Pruning and Training Peaches

Like cherry and plum trees, peach trees are best pruned in the late spring. They are unique among major tree fruits in that they bear most of their fruit on lateral buds in the lower half of vigorous one-year-old shoots. To maintain a constant flush of this growth for the next crop, prune peaches hard every year.

Peach and nectarine trees are very susceptible to perennial canker, which is caused by a fungus that infects open wounds when temperatures are cool. Don't prune them unless the weather is expected to be dry with temperatures over 60 degrees F for two to three days after pruning. Delaying pruning until flowering helps reduce the spread of this organism, and you can see how your pruning will reduce the crop.

Because of the way they grow, you should not train peaches as central leader or modified central leader trees. They are best trained as open-center trees, selecting three to five scaffold limbs that give the tree a vase-like shape.

One-year-old nursery peach trees are usually 3 to 6 feet tall with some lateral branching. At planting

  • head the leader back to about 8 inches above the first side shoot.
  • prune off any side shoots below 18 inches from the ground.
  • prune off all side shoots that have crotch angles of less than 45 degrees.

Unlike most other tree fruits, peaches bear on one-year-old wood.

• head back all remaining shoots so that each has just two buds remaining.

If you don't have at least three to five branches with wide crotch angles, leave some narrow ones and spread them using clothespins, as described for apple trees. If you have more than five with wide angles, wait until early June, after they've grown a few inches, and select three to five of the strongest. They should be spaced evenly around the trunk with about 4 to 6 inches between them.

Later that summer, around late July, remove any additional shoots that started growing closer than 18 inches from the ground or that have narrow crotch angles (less than 45 degrees).

In late spring of the second year, remove the central leader just above the first wide-angled side limb to create an open-centered tree. Keep only four to six wide-angled scaffold limbs on the main trunk, and remove other limbs. Lightly head back the scaffolds to outward-growing laterals, and thin out shoots growing from the scaffolds that are less than pencil-sized.

The purpose of heading back scaffolds is to continue the development of an open-center tree that will be low, strong, and spreading for convenient thinning, pest control, and harvesting. Leave some small shoots that cross in the center because they will bear the first fruits.

Pruning during the third and fourth years should be limited to removing decidedly crowded limbs or low-hanging, shaded branches in the center of the tree. Also, head back main scaffold limbs to laterals if they are too high or out of balance with the others. Fruit will be produced on one-year-old branches, which should be spread evenly throughout the tree.

As trees reach full size, severe pruning maintains and renews vigorous fruiting wood throughout the tree. Terminal shoot growth of 12 to 18 inches is desirable. If the shoot growth is weak or the lower limbs become too long, cut the branches back into two- or three-year-old wood. Make the cuts to an outward-growing side branch.

After heading back all of the main branches, thin and space the fruiting shoots so they are about 6 to 8 inches apart. This spacing provides good light exposure to the fruiting shoot and allows development of new shoots for next year's crop. The fruiting shoots should not be headed back, but the fruits should be thinned because fruit set generally is excessive.

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  • olo
    How to prune a nectarine tree?
    7 years ago

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