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

How to rejuvenate a peach tree with pruning

Pruning a peach tree

I can still hear our kitchen peach complaining: "I asked the hairdresser to trim off my split ends and I walked out of there with a bob!"  (Yes, my peach tree does use vocabulary from the 1920s --- she's that kind of a tree.)

More seriously, our seven-year-old peach needed a lot of pruning this year for a variety of reasons.  I've always read about winter damage on fruit trees, but had never seen it until this year --- I guess a low of -14 Fahrenheit is enough to nip a significant number of twigs.  Interestingly, the winter-killed twigs were mostly those that were in bad positions anyway, hidden under other branches.  Removing the winter-killed twigs opened up the tree more than I was used to right away, but there was no getting around that part of the pruning campaign.

Peach tree before pruning

The bigger reason the tree looks so shorn (before photo above and after photo below) is that I wanted to lift some of the main branches up out of the fungal zone and to give them an upward, rather than a downward, slant.  My original goal when I trained the tree was for the scaffold branches to rise at a slight angle away from the trunk, but heavy fruit harvests have pulled many of those branches down to horizontal or lower.  Branches at or below horizontal promote the formation of watersprouts, and also need to be propped up during fruiting, so it seemed worthwhile to do some serious pruning now for the long-term health of the tree.

Peach tree after pruning

After cutting out troublesome branches, I replaced the missing scaffolds by bending down smaller branches to fill in the gaps.  As you can see, there are still a few horizontal scaffolds, but I didn't want to do too much too quickly.  Next year, I can take another stab at rejuvenating the framework of the tree.

Even though this peach looks very bare in the photo above, there are still lots of fruiting buds to go around.  Barring a late frost, I suspect we'll see a good harvest despite my heavy hand.  The more likely issue is that watersprouts may come out in spades this summer since the tree will have more energy than it needs to put into the remaining branches.  I'll just have to stay on top of the summer pruning and hope for the best.

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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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