Peach trees are one of the least demanding fruit trees you can grow. Like many fruit trees, peach trees are susceptible to some diseases and pests, but peaches ripen so early in the season that these problems don't usually affect the harvest. And harvesting is usually fairly simple, thanks to the many dwarf varieties that remain just 4 to 6 feet in height. 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.
When to Prune Peach Trees
While many fruiting plants are best pruned when they are dormant, this is not the case with peach trees. 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 in spring, just as the buds swell and begin to turn pink. It's better to prune a little too late than too early. However, you can remove shoots developing in the center of the tree at any time since these 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.
Major pruning of a peach tree should begin when the tree is at least three years old and has matured enough to produce a good fruit crop. Before this, pruning efforts should be limited to establishing the basic shape of the tree.
Before Getting Started
Rather than pruning to emphasize a central trunk, as is done with other fruit trees, peach trees are best pruned into an open "V" or vase shape, with three to five well-spaced main branches forming the vase. These main "scaffold "branches should be at roughly 45-degree angles to the trunk, leaving the center open to sun and air.
Peach trees produce fruit on one-year-old wood, so a mature tree 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 the one-year-old shoots, which will be reddish in appearance.
Equipment / Tools
- Bypass shears
- Long-handled pruners
- Pruning saw (optional)
- Stepladder (if needed)
- Thick gloves
- Long-sleeved shirt
- Refuse bags
Remove 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.
Cut removed branches into manageable pieces and bag them or bundle them for disposal
Choose Main Branches, Remove the Others
In the early years of the tree's life, select three to five main upward-growing "scaffold" 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- or vase-shaped profile with an open center.
Most growers recommend that the first of these scaffold branches be no closer than 18 inches from the ground. The main branches should be spaced evenly around the trunk, with a vertical offset of about 6 inches between adjacent branches. Ideally, all scaffold branches should emerge from the trunk between 18 and 36 inches from the ground. This creates a compact tree that will be easy to harvest without a tall ladder.
Trim Tall Branches
Use a pruner to trim the ends of any 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.
Remove Spindly Interior Branches
Prune any small, spindly branches growing from the main scaffold 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.
Cut Back Remaining Red Shoots
Use pruners to cut back the new red shoots to a length of around 18 inches. Make the cuts to within 1/4 inch of an outward-facing bud. These are fruit-producing shoots, and you want to keep them close to the main branches so the fruit will will be adequately supported and easy to harvest.
Also, prune off the suckers at the base of the tree. You can 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.
Plan for Future Growth
If there is no new growth within reach on a tall branch, remove the entire branch. These are not likely to be productive, and removing them ensures the tree will put its energy into plenty of new productive growth.
And if the tree doesn't have enough upward-curving main branches, find a secondary branch that has new upward-curving growth, and cut back to that new growth. This will become one of the main branches for future seasons.
Training and Pruning Stone Fruit. University of Maryland Extension