Pruning Peach Trees for Larger Fruit
Gardeners often fall into one of two categories: either they LOVE pruning time every year ("It's cathartic!") or they HATE pruning time every year ("I think that tree can wait till next year."). Unfortunately, it is part of the deal when you plant fruit trees. All fruit trees, but especially peach trees, need some coddling when it comes to pruning time.
Pruning young peach trees opens up the tree so that the sun can reach the fruit (important to good fruit color) and allows air to circulate (helps avoid pests and diseases). Too much shade on the lower branches can kill the growing peach twigs in one season and after a while, no fruiting wood will grow in the lower part of the tree. Thankfully, pruning a peach tree is pretty straight forward. (Follow the same steps when pruning dwarf peach trees.) Here are some steps to remember:
1. Pruning peach trees is a springtime job. It should happen after the last frost, but before the new growth has started. Pruning peach trees in summer, fall or winter will leave them susceptible to damage from insects, disease and the weather.
2. Cut out the really vigorous upright growth, these are called "water sprouts". These are the branches that grow straight up into the air off of main branches. You can't miss them. They will grow fruit, but it will be inferior to the rest of the tree. Don't let them suck energy from the good stuff!
3. Prune out any diseased, sickly or outright dead wood. This is just extra weight the tree doesn't need.
4. Take out any limbs that are crossing and touching. These limbs rub together and will cause problems down the line.
5. Remove any old fruit hanging on the tree.
Don't be afraid to prune peach trees hard. You might be afraid that you are losing some fruit if you do this, and you will be, but the tradeoff is far better quality fruit next year.
Also, be sure and toss or burn the pruned wood. Don't leave it on the ground by the trees or it could be the source of soil diseases in the future. Lastly, watch your peach tree spacing when planting. They need plenty of air circulation to produce healthy fruit and you need room to get around the tree to pick it!
For full size trees aim for 20 feet apart. Dwarf peach trees are good with 10 feet. Follow these few steps and you'll be well on your way to a bumper crop of juicy peaches.