Peach trees need to be pruned once a year in order to have a good crop of peaches. Although the unpruned tree will bear fruit, without proper pruning the branches will not be strong enough to hold the weight of the fruit and will break. In addition, air flow will be reduced and the peaches will be more susceptible to diseases.
The goal of pruning your tree is building a strong scaffold to hold the fruit. This starts with a young tree. Most peach trees will grow several branches off of the main trunk above the grafting knot. Pick two or at most three of these branches to encourage. There should be some space between these branches so that you can prune the tree into almost a cup shape, with the branches making a nice shape around the edges. The trees in this picture are properly pruned.
Next, you want to encourage the peach trees to grow up instead of out. The branches that point sideways or down are pruned off so that every branch off of the main two or three points up. These smaller branches will, in turn, have branches that actually bear fruit. They should also be pruned so everything points up.
For ease of picking, most people top off the tree at about seven or eight feet high. That is as high as an A frame ladder comfortably goes in the uneven ground of an orchard. While ladders go higher, it not only gets scary but also takes too much time to pick if you allow the trees to get much higher than that.
Peach trees used to be pruned in December or early January. There is some research now that pruning as late as bud stage, usually early February in Texas, later in colder regions, is acceptable. Do not prune later than this or it injures the tree and leaves it susceptible to diseases.
Trees should not be painted with pruning paint. It is unnecessary and can be a problem. The tree will heal faster if pruned with sharp pruning shears and allowed to heal.
Shears should be cleaned with a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water before beginning to prune. This keeps bacteria from being introduced into the tree as the cuts are made. After cutting any diseased branches, the shears should be disinfected again to avoid spreading the problem.
Properly pruned branches will allow air to circulate among the peaches while they grow and reduce the incidence of fungal and bacterial infections. They will also be stronger and bear more peaches.
It will still be necessary to thin your peaches, however. No branch can bear the full weight of a crop of unthinned peaches without the danger of breakage, particularly in a storm. Young trees, especially, will need to be watched for signs of a problem. In fact, all the peaches should be pinched off a tree younger than about five years old to allow it to grow a strong scaffolding of branches. This will pay off in bigger crops later in the tree’s life.
Other stone fruit, such as plums and nectarines, are pruned in a similar fashion. A properly pruned orchard is healthy and looks like someone loves it. Good luck with your orchard.
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