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How and when do you prune a peach tree?

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Peach trees are fickle fruit trees that need plenty of water, sunshine, and proper pruning for optimum production. The shorter the branches, the more strength they have and less chance of snapping under the weight of the fruit. When pruning a peach tree, keep in mind that an open center is the best shape as this allows the sunlight to reach most of the branches. The best time of year to prune is in February once the danger of frost has passed but before any fruit has begun blooming.

How to prune it:

Begin pruning any fruit-bearing tree by preparing it for the major pruning. First, cut off any dead or damaged limbs. Avoid snapping them off with your fingers as this could result in damage to the good branches. Next remove the suckers growing off of the roots. Finally, shave the top of the tree to keep growth close to the ground for easy reach. Peach trees are usually 9 feet in height.

The next step consists of pruning shoots, which are the new, red branches. Remove any branches growing towards the center of so that the peach tree retains its open center. Also remove any small, thin shoots as these will not be able to produce healthy fruit. Avoid removing branches that are 18 to 24 inches in length. Prune any downward hanging branches or shoots growing horizontally. Ideally, shoots should grow at a 45 to 50 degree angle.

The last step of pruning actually occurs after the tree has bloomed and the buds have been established. Pruning some of the buds will produce larger, healthier peaches. Plus, an overabundance of fruit could break the delicate peach branches. Make sure that fruit grows only about 6 inches apart by pinching off buds by hand.

When to prune it:

It's important when you should prune as this defines how it grows. To grow properly and stay healthy, peach trees need frequent pruning. If trees are pruned and trained at an early age, they'll grow with an "open center" shape that allows them to produce the maximum amount of fruit.

Create a Whip A few days after planting a peach tree, trim the tree back to about 2.5 feet and cut off all the side branches to leave what is called "a whip." This is called the "open center" approach and allows the tree to grow a strong trunk and well-positioned branches that get lots sunshine.

First Year Pruning During a tree's first year, be sure to remove any broken, diseased or dead limbs and also remove low-hanging limbs that will eventually be too shaded to grow and produce fruit. Also remove any branches toward the center of the tree that are growing upright and faster than the rest of the branches, since the branches will eventually block sunshine from the center and put the rest of the tree at a disadvantage.

Second and Third Year Pruning As the tree grows larger during its second and third seasons and approaches maturity (and its first crop of peaches), continue to prune dead, broken and diseased limbs. To train the branches to grow properly, prune back branches growing straight up to a point where they're horizontal, which could help them change course. The idea is to produce a vase-shaped tree with branches growing at an outward angle, leaving the center open to the sun.

The First Crop Most peach trees will produce their first crop of peaches at age 4. About one month after the first blooms show or when the first peaches are the size of a quarter, you need to thin the tree. The best way to do this is to remove peaches that are bunched so that the remaining peaches are spaced 8 inches apart. Thinning sounds counterproductive but actually helps by allowing the peaches to reach their optimal size, shape and color. Left on their own, most trees produce too many peaches and most of the fruits end up too small or inedible.

Maintaining the Tree After the tree produces its first crop, you'll have a better idea of how your pruning worked and you'll be able to modify it to produce better results. Your mature tree should already have its desired shape, so it shouldn't require any more training. All you need to do is continue to remove dead, diseased or broken branches, keep your tree healthy and enjoy an annual crop of peaches.

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