Topping a young peach tree?

NilaJones(7b)March 9, 2013

i thought that, as the topic had changed, it might be better to start a new thread.

I have been looking at pictures like the one below.

This style of pruning is new to me, but it looks like it might suit my new tree's location, in a raised bed, very well.

I'm a little scared to make the big chop, though. Opinions? Encouragement?

Here is a link that might be useful: Peachy keen?

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olpea(zone 6 KS)


In my observations, one of the most common homeowner mistakes with peaches is not pruning enough or not pruning at all. Unpruned peach trees will shade out lower growth, ultimately moving the fruiting zone higher.

My personal preference is top them at planting. If you can pick out 3 or 4 good scaffolds, go ahead and prune everything else. If you are trying to build a traditional vase, you want to build a structure that has the ability to capture lots of sunlight for the peaches (wide and spreading) and a structure that will support large crop loads. Peaches won't do this naturally, you have to prune them to develop that structure.

Don't be afraid to prune aggressively, it won't hurt your tree. In choosing scaffolds, it's not uncommon for me to remove 50% of the tree, or more.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 11:15PM
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I vote do it I've done a lot of trees like that and its the way to go look at Dave Wilson Nursery's youtube channel

Here is a link that might be useful: check it out cool stuff

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 12:14AM
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alan haigh

And I like to start with a central leader and choose my scaffolds the second year or later. I leave all the small branches and remove any more than a third the diameter of the trunk. Just be sure to check trees during the summer and cut back any branches above where you want your permanent scaffolds so sun in not blocked enough to stop growth in low center of tree.

This way you can use branch spreaders off the central leader instead of relying on bench cuts for spreading, which create a weaker branch more prone to breaking under the load of a crop.

Somehow I seem to get longer productivity using this method, but if you fail to summer prune you can destroy the form of the tree by losing the permanent scaffolds ability to generate new wood close to the trunk because of excessive shading there.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 7:35AM
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From what ive read, since peaches grow so vigorously, its best to prune in an open center/vase style. Basically what olpea said. Every single university page ive read that pertains to pruning recommends this style for peaches.

Mind you, I wouldnt be surprised if you could prune them in other ways. From what ive read, its just easier to prune the tree, since the open center method take tends to take the vertical growth, and spreads it more horizontal.

I also remember this style being recommended due to something with the way peaches set fruiting spurs. I think that had something to do with spurs being produced on second year wood?

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 9:03AM
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alan haigh

Canada, I prune for a living- even a couple of commercial orchards- been pruning stone fruit for over 40 years and I have read commercial recs from Cornell for starting central leader and converting to open center for peaches. Some commercial growers sustain central leader for quite a while as a way to make close plantings work.

Universities make their recommendations based on what's best in dealing with mass plantings and should not be assumed to be the best approach for the home grower. That is what makes this forum useful to me, to exchange actual experiences in the context of home orcharding. Otherwise google would be sufficient- go straight to university sites in regions where commercial peach growing occurs.

Basically, I'm saying you certainly have a vote but your assumptions seem a bit disrespectful of my experience. I have pruned peaches in many ways including choosing scaffolds the first season and decapitating low- it works fine but is not the only or necessarily the best way to prune peach trees- that is always debatable. Lower branches can't be excessively shaded if you don't let them. A commercial grower may not have time to police his trees or even spread branches but a home grower will- just in the course of watching the trees grow.

You can even grow peaches as a central leader and remove old wood every year- a single pillar of cycled annual wood without any scaffolds but the trunk itself. This is a technique sometimes used by commercial growers in Australia. I bet it would work pretty well on a windy Kansas site as well.

Most sites I need to train trees above raccoons and squirrels anyway so early decapitation is not usually even practical because I need 4' of branchless trunk to set up baffles. This has given me a lot of time to observe the methods I recommend.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 10:22AM
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Thank you, everyone :).

@Harvestman, I think the existing lowest branches (which are where I want my main adult branches) are luckily growing out at a suitable angle already. Or do you mean they will change and grow more upright if I top the tree?

I saw my neighbor had hung small pieces of brick from his branches to weight them down. Is that good idea?

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 8:11PM
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alan haigh

You may be best served in your situation to run with the existing branches and topping now- I was just letting you know that there are options. The branches won't change to a more vertical angle at attachment. Weights can be risky and string anchored to the ground is a better way to go.

No coons or squirrels in your area?

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 9:05PM
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GreenOrchardMom(Ga Mts 7)

Wish I could take pixs & post them
I would show you my open pruning on peaches
the ones planted in the last weeks, 1 & 2 yrs that look just like your link!
I do use a pruning balm but we have big fungal issues here
the wood looks better when healed
I use spreaders & tie down branches with bricks
be careful that tension is firm

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 8:03AM
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That is exactly what I have done. I looked for Uni pages that were growing peaches in commercial zones. The only reason central leader methods are used is in mass plantings (orchard). The general concensus is that peaches are better grown as an open center - one way or the other.

Again I am still learning, but I cant ignore what dozens of legit. sources state, whom probably have as much experience pruning as you. Things do indeed change though. It wasnt too long ago orchards used open centers for apples, and was recommended widely. Now we know central leader yields more.

At the risk of going off topic, Ill make a thread which pertains to this discussion. I think it should be something on its own..

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 9:06AM
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Argh, my posts keep vanisjhing!

When you folks say 'open center' are you referring to what I am calling 'topping' the tree? Or something slightly different? I want to make sure I am understanding.

@Harvestman, yes, we do have coons and squirrels! Is branch height really relevant to them? They coons eat only the ground-level figs on our large fig tree, but they climb up the grape trunk and walk the wires I grow the grapes on like tightropes. And those are 8-10 feet above ground. (I have seen the racoons doing this, and a possum.)

They didn't bother my previous peach tree, but its peaches were not that great. They don't eat my apples, but there are lots of apples laying on the ground across the street. I think they have a lot of fruit options in the summer. Are they a bigger problem on low peach branches than higher ones?

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 2:26PM
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alan haigh

Raccoons usually go for ripe peaches around here, and I can keep them from climbing a tree if I have at least 3' of straight trunk before scaffolds so I can staple on a cylinder of aluminum roof flashing- 2.5 feet starting at least a half foot from the ground. For squirrels you need at leas 4' of trunk and to start the flashing higher.

Can, I think you misread my post. I said I start peaches as a central leader, choose my scaffolds and eventually- usually after a couple of years, top them, converting them to an open center. I explained the advantages this provides over immediately going to an open center by chopping low.

I do manage some trees as central leader but it requires careful attention to avoid excessive shading from high up in the tree. it would be too much work for most commercial growers for the minor advantage it creates but in a home orchard it gives you a place not only to push branches out for spreading but to tie them up so they don't bend too low, deforming them. Also to keep them above the deer.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 7:08PM
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My dad had trouble with squirrels in his peach tree. I suggested spraying the peaches with cayenne, and that has worked well for him. The siding idea is interesting -- i take it it's too slippery to climb?

Speaking of my dad, he came over this afternoon when I was sick and suggestible, and pruned my tree. He is an old orchard man. 'Course now I am scared about whether it is the best pruning style. It's got an open center, and 5 branches, with the plan of choosing one to eliminate later this summer. Hopefully I will be happy with it.

His own trees look nice and produce well, so...

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 12:43AM
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alan haigh

My squirrels love pepper- the more the better. It has proven a failed method most everywhere as I understand it but squirrels are mysterious and often disappear without explanation or are only occassionally a problem. I'm adjacent to predominantly oak forest so when the acorn crop is low the squirrels become a problem.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 5:52AM
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What have you got, some sort of cajun squirrels?!

My dad says he has seen his take one bite of the pepper and run away.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 3:18PM
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alan haigh

He may have seen a squirrel run away, but pepper has been tried extensively without success from posts I've read on the internet over the years. I've been fighting squirrels here for over 20 years and fought ground squirrels in S. CA starting in the early '70's. I can't be certain your cayenne isn't working but ground habanero seeds failed me when squirrels were starving here. I coated my peaches with enough pepper to give me hiccups using a sticker with nasty extract.

Even on this web site we've had very experienced fruit growers swearing by squirrel remedies based on extensive anecdotal experience-years of it. One was put to the test by Olpea when I seemed not to get any results from peanut butter and plaster of paris bon bons. Some members claimed to have found dead bodies when laying this treat out calling it a total panacea.

Olpea captured a couple of squirrels and fed one a diet of these bon bons and even when it was its only food these bon bons seemed to have no affect on the creature.

I often say one man's anecdotal epiphany is another's total BS.

Even my baffles have somewhat mixed success and I've found that squirrels behave differently from site to site, hungry or not.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 3:41PM
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