Pruning Peach Trees
I have previously published a hub on things to remember when pruning apple trees. While there are many similarities when it comes to pruning peach and apple trees, there are also a few differences that need to be addressed. If you have already read the one on pruning apple trees, you may find some of the information to be repetitive.
When growing peaches, it is important to remember that the wood is very weak. The trees must be pruned in a way that keeps them from breaking from overly heavy branches. Peach trees are very susceptible to breaking during storms or other times when there is too much weight for the tree to handle. The weight of the actual fruit can cause branches to snap as well, so keep in mind to prune adequately.
The first thing to remember with peach trees is to create a relatively low crotch. A crotch is where any branch meets another. When speaking of a low crotch, this refers to where the branches meet the main trunk. The main trunk of the tree should only go about three feet high. From that point on, the tree should branch out. It’s important that the main trunk be kept short to allow the peach tree to have an open center.
This might look or seem odd because we are used to the main truck of a tree going all the way up the center and the branches all coming off of that. However, peach trees will do better with the shorter main truck and being more spread out. To create the open center and short trunk, you have to prune the tree to grow this way very young. If you already have an older tree with a taller trunk, than you won’t be able to have a completely open center.
An open center is important for several reasons. Since the fruit require sunlight to grow and ripen, the open center allows for more light to get through to the entire tree. The open center also increases airflow. The increase in airflow and space gives the fruit more room to grow. The open center is beneficial for taking all the weight off the main trunk and dispersing it out to other branches to help prevent damage.
One of the easiest things to see to prune out are the shoots. These are the small branches going straight up that seem to grow very quickly. Luckily, these are not as prevalent on peach trees as they are with apple trees. Another relatively obvious thing to prune out are the stubs. It is crucial to eliminate broken branches from the tree. They are using up energy and not producing fruit. They should be cut back to the healthy branch.
Once those two simple tasks are taken care of, the actual pruning starts to take place. This is where you will have to be more decisive about what you want to cut out. You need to start off with a plan about how you want to open the tree up and make it look. Take a look for whorls. Where there are several branches, the tree will be weaker if they are all allowed to grow. Pick the best one, and cut the rest out. Also look for interior branches that do not get much sunlight because they are shaded. These inner branches will not produce many good peaches due to the lack of light. Trim those branches out.
Branches that are growing downward are also no good. These downward growing branches generally produce few fruit buds. If they are near the bottom of the tree, they are simply growing towards the ground and get too low. If they are higher up in the tree, growing down will cause them to create more problems in the future. One problem they could create would be rubbing branches. When braches are touching and rubbing against one another, they are competing for space and light. The rub can also damage the bark and make the tree susceptible to disease. Choose the less productive of the rubbing branches, and cut it out.
If you live in a cold weather climate, you have to be very careful with your peaches. If you get a late frost, the buds can freeze, and your crop will be lost for the season. If you prune very early, it may be best not to prune too heavily. Wait until you are clear of frosts for that complete pruning. That way if it freezes, you might not lose all your fruit. If you do think your buds froze, there is a simple way to check. Pick one of the fruit buds off, and cut it open. If the center is black, than the fruit froze and is lost for the season.
If you have trees that are young or have been kept up with, pruning will be much easier. Older trees that are overgrown will take some time to prune and get back into optimal shape. This will take a couple years to avoid shocking the tree by pruning too drastically. Make sure to never use hedge trimmers or to simply top the peach tree. This can be very damaging. You should use appropriate pruners for smaller branches, and use a handsaw for larger branches as this will be less damaging. Make sure to always cut the branch back to a lateral (where another branch is coming out) instead of just cutting it off anywhere.
The main thing is to make the tree a manageable size for yourself to handle. If it is too tall or large, you will have difficulties spraying and picking the fruit. You need to be comfortable with your trees and have them be suitable to you. There is no exact science to pruning, and it can vary depending on the trees. It might take you a little time to get comfortable with pruning, and the more experience you have, the easier it will become.