Smith County horticulturist
Of all the fruit trees we grow, peaches require the most annual attention. Proper pruning of peach trees, starting from the day they are planted, helps keep trees to a manageable harvest height and maintains the health, vigor and productivity of the trees. It is much more convenient to harvest succulent peaches standing on the ground rather than balancing on a tall ladder to gather fruit 10 feet or higher above your head!
Newly planted peach trees should immediately be cut back to about 24 inches tall. Several branches will develop near the cut during the spring. During the summer, select three or four well-spaced, wide-angled branches to form a bowl-shaped framework of scaffold branches. If growth has been vigorous, cut these back to about 24 inches from the main trunk to force side shoots. Otherwise, wait until next winter to head these back. These new shoots will become the secondary main branches, creating a strong framework from which most fruit wood will be produced. Remove all suckers sprouting from the base of the tree.
The ideal shape for training a peach tree is an open center like a bowl with three or four major branches radiating out from the trunk like spokes on a wheel.
Plums can a have either an open center or a central, main trunk.
Remove vigorous, upright shoots and larger branches that grow into the open, bowl-shaped center of the peach tree. Leave enough short, leafy growth and fruiting branches on the interior to prevent sun scald of the main scaffold branches.
On bearing trees, clip shoots coming off of the secondary main branches and other branches to maintain a practical tree height, about 7 to 8 feet tall. Fruit are produced on 1-year-old shoots, so there must be plenty of new growth every year. The 2014 peach and plum crop will be produced on wood that is produced this year.
Yearly pruning helps stimulate this new growth. Remove old gray-colored, slow growing shoots which are not fruitful, and leave one-year-old, red, 18-24 inch bearing shoots for this year’s crop. Yes, you will be removing some of the fruiting wood for this year, but this is a good thing because peaches tend to overbear, so this helps thin the crop.
Thin out crowded shoots that will receive little sunlight. Remove low shoots that are in the way and which might sag to the ground under a heavy crop load.
Yearly pruning is also needed to keep the center of the peach tree free of excessive growth. Light is critical for development of fruit wood and flower buds, and good air circulation in the center of the tree is crucial to help reduce disease problems.
Keith Hansen is Smith County horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. His web page is http://EastTexasGardening.tamu.edu. His blog is http://agrilife.org/etg.