Pruning your peach tree is crucial to growing quality fruit every year. If not done annually, the tree will quickly become overgrown on the lower limbs, reducing (and eventually eliminating) peach growth on shoots within reaching distance. Fruit bearing shoots will end up higher and higher, while the lower branches can become disease ridden and start to die, shortening the life span of your peach tree.
Tip: Our expert gardening advisor Karen Thurber adds, "If you have an overgrown peach tree in your yard, don't be afraid to give it a heavy pruning. Doing so will increase the new growth and rejuvenate the tree. The year following heavy pruning, yields may be lowered but subsequent years will produce a better quality fruit."
Step 1–Know When To Prune
Early spring is the best time, shortly before fruit begins to appear. Typically, peach trees should be pruned by February, as they begin to bloom in early March. Wait just long enough that the last of the spring frosts are over and then prune, as blooming will soon follow. If you only have a few peach trees, it's possible to wait until pink buds first begin to appear.
Step 2–Cut out Water Sprouts
Vigorous upright growths are called water sprouts. Any fruit grown here is often poorer quality. They tend to shade lower branches, which is a problem because sunlight is crucial to fruit color. Also, if left unchecked, they will lead to fruit growing higher and higher out of arm’s reach.
Most, if not all, of the water sprouts can be pruned away.
Tip: Karen recommends, "When pruning, always be sure to use clean sharp tools to reduce the spread of disease."
Step 3–Remove Dead Wood
Wood that is brittle, grayish in appearance and/or dried out is already dead or dying, and needs to be removed. These are usually weak enough to be broken off by hand. Be sure to remove any fruit remaining from the year prior if necessary.
Step 4–Cut off Crossing Branches
Pruning crossing limbs, especially near the trunk of the tree, is necessary for many reasons. It promotes good airflow, which deters infestations and allows proper application of pesticides. It allows other growing branches to get more sunlight, which is crucial for proper fruit growth and color. Also, branches stuck in the shade one year are more likely to be deadwood the next. Fruit growing on the cross branches often rubs up against other fruit and branches, which could cause disease problems later.
Step 5–Maintain During The Growing Season
It is common for smaller twigs and branches to break off from wind or the weight of the fruit. If this happens, it needs to be pruned at least past the breaking point, and preferably back to where the twig meets the branch. Even if it is still alive, this break is an attractive place for bugs to start eating into your tree.
Step 6–Remove Pruned Branches And Dried Fruit
Any branches, twigs or fruit left around your tree could be a cause for disease later on.
Pruning can be physically exerting, but is more than worth it, as your peach trees will continue to bear healthy fruit for years to come.