new red shoots to a length of around 18 inches. Make the cuts at an outward-facing bud. Don't forget to prune the suckers at the base of the tree. Ideally, pull them off with your hand if they are small enough. They will be less likely to regrow if they are pulled instead of cut.

  6. Plan for Future Growth

    If there is no new growth within reach on a tall branch, remove the whole branch. Regular pruning in the following years will ensure there is plenty of new growth lower on the tree where you can reach it. Likewise, if you don't have enough upward-curving main branches, find a branch that has new upward-curving growth, and cut back to that new growth. This will be among the main branches next season.

Peach Tree Growing and Pruning Tips

Peach trees fruit on 1-year-old wood, so they can be pruned rather extensively. Remove around 40 percent of the tree each year to encourage new growth after pruning, so there will be fruiting branches every year. In general, remove old gray shoots because these will not fruit. But leave 1-year-old shoots, which will be reddish in appearance.

In terms of planting, peach trees should be in a sunny, well-draining spot where there is some protection from wind. Make sure your peach tree gets at least 3 inches of water each month, and feed it after the petals fall.

Don't pick the peaches until they are fully ripe. Ripe fruits will easily pull off the tree with a slight twist. They should be starting to soften but still somewhat firm, and they will have reached their full color (which will vary depending on variety).

A few days at room temperature can sweeten the flavor of peaches. If they are not fully ripe, place them in a brown paper bag to speed ripening.

Peach trees are not long-lived. So planting a new tree every five to six years will ensure you are never without a peach tree. Patio peach trees only grow to around 3 feet tall in containers. Gardeners in USDA hardiness zones 4 and colder will need to give these trees winter protection.

Article Sources
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  1. Training and Pruning Stone Fruit. University of Maryland Extension