My gardening chore today was to prune my peach and pear trees. In my mind it was urgent because the peach trees are in full bloom and already starting to leaf out. I really wanted to get them pruned while I could see the limbs and the structure of the tree.
We’ve been working on our home orchard for quite awhile now and I’ve been learning as I go. I read up on pruning and then go do the best I can.
Where gardening is an art form, pruning, to me, is like sculpting. Thinking of it that way makes it more fun, anyway.
With peach trees you want to end up with a vase shape and an open and airy structure.
Our older peach tree was here when we bought our home, so it’s over ten years old. I don’t think it was planted there on purpose, because it’s right at the edge of the driveway, but I don’t know for sure. I also don’t know what variety it is. Although you can’t tell from the before picture, I gave it a real good hacking last year. In fact, I worried that I had done too much. But here it is again this year, looking like it’s been neglected. Texas A&M recommends removing about 40% of the branches (link at bottom) and I’m not even sure I took out that much.
The reasons for pruning are longer life for the tree, less disease, and better harvest.
First, I started by cutting out broken, dead, and diseased branches.
Hanger shoots are branches that grow from the bottom of the limb. Water sprouts grow straight up from the top of the limb. Suckers grow from the roots at the base of the tree. All three of these types of branches need to be removed, so I did that next. At the time, I couldn’t remember the reason for removing the water sprouts, but it made sense to me to remove branches where I wouldn’t be able to reach to harvest fruit.
I’ve learned from experience, that during the time it’s growing fruit, it will put on a lot more growth. When it comes time to harvest, it can be hard to reach fruit towards the interior of the tree, as well as at the top. With that in mind, I pruned branches I didn’t think I’d be able to get to. I want the tree to focus its energy on fruit I’ll be able to reach.
I remove branches that are too low on the trunk, and if they were too long and close to the ground, I cut them back. They’ll grow longer during the season, and then with the weight of fruit they’ll hang even lower. You don’t want fruit laying on the ground. Some of the branches extend too far into our driveway and I don’t want vehicles brushing against them later on, so I shortened those.
Branches growing at too small of an angle are more prone to splitting off from the weight of fruit, so those are cut off, too. You want about a 45 degree angle.
When cutting, I try to leave about 1/4″ from the trunk or other branch. You don’t want cuts to be flush. It’s easier for them to heal if you leave a small amount.
Branches that crossed others, or were growing toward the interior were also removed. Whew! It’s a wonder there’s anything left after all of that! I go ’round and ’round while pruning, and I step back often to see how it’s looking. Finally, I thought it looked pretty good. As with art, I don’t think there’s just one right way. It just needs to be done, so do your best and learn as you go.
I learned that there’s another type of shoot, called a “bull shoot,” that grows from the trunk or the top of the tree and should be removed in summer after harvesting the fruit. I’ll try to remember to do that later in the summer.
I’m waiting to see if we get peaches this year because we had freezing temperatures in the middle of the blooming. When there is fruit, it’s important to thin it. I learned this from experience. The first year I couldn’t bring myself to pull off all of those cute baby peaches. When harvest came, there were a lot of them, but by the time I removed the skin and the pit, there wasn’t much left! If you will thin the peaches, the remaining fruit will be larger and with more “meat.” You’ll have to remove most of the peaches. Before you start, look them over and take off any that are diseased or malformed, then the smaller ones. Try to leave the larger ones with the ideal spacing of 6-8.” It takes a lot of time, so it usually takes me several sessions before I have it all done, but it’s worth the effort.
I also pruned two young pear trees. They are about four years old and haven’t flowered yet. Although there are a lot of similarities in pruning them, there are also a few differences. You don’t want to remove as many branches as you do with peaches, for one. They also have a different growth habit, so you aren’t wanting a vase shape as with peaches. Mine don’t need very much pruning yet. Mainly, I removed the dead, diseased, and broken branches. I’m really anxious for them to start bearing. We have two, a Seckel and a Starking Delicious Pear Dwarf. We bought both of them from Stark Bro’s about three years ago.
I was happy to see at the base of my trees where the chickens had been scratching. I hoped they found some nice juicy pests to devour. Maybe they even did a little fertilizing while they were there. Our chickens, and other birds, are part of my organic gardening methods.
Now I’m pretty pooped from patiently pruning peaches and pears! I got a great gardening workout from that, plus a few other things I got done today. I’ll have to prune the apples and cherries another day!
Pruning Peach Trees by Texas A&M Horticulture