Help Pruning Peach Tree

Harlingen, TX

First of all, when exactly should I prune my peach tree? I live in deep south Texas so its going to be hot hot hot for quite some time but I do have my new trees hooked up to a watering system.

It was only planted a few months ago, January I think, and it has probably gotten a good foot or two taller since it was planted. Currently it is about 10-11 feet tall. I had never grown peach trees myself before and like a dummy I purchased the one tree that had the usual 'tree' shape (straight and tall, non-forked trunk) only to learn that this is not the most desired shape for peach trees. Most of what I have read seems to say that an open centered tree is much better for peaches since you can keep the fruit within easy reach.

I know lots of people probably ask this same question but instead of just best-guessing this I thought I would ask for others opinions on how to prune it. Should I cut part of that tall center piece back and train it to be more open centered? The lower portions of the tree seem to be doing fine, I won't worry about that until the tree goes dormant and maybe thin it out a little but the top concerns me because it is already getting fairly tall.

The picture below is of the tree in question:

Thumbnail by Aslan89
Colton, CA(Zone 8b)

Pruning is not a simple one size fits all subject. It sounds like you have already looked into it a little. Continue to look for "how to" information on line. The more you read about it the better your pruning decisions will be. Try to avoid old outdated information. You might want to go to the Dave Wilson Nursery web site as one (just one) source.

In the meantime I would cut that tree down to size right now, don't wait for it to go dormant. And not only cut it down radically shorter, but take out any branches that you will not want in your mature tree. It will throw out plenty of new branches for you to choose from. Now while it is young is the time to shape it's future. A branch that is now knee height will be hip height when the tree is mature. You might want to know that summer pruning, after harvest, is for size and dormant pruning is for shape and to clean up the tree. And with a peach, in particular, read up on spraying in your own locality. Lots of things they succomb to. Don

This message was edited Jul 5, 2011 2:21 PM

Harlingen, TX

Thank you for the help! Believe me, I know how hard it is to prune sometimes, my new trees have had so much care from me they feel like part of the family now haha so I just want to be sure of what I am doing. Do you have a recommendation on how much to trim off? That is what I am most curious about now I guess.

Colton, CA(Zone 8b)

Aslan, What do you want the tree to look like when it is older? Do you want the branches to start 18" off the ground and spread out with the center open to the sun or do you want a tall thin tree because of space constraints? While your tree is young you can pick and chose which branches you want to save and grow for the mature tree and remove all others.

Many growers plant bare root and cut the trunk down to a single stick to start out. Then as branches start to sproat they keep the ones they like and remove all others. Within reason branches will continue to sproat until you have selected what you want for your tree. About three to four more or less equally spaced branches are nice in my opinion. I like to keep the tree low to the ground so that I don't have to use ladders, but that is a matter of choice.

But the subject of pruning is wide and varied. There are whole books written about just this subject so it can not be covered very well in a short post. I urge you to do some in depth research. But don't wait too long to decide how you want to get your new peach tree off to a good start. The second year is a maybe and maybe to late. The third year and you will be playing catch up with limited options. Have fun. Don

Harlingen, TX

Well I am not at all new to the subject of plants, but like I said this is the first year I have ever planted trees of my own. I can tell you a lot about other plants; I'm studying botany in college right now lol but I was hoping for some opinions on what others would do because I have read up on pruning peach trees and I do want to go with the open center approach. My problem lies with how much restraint to use while I trim.

Like I said though, I am not new to plants, I know I'm not going to kill the tree if I just trim it up a bit but referring to cutting the top off, are we talking about cutting a foot off or four? Yes I do get that its officially my choice in the end, but I want to know what others would do with this tree. Thank you for all of your help by the way, I really appreciate it.

This message was edited Jul 5, 2011 6:53 PM

Colton, CA(Zone 8b)

Hopefully you will soon get other opinions and input. My opinion is go for it, you can hardly harm a young tree as long as you stay well above the graft. Like I said many growers take newly planteds bare root trees and cut them off to a uniform height leaving nothing but a bare stick to start with. Please start thinking about your protection routine. peaches are subject to a long list of problems, worse in some areas than others. I constantly fight peach leaf curl and mold. Don

Harlingen, TX

That's a good idea, so far so good though. They have been in the ground since January and have had no problems as of yet but I have treated the area with a 'home defense' spray to keep ants away so that may be helping. The only problem I hear of from people down here is a small beetle that sometimes burrow in the bark but they usually just use seven dust and have no problems.

We live in a grapefruit orchard and we don't spray for insects but our neighbors orchard borders ours and they do spray occasionally so that may be helping us. We grow lots of vegetables and watermelons and have had no problems with insects (hope I don't jinx myself by telling you haha)

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

Usually you don't prune a tree the first year because it slows down root establishment. Top growth is a good indication of root growth - if this year's top growth is equal to or greater than last years, you can go ahead and prune. The usual time to prune is when the tree is dormant. Here in Colorado we prune early spring just before the tree breaks dormancy because winter pruning in our dry climate can cause winter die back.

In the photo it looks like your tree has room to be short and wide. Decide how much room you want under the tree. For me, less than 18 inches doesn't give me enough room to work under the tree, and over 3 foot seems too tall. Then decide how much of the center you want to take out. Avoid cuts with a diameter larger than a quarter, try to stay with a nickle or smaller - the tree doesn't recover from larger cuts well.

For side branches, you want to look for a good sturdy point of attachment to the tree. Sorry - out of time, I'll try to get back to this.

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

I am going to refer you back to some threads I started that have photos: Re: establishing roots Re: large pruning cuts Re: branch attachment

Harlingen, TX

Thanks for the tips pollengarden!

I think it turned out great after all. My new concerns are with a plum tree I have. I have seen Santa Rosa and Bruce plum trees for sale locally that are nicely branched with limbs that come out of the trunk at nearly 90 degree angles. My problem is with this plum tree I planted last year that finally took off and is growing fine but it seems to want to grow into one densely packed single trunk. All of the growth seems to want to grow straight up instead of out. I trimmed it up last month to clear out the center a bit and I chopped off about a half a foot of growth at the tops of the three main branches so that it could fill out and get sturdier. Anyway, do you have any tips about what to do? I have several stakes around the tree to anchor it and I used those and plant tape to gradually pull the branches apart but it doesn't seem to be working. Any ideas?

Colton, CA(Zone 8b)

Aslan, If it is still young enough and flexible enough you can force spacers between the trunk and the branches to encourage them to form a wider angle. Narrow branch angles tend to cause splits when the trees are heavy with fruit. Ninty degrees is good. I have heard of some hanging heavy weights on the branches they want to lower. I doubt if anything will do much good if the tree is already fairly mature. How many branches are you saving? You only want three or four that are well spaced around the tree. Don

Harlingen, TX

It was just planted last year but I'm pretty sure it is fruiting size already. I trimmed it back to about six feet tall. The problem with leaving a few branches is that it has so many! I thinned it out quite a bit, especially in the center but once it starts growing again it may put on 100 new shoots. It seems like it really wants to be dense haha.

The spacers might work but I have never used them before because I have never had a tree grow quite like this. The trunk is maybe 1-2 inches in diameter with the main branches above between 1/2 to 1 inch I would guess. My concern would be how to attach the spacers? I have seen pictures of people using wood blocks and nails but unless I used picture hanging nails or others just as small I might damage the branches. Any ideas on how to proceed?

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

Basically, you wedge something in between the branch and the trunk to SLOWLY force branches out to an angle of about 60 degrees (10 o'clock or 2 o'clock). Do this GENTLY while watching for any cracking of the branch, especially near the point of attachment - try to stop before you push the branch to the point of damage. You may have to do this over a couple of months. This is more of a problem on trees with more brittle branches, peaches are usually fairly flexible. Also branches are more flexible after they start to break domancy. With a peach, you have to try to minimize damage to the bark. I have purchased spacers with a "y" or notch at each end. I try to brace this notch against a bud or branch or something. Even so, a few spacers will fall out every time there is a wind storm. I just tell myself it was time to re-adjust them anyway. You might also try hanging a weight on the branch. If the angle you start with is very narrow, you may not be able to spread it without breaking it - in this case you are probably better off cutting the branch back to a bud on the outside/underside near the trunk and growing a whole new branch.

Also with thinning - The bud at the tip releases hormones that suppress branching near it (how near depends on the tree). Taking off the tip of anything stimulates side branching near the cut, the tree is trying to make a new tip. Taking off the tip of the leader or top of the tree will stimulate side branching toward the top of the tree. Taking the tip off a side branches will stimulate twiggy growth out toward the end of the branch. If you don't want to do this, you need to take off the branch clear back to its base, or at least to a well placed side bud or branch.

Harlingen, TX

Thank you for the help, I did not even know they sold spacers with Y shapes on the ends but I guess that makes sense that they would. I was recently re-staking the plant but the main trunks seems to be sturdy enough on its own now.

As for the branches I used some more plant tape and it does look like it has spread out a little bit. Maybe I am just too impatient :p

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

I think you are getting excellent advice above but why don't you consult the excellent TEXAS advice put out by your own Texas A&M via the ag extension service (TAMU). You will get specifics for warmer weather growing as well as other important specifics like the various bugs that you WILL have to fight. Then you can decide what is right for you to do. I looked at where Harlingen, TX is - looks to be a "peach throw" away from Mexico and also from the Gulf of Mexico! Might be a little different climate than either CA or CO.

As Dimcgrw said above,
"But the subject of pruning is wide and varied. There are whole books written about just this subject so it can not be covered very well in a short post. I urge you to do some in depth research."

I would add that I am just about to saw down my 2 apple trees that refuse to bloom in my zone 7 backyard and plant 2 peach trees which I know will bloom in my area (because I researched the chilling requirement and frost recommendations.) Besides, I like peaches better .

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

BTW, to all above, I appreciate the advice you have given, especially the advice on spacers about which I knew nothing. I will definitely use them when I plant my one or two peach trees. Lowes has the kind I need for my location, Elberta (850 chill hrs) and maybe Carolina Belle (750 chill hrs). My NC Ag Extension Peaches bulletin suggests Elberta for my area. Since it keeps getting warmer, I also think I should get a lower chill hrs peach - just in case. I can deal with a late frost If I need to on one tree, now that I know how to prune and keep it low I will cover it wit sheets safety pinned together and put a couple of 100 W lights.

Harlingen, TX

I have used the TAMU info for quite some time. The problem is that its general advice. No two trees are the same. Anyway, I trimmed the tree nearly a year ago haha, this post is just still hanging around.

I now have 3 peach trees, 2 apple trees, 2 nectarine trees, and 2 plum trees out there. They are still dormant for me but it has been warm for a while now and i have seen a couple blooms on several trees but they have yet to break dormancy yet. This week and next look like all sun and heat for us so it might be just right for them.

Houston, TX(Zone 9a)

I haven't read through all of the posts, so pardon me if this is a repeat of info.

I live in Houston. I have two peach trees, three pear trees, one nectarine, and two apple trees. I'm giving up on them. Why? Because every year since the year after I planted them, every single baby fruit was hit by plum curculio. This year I tried spraying the baby peaches with Surround (a clay-like substance that you mix with water and spray onto the fruit to coat them... ostensibly to protect them). That worked great - until we had several days of heavy rains. The rains completely washed off the Surround, and before I could get back outside to re-coat the fruit, the plum curculio were busy during that time, and now I'm in the process of picking small infected fruits off the peach trees and the nectarine tree. (They haven't, yet, hit the pears and apples.)

Unless you want to use chemicals on your fruit trees, you may as well give up trying to grow them for fruit. I'm so disgusted and disappointed that I'll probably have all of the trees cut down and I'll plant citrus trees instead.

In Texas we get at least two generations of plum curculio. Being over 60 yrs. old (and not in the best of health), I just don't have the energy any more to be messing with dragging out the sprayer, mixing up a toxic substance, and spraying a bunch of trees with chemicals just so I can pick a few of them to eat. It's easier to just buy "chemical fruit" at the store.

BTW - generally speaking, you prune the fruit trees to look like upside-down umbrellas. Leave a couple of feet in between your umbrellas. Also, don't allow them to grow taller than where you can easily pick the fruit (unless you want to be 6 feet up on a ladder to harvest fruit).

Harlingen, TX

Ouch, sounds like your area got hit pretty hard with that :( I've had great luck with my trees, but I do spray them occasionally. Several of my peaches are just getting started this week but the apples, plum, and nectarine trees already have fruit growing on them. The only thing I really worry about down here is insects honestly. We get lots of humidity down here but its always so sunny, hot, and windy we don't usually have problems with any fungal things and so far we have been lucky and not had any viral problems (crossing my fingers now that I said that haha)

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

I looked up pictures of Plum Curculio. I guess we don't have it here - it looks like it is worse than our coddling moths. I'd be fed up and quit trying to grow fruit trees, too. You have my sympathies.

Harlingen, TX

Well they tend to love it down here. With one exception, we have a lot of high wind down here in the hotter months and the plums are easily detached from the tree. The rest of the trees grow like weeds down here haha. Although I do live in a grapefruit orchard and although we don't spray often (because we don't sell it anymore) I'm sure that helps my trees and our new varieties of citrus.

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