May 21, 2016

1 - Peach trees bear their fruit on last season's growth and that can cause broken branches unless you prune properly.

Yard and Garden May 21, 2016

Q.

I have a peach tree in my back yard with branches almost touching the ground. I have thinned the fruits but it still appears to have a lot of weight on the branches. There are peaches on other branches but it looks like there is too much shade for the peaches to develop properly. Can I prune out the unproductive branches? Do I have to wait till after the peaches are harvested? I have noticed that some branches are losing their leaves under the canopy from lack of sunshine.

- Connie F.

A.

It is possible to prune trees a little during the growing season, but it should be minimal pruning. Summer pruning is considered more stressful, more dwarfing than pruning during the dormant season. That is because it more greatly impacts the ability of the tree to replace the energy (stored carbohydrates) that was used to create new growth. That is why gardeners are advised to do major pruning during the dormant season. During the dormant season gardeners are not removing newly formed leaves that were formed at the expense of stored carbohydrates produced by photosynthesis last year and necessary for growth and maintenance of the tree this year.

In the case of peach trees, the manner in which the tree grows, produces flowers, and bears fruit is an important consideration when pruning. The peach tree produces flowers and fruit on stems that grew last year. This results in the productive wood being located further and further from the trunk each year. This is why peach trees often have branches bending to the ground or even breaking under the load of fruit. When pruning peach trees, some of the branches should be cut back closer to the trunk each year so that new branches form on stronger wood that is less likely to break. To prune the interior shaded branches you described would be to encourage outward growth and increase the chances of branch breakage. The interior branches that are shaded inside the tree will have the buds that you want to encourage to produce new stronger branches when you prune next winter.

So, you can prune some branches if necessary, but prune only those that are in the way or will not be useful for creating stronger branches when you prune to move the weight inward toward the trunk. Minimize pruning now and save major pruning for the dormant season. During the growing season remove any dead branches that are apparent. This is when they are most apparent. Removing dead branches has no negative impact on the tree.

Guide H-327: Pruning the Home Orchard provides information about pruning peach trees.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: desertblooms@nmsu.edu, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.

Links:

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms.

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