Pruning a peach tree is a labor intensive activity which is often avoided by many. However, pruning is crucial as unpruned trees result into weak trees with shorter lives, increased disease, and overproduction.
Peach trees are such that the fruit is borne on the second year wood, which makes it important for good fruiting branches to grow every spring and summer, for a good yield. Pruning will ensure a steady volume of peach production every year, and will also keep the fruiting shoots from moving higher and higher.
Terminal bud, situated at the end of the shoot is vegetative and grows into the leafy shoot. On the other hand, the axillary buds produced at the base of the leaves during summer can grow into leaves or flower buds. A single peach flower bud produces only one fruit. The number of flower buds on a single shoot depends on the vigor of the tree.
The ideal fruiting shoot is 3/16 to 1/4 inch thick at its base and 12 to 24 inches long. Adequate pruning will ensure appropriate shoot growth each year, resulting in ample number of flower buds for the following season. Certain experiments carried out in Virginia reveal that the fruit size is related to shoot length.
Time to Prune Peach Trees
It is important to note that peach trees must be pruned only after the month of February, as pruning them in winter reduces their cold-hardiness. Pruning carried out just before the harsh winter can result in injured barks on the branches and trunks, poor flowers, bad survival, and die back of shoots that are one year old.
Pruning carried out just before bloom, when the flower buds feature pink tissue at the tips can result into flower buds less tolerant to frost. Pruning done during or immediately after bloom is not advisable, although in doing so no particular damage to the tree or fruit's growth will occur.
Pruning Young Peach Trees
The objective of pruning young peach trees in the first 3 years after planting, is to attain vegetative growth, not fruit production. It is essential to develop a tree structure that is strong enough to bear the weight of the fruits. Moreover, fruit grown during the first 3 years will not be of good quality and will be small in size.
For the best fruit yield, one must allow pure vegetative growth during the first 3 years. Remove all flower buds to prevent fruit growth.Once the trees have entered the fourth year the pruner must gradually shift the focus from pure vegetative growth to fruit production.
At the end of the third year, the peach tree must have around itself 3-5 evenly distributed scaffold branches with wide angles. Since young fruiting trees grow vigorously, adequate pruning is required to keep the center of the tree open and to maintain the desired tree size.
Remove all large branched, upright water sprouts (5 - 7 feet long vigorous shoots growing from upper surface of limbs) that cause shade in the center and are not fruitful. Remember not to direct these shoots to a branch with flower buds. Remove the upright water sprouts having secondary branches but you can keep the single branches with flower buds.
Completely remove upright water sprouts with secondary branches. Keep single branches with flower buds. Once fruits grow, their weight reduces their vigor. Ensure the tree has fruiting wood throughout the canopy. Don't remove all fruiting shoots from center. Remove excess branches so that sunlight can reach center but keep the shoots with strong flower buds.
Pruning Mature Peach Trees
Peach trees 7 - 9 feet tall are known to produce a favorable yield. Thus, it's important to annually prune the trees to attain low-spreading branches, with maximum growth on a low horizontal plane. As the trees mature, the smaller twigs in the shaded portions of the tree die. Remove some of the twigs, as it will not be economical to remove all of them.
However, it is necessary to discard all the diseased branches. All water sprouts growing vertically must be broken off, without cutting them off to side shoots. The objective of pruning a peach tree of 6 year maturity is to maintain an adequate size of the tree with ample number of fruiting wood for maximum fruit yield.
12 - 18 inch fruiting shoots growing horizontally must be kept irrespective of orientation, as wood produced previous year give flower and fruit the next year. Weight of the fruits will keep the branches leaning toward the ground. Remember to stimulate the growth of one fruiting wood at the center of the tree by thinning out, heading back inside branches.
To stimulate better growth for the shoots on the tree, it is best to thin them out to a spacing of about 4 to 6 inches apart around the limbs. This will also improve the quality and size of the fruit. Also discard the short fruiting shoots, that is those that are 3-6 inches long, as they will produce smaller fruit.
Annual pruning facilitates distribution of light throughout the tree, resulting in large-sized, better colored, sweeter fruits. Wear gloves, cap, and eye protection gear while pruning to prevent injury. About 10-15 minutes of thorough pruning per tree is needed but it's worth the effort as the juicy, sweet peaches are sure to reward your palate richly!