The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Pruning peaches to the open center system

Pruning the peach

I'm such a novice pruner, having only dabbled in in for the last three years and only really seen the results of my pruning this year.  I figure in about a decade, I'll feel like I've got my feet under me.  In the meantime, I cut and hope.

I'm pruning all of my fruit trees to one of two forms --- the central leader system (apples, pears, cherry) or the open center system (peaches, nectarines.)  Since I pruned most of my apple trees in February, I'm focusing on the open center system here, which is a lot more difficult for the novice, in my opinion.  The purpose is to keep the tree short and spreading so that the maximum amount of sunlight reaches the leaves and fruit (and the fruit is easy to pick.)  Unfortunately, this pruning technique goes directly counter to a tree's natural growth system --- straight up.

Training fruit trees with screws attached to the raised bed frame.Last year, I skipped the training stage, assuming that if I pruned right, the branches would stay at an optimal 60 degree angle to the trunk.  Wrong!  As a result of my lack of training, I had to chop the tops off of two trees, which will probably set them back in their bearing a bit but which will hopefully bring them long term health.

So, what's the right way?  First, identify three to five main scaffold branches spaced at least three inches apart along the trunk and reaching out in different directions (making a spiral when seen from above.)  Now, train the scaffolds to a 60 degree angle from the trunk.  I've had good luck with tying young branches down to screws in the side of my raised bed frames.

Training fruit trees by tying the branches to bricks.On a big tree which wasn't trained properly the previous year, you might have to tie sub-branches on these main scaffold branches down separately.  On the left, you can see our oldest peach tree which has grown out beyond the limits of its raised bed and had to have its branches tied down to bricks.  Notice particularly the scaffold branch on the right which wasn't trained last year, so ended up growing vertical.  I'm trying to pull it back down to a better angle, but the crotch is never going to be the optimal 60 degrees!

Only after all of the scaffold branches are trained into place should you start pruning.  Before your peaches start bearing, you should prune the bare minimum, which is still a lot if you didn't train well the previous year.  Cut off any branches on the main trunk except your scaffold branches, lop off any twigs/branches shooting straight up ("water sprouts"), and in general make sure that none of the branches cross over another branch.  This is where pruning leaves the realm of science and enters the world of art --- an art which you don't see the results of for a couple of years at least!  I hope you learn from my mistakes and do a better job on your peaches than I did on mine!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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