Help me understand summer pruning of peach trees

milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)August 28, 2012

I am uncertain how new wood is produced on peach trees. I have heard that peaches don't put out new wood on the lower trunk so I have not wanted to prune off the lower branches.

Now what I have are peach bushes, but the branches are several feet tall and going up, not out.

I understand how the Swiss pruning method works with apples, but this does not seem to follow with peaches. The author, in Ecological Fruit Production in the North, says, "Never cut back a fruiting branch back part way."

If I were to cut back all the way the branches that are too long, will the tree put out new branches?

I am such a visual person and I tried to look up summer pruning on YouTube but I didn't find anything useful. Is there somewhere I can look for guidance on year-by-year pruning of peach trees? My trees are close, 5'x7', so I am not really sure how to proceed.

I certainly did not realize how soft peach wood is and how heavy peaches are. My PF24C just broke off half-way. I was too busy with work and didn't realize what was happening until it was too late. Fortunately there are several branches left below the break, but I obviously am not doing things right.

My trees are all about 3 years old. Because of a very cold, dry winter year-before-last there were no peach blossoms on any of them. This is the first year I have had peaches.

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alan haigh

Milehigh, pruning apples to a weep is not even a useful method for training apple trees except if you want mushroom shaped apple trees, in which case you'd employ this method once trees were fairly mature. This method is for renovating and maintaining old apple trees and has nothing to do with normal apple pruning of anything but old trees, let alone the training young peach trees.

Even the idea that you only cut off whole branches is not what is intended exactly when using the "Swiss" method(I think this method has probably been used all over the world for centuries). The point is not to make big stub cuts and small pieces of wood are removed in all types of apple pruning- and many small upright shoots are left on the tree- just maybe not the first year or two of renovative pruning of old apple or pear trees. A peach tree with too many scaffolds would require the removal of entire branches- something that is often done as a tree matures.

In sure you can find plenty of examples on how to train an open center vase shaped peach tree. At three years your tree should either be shaped as a central leader tree or in the open center shape. If they were in a central leader the top would unlikely have snapped off because the upper branches are fiercely cut back so they don't over-take the lower branches and the Christmas tree shape is maintained. I prune twice during summer to do this with peaches. In this shape the branches would not likely be heavy enough to snap off the center of the tree.

Peach scaffold branches are cut back to a small upright branch annually once trees have acquired their space as are most fruit trees. With peaches all sagging wood is generally removed. Young trees are usually trained out either by spreading branches or making cuts to outward shoots with the latter method often producing weak points on the branch- at least for several years.

If you want specific suggestions for your own trees photos would be useful.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 6:47AM
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gator_rider2(z8 Ga.)

The buds points in direction it will grow so remove all that point in direction you don't want growth to go rub them off like want grow outwards remove all enter pointing buds.

Any enter pointing bud at top make peach grow taller.

A old work glove on one hand makes good bud rub offer. I prune with cutters first finish up with Glove to remove buds.

By leaving buds on outside this where fruit whip forum weight fruit help pull bend young limb outward.

I prune Peach tree dozen are more times a year my zone has long growing season you cut off way more than leave on tree. The prunning twice a year is on old tree made 8 years old are older your climate.

Pruning trash should be small amount from a tree not wheelbarrow load thats wasted growth.

Limbs brake because long and weak pruning back makes wood larger and stronger.

When I prune peach tree I do in steps first prune over height next prune open center next remove any growth growing toward open center next remove bud that do same next remove top limb growing out control upward next select out bud leave so grow in direction I want to grow next remove bud on side limb and few on outside limb leave 3 bud on outside limb so they be a selection later.

You drive a long stake out from tree and make by pruning tree grow right to stake it fun thing to do.

A peach are any tree prune best if fertilizer and watered for fast growth.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 6:55AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Some good comments posted above.

Milehigh, the spacing you mention will probably be a constraint on how you prune. You may want to consider the Christmas tree shape Hman mentioned in order to fit your trees in 5' X 7' spacing.

Generally speaking, an open vase is for lower density plantings. The idea of any open vase is to be wide and spreading.

Since your trees are so close together, I wouldn't worry if they aren't growing outward.

In terms of trying to get outward growth, there are only two ways to do it. One is to prune the tree to an outward growth pattern by continually removing upward growth. The other is to pull upward growing branches down and tie them there. Of course fruit loads will eventually pull the branches down too.

I train my trees to an open vase and do some tying down of branches when choosing scaffolds (3 scaffolds is probably considered optimum for vigorous open vase peach trees) but beyond the first year, I rely only on pruning to shape the tree.

I do a few things a little different than Gator, but it probably achieves an effect similar to his. I don't rub off any buds, but do force growth outward by pruning to an outward growing bud/shoot. However as the tree ages, I also keep any lateral growing wood that grows toward the interior. I used to be too aggressive and pruned too much wood out of the middle and got some sunburned scaffolds as a result. Of course with a Christmas tree shape you shouldn't have that issue.

With the exception of growing a trunk for a central leader, you always want to get rid of wood growing straight up. You'll find the peaches are smaller and lower quality on those shoots, plus those shoots are very vigorous and add a lot of height to your tree in a hurry.

I don't think most people realize just how much wood you need to remove on vigorous peach trees. Gator mentioned he prunes younger trees 12+ times per year. That's a lot of pruning. Although I only prune 2-3 times per year, I prune young peach trees almost back to nothing. If you are pruning 12+ times per year, you can probably just give your peaches a trim, but if you are pruning 2 or 3 times a year like me, a trim won't do. You have to give them a buzz.

All that said, you are in a little colder zone than I, so you probably don't want to do any aggressive pruning this late in the summer. You could do some light pruning now, but I'd save the heavy pruning for next spring.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 8:41PM
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alan haigh

Olpea, all my new growth is upright as far as shoots vigorous enough to produce best peaches. I save enough of the moderate uprights (say 12 to 18") to bear my crops. I've never read anything about the advantage of more horizontal shoots for producing superior peaches. I know you are very knowledgeable about peaches so I hope you can clarify this.

MH, I don't recommend trying to sustain the CT shape on peaches and I don't recommend your planting the trees so close that it is necessary. It is simpler to maintain mature peach trees as open centers and I usually use the CT shape as just a part of the training process cutting out the center once trees are in full production. However, If you insist on planting trees close you can use this method or simply allow only 2 scaffolds per tree in a V shape.

I also use some bud rubbing when I'm meandering around my own orchard and even in the nursery but it's pretty time consuming. Certainly something a home grower can employ.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 6:36AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

"Olpea, all my new growth is upright as far as shoots vigorous enough to produce best peaches. I save enough of the moderate uprights (say 12 to 18") to bear my crops. I've never read anything about the advantage of more horizontal shoots for producing superior peaches."


I'm pretty sure I've read that vigorous upright shoots produce smaller fruit, but I can't find where I've read it. Of course most of the literature says to remove vigorous growing water spouts, but that does not address your question.

From my own experience I've seen upright shoots generally grow noticeably smaller fruit. It seems like the upright shoots just grow upward and don't put much into the peach. I don't know why that is.

I think the pruning we are discussing here is somewhat advanced. In my advice to Milehigh to cut all upward growing shoots, I had the age of her trees in mind (very young). I do prune all upward growing shoots on young trees (as a lot of peach pruning diagrams show) but as the trees age I leave some non-vigorous vertical shoots if I need some wood there. Also if I'm trying to renew wood in the center of the tree, I might cut some vertical shoots to a stub. Leaving a "hat rack" is something you'd probably never do on an apple, but carefully managed, it's a good way to renew wood on peach. Lastly, I leave vertical wood if I think the branch it's attached to will bend down with fruit load. When that happens, of course the angle of the vertical wood will no longer be vertical.

All that said, as a general rule I don't need to leave much vertical wood even on an older peach tree. Most of the time there is an ample supply of non-vertical wood to maintain the canopy. Of course this varies with cultivar. As you know Redhaven naturally produces a lot of "spreading wood". On the other extreme, Earlystar wants to grow straight up. Flat Wonderful is another one that wants to grow up instead of out. Trees like this are difficult for me to manage.

Below is sort of a before and after picture of how I prune a young tree. Both pictures are of second year peach trees (although different cultivars). Both trees have been pruned twice earlier this summer. The first one needs pruned again. The second one looked about like the first one until I pruned it a few days ago. Here's the first tree:

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 9:12PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Here's a picture of the other tree. Again it looked like the tree above until a few days ago:

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 9:16PM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)

Thank you for all of this detailed explanation. I think the v-shape is what I will go for. I had originally tried to train the trees to a tall-spindle shape but obviously this did not do well as the disaster with my PC24C showed.

I also am glad to hear that leaving a "hat-rack" is appropriate. I could not understand how the tree would be able to generate new wood without leaving a place for it to sprout from.

I am still unclear about the rubbing off of the sprouts. This is a technique I have not heard about before.

Thank you for the photo example. I feel much better now about what needs to be done. Somehow my instinct told me that what applies to apples does not apply to peaches but I just wanted to be sure. It's one thing to read about how to prune but quite another when you are standing with your pruners about to attack your trees.

There is no real substitute for experience. I thought I planned my peach trees perfectly but now I find that the trees I carefully chose are not what I really wanted. My taste buds can't read the calendar when it comes to taste. The early peaches just don't do it for me. I am planning on replacing my Saturn, PF1 and PF17. I would like to top work my peaches but getting bud wood is a problem.

I have discovered that Silver Logan and NJ 252 are real winners. I suppose I could start with these and learn how to graft before trying to find peach bud wood.

Thank you again for all the help.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 10:56PM
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alan haigh

MH, I was seduced by the simplicity of pruning apple trees to weak, mostly weeping growth on younger apple trees (instead of only very old ones) when I first read the book you mention a couple of decades ago.

It didn't take too long for trees to teach me that varieties vary on how they must be pruned- even within species. For instance, some apple varieties, like Macoun, need to be pruned almost like peach trees where you cycle moderately vigorous shoots to get fruit on 2-year wood, although on peaches it is 1-year wood (shoots formed the previous season).

Even when renovating very old tree you eventually modify fine pruning to the needs of any given variety.

Olpea, your trees are so horizontal I am surprised loaded branches don't rest on the ground. Commercial orchards around here usually train the scaffolds more upright. How can your trees handle crops without support? Is this shape required because of your high winds?

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 6:58AM
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alan haigh

Here are some photos of trees trained the way I'm used to seeing.

The trees I manage look much different because I train branches higher to keep above deer and allow the use of squirrel baffles.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 7:27AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)


I do sometimes get some fruit that touches the ground. I don't mind if it's not too much. I try to keep the low hanging stuff cut off.

I think open center peach trees are kind of like a rolodex (I doubt they have these anymore, but I know you're old enough to remember them). Fruit continually pulls branches down that need to be cut. The low hanging stuff is replaced by new growth. That growth eventually lays down too low and is cut. At the same time anything vertical or too high is cut.

I know you prune quite a bit differently, else your clients wouldn't harvest any fruit because of wildlife depredation.

I like to keep the trees low so that I don't have to use ladders. For the most part, it's the labor, but we do have high winds (KS is the 3rd windiest state) and of course low trees stand the wind better.

I think the photos you reference above are designed to train to a V system. I don't have any experience with this type of training, but I think it's gaining popularity. I know of one grower in a northern climate that did not like the V system. He said he had problems with canker right in the crotch of the V. I have noticed they do train the V systems a little more upright.

I also know little about training a peach to a central leader, but I have a couple papers in my files that claim yields are better for central leader peach trees. I suspect the reason is because it's a high density system and high density systems produce more bu./acre than low density. There was an orchard in MO I visited once (Beckner orchard) several years ago and he was trialing a high density peach planting via central leader system. He was talking some big numbers. He thought he could get a bushel per tree at 1000 trees/acre, which would be 1000 bu/acre. I've only spoken with him once since then, so I don't know if he was able to achieve his goal.

Below is a photo of spreading open center peach trees. The photo is from U of FL, but it's more typical of how commercial growers around here train their peach trees.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 9:42AM
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alan haigh

The form of the trees in the U of Fl photo look like their branches could support fruit better without bending to the ground then the picture of your tree. Those are pretty mature trees and I'm not sure how they looked at age three or so. Maybe it's a bit of an "optical illusion", actually a photographic illusion, but you seem to have some small wood that looks to be almost touching the ground.

I think if you look at the photos in my link a little more closely you'll see that they are simply open center trees. I've driven through peach country in New Jersey and my memory is trees with the same kind of more upright scaffolding. It isn't to say it's a better way to prune than yours but maybe more common.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 10:56AM
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alan haigh

Here are black and white photos from the same university that show how they train stonefruit to an open center which indicate a much more upright form.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 11:01AM
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alan haigh

Olpea, the training system in the above manual suggests that scaffolds selected more horizontal than 45 degrees will not be structurally sound. That's what struck me about your tree- it just doesn't look like those branches could take a full crop load. You have mentioned that you suffer a lot of scaffold breakage so I'm wondering it there isn't a connection. I'm saying this even though I know that you're smart enough to have probably considered all the variables we are discussing.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 11:25AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Well it may be a bit of optical illusion. However, many times I do select scaffolds at less than 45 degrees (certainly the scaffolds on the pic of my tree above are less than 45 degrees).

I do have limb breakage if I don't thin to one fruit/foot (at thumbnail size not at harvest) but I've always thought it the wind, not the scaffold crotch angles, since it generally occurs after a big windstorm (I could be wrong though.)

I've not noticed that the angle of the peach scaffolds significantly changes as the tree ages. I choose scaffolds the first year. The second year fruiting is typically light and doesn't pull the scaffolds down at all. By the third year, the scaffolds are hard enough they don't move by the time the fruit is weighing them down. I've got scaffold angles almost perpendicular to the trunk that haven't moved. Likewise, some trees have scaffolds at 60 degrees (from horizontal) that haven't changed.

It seems like with the steeper scaffold angles, I've naturally chosen outward facing shoots that have a lower angle (so that the scaffold branch ends up having a sort of arc to it) to get the scaffolds to spread outward, whereas scaffolds that are more horizontal I've chosen shoots that are a bit more vertical to get some clearance from the ground (They end up being more bowed, toward the sky.) The end result seems to be the same.

On one of the first commercial farms I visited (Gieringer's orchard) I was struck by how horizontal and spreading his peach trees were. Now that a lot of my peach trees are more mature, I think they are similarly shaped to his. That doesn't mean we're both doing it right, but there's comfort in numbers, even if you're wrong.

It may well be Easterner's train their trees more upright, but we Midwesterner's have always done things a little more laid back :-)

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 2:37PM
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alan haigh

Olpea, the more horizontal the limb the more it is bent by cropping, as I'm sure you realize. What amazes me is how even 10" diameter apple scaffolds will gradually bend to a more horizontal position under heavy cropping.

If you start your scaffolds very low you can keep them less horizontal than you do and still keep trees at around 10' in height. I believe ultimately a more upright shape would eliminate the donut holes peach trees develop or at least postpone them longer than a more horizontal shape. (Same deal with a central leader shape.)

Architecturally, I believe such a structure increases the strength of scaffolds- wind or no wind. However, I can see how in a windy site a lower tree might offer less wind resistance and that might very well eliminate the over all strength benefit of a more upright structure.

I assume that if commercial growers in your state have widely adopted a more prostrate training method they have their good reasons and it makes sense that it would be to reduce wind resistance.

Liked your laid back joke, by the way. Those words certainly don't describe me, but I figure it's more about DNA than location.

Milehigh, I think you should check the second site I posted. It's a pretty good guide to training and pruning peach and plum trees from probably the most important University in the U.S. in terms of guiding commercial stone fruit production. Of course, if your site is particularly windy, you may want to stick with Olpea's approach.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2012 at 1:24PM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)

I think I'm getting the hang of it now. I found another good article regarding peach pruning that helped too.

I'm still not clear on the "rubbing", though.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pruning Peach Trees

    Bookmark   September 1, 2012 at 5:42PM
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this is my first year at growing peach trees, the picture is my 2 year contender peach planted in February. I am amazed at how it has grown, it must be close to 12 feet across already, even with getting some afternoon shade. I am attempting the open center method and choose 4 scaffolds earlier in the season and pruned out everything else.My goal is to keep the scaffold angles around 60% and keep the tree low enough for easy management and picking even though I will be making it very convenient for the 4 legged creatures that live nearby. I am a little confused HM and olpea on your comments about pruning the vertical branches growing from the scaffolds? Is the recommendation to remove them during summer pruning and only keep the more horizontal branches?

    Bookmark   September 1, 2012 at 6:32PM
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alan haigh

If you've selected a scaffold branch, say in a trees second year, there will be buds on the top, the sides and the bottom of the branch. Removing the buds on top of the branch will encourage more lateral growth. It might help to imagine the branch is protruding from the trunk at a 90 degree angle to understand what I mean by on top and on the bottom. In spring the buds can easily be rubbed off. If you leave the buds on top of the branch they will likely grow straight up.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2012 at 9:39PM
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miketrees(WA Australia)

One tip

Dont summer prune too late in the season or so hard that the buds on the tree burst new shoots.

You will reduce next years crop

    Bookmark   September 1, 2012 at 11:51PM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)

The more I read about pruning peaches they actually sound like grapes to me. Would it be a far stretch to prune my peaches, spaced 5'x7' apart similarly to grapes?

Grapes do not produce on anything but new growth, correct? But peaches produce on only the previous years growth, correct? So if I remove the branches that have already fruited similarly to grapes, then I should be encouraging new fruit and allowing lots of sun to the fruit.

Am I totally way off base here? My problem is spacing. I really don't have room for an open, vase-shaped tree. HM suggested a "V" shape, and that makes sense to me.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2012 at 1:34AM
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alan haigh

I've read of peaches being trained to a central leader and maintained almost like a grape, except grapes actually tend to bear fruit on wood that forms the same year near pieces of last years wood that were vines stub cut to 3 or 4 buds.

On these peach trees, all 2 year wood is removed every year so the entire tree consists of a trunk with last years shoots attached, having been thinned to an appropriate amount. The spread of the tree would not be more than about 4'- the height not more than 10' I figure.

I see no reason that you couldn't use a similar approach with a tree that already has scaffold structure but treating each scaffold as you would that single trunk before it gets to be a large tree.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2012 at 6:37AM
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gator_rider2(z8 Ga.)

This link shows good side view vase shape and angle from trunk and limbs leaving trunk at different location. This type angle crop want pull limbs to ground and limbs strong attached to trunk.
Rubbing bud off saves wasted growth keeps center open and wood be stronger larger.
If wait too long to summer prune what leave small long.
Leaving a central leader soon get out reach for pruning and picking. Pruning tools need to be type reach high from ground even on vase shape trees I use long straight shaft hedge trimmer maintain height tree pruning not once over job. On final pruning crop load and location fruit needs be on one's mine this be advance thinning.

Here is a link that might be useful: Peachtree structure

    Bookmark   September 2, 2012 at 6:58AM
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Am I reading this correctly, that I could shape the tree during the course of the summer, rather than wait until late winter?

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 5:39PM
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alan haigh

MB, no, not quite. Traditionally major peach pruning is done either while the tree is dormant, or to reduce the threat of canker, at first growth in spring. When establishing the tree, dormant or delayed dormant pruning is less dwarfing than substantial summer pruning.

Summer training of young trees generally consists of pinching tender young growth or rubbing off buds to guide the trees development. Once a tree is established, it is fine to cut large limbs in summer but the most useful aspect of summer pruning is to remove excessively vigorous uprights and allow light down onto the new wood that will bear peaches the following year.

That is, unless you are trying to keep mature trees small such as when more than one tree is planted in a planting hole or spacing is tight. If this is the case pruning can be performed two or three times during the growing season to keep trees in bounds.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 6:01PM
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Thanks harvestman, it is starting to make sense to me now. Reducing the threat of canker by pruning at first growth stage is another interesting idea.
I've never had a tree that grew so fast before. Peaches are definately a challenge. :)

    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 8:52AM
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