Pruning Baby Peach Trees?
Listen, I know this is painful. The very first thing you do after planting that delicate baby peach tree in the ground? Is to prune it. It seems wildly counter intuitive, but if you dont prune the tree now, you’re setting yourself up for problems down the road. It’s going to take 5 years from the moment you plant that tree in the ground to the moment when it’s a mature peach tree producing a full crop of peaches. That’s 5 years of growing. If you take care to prune it immediately you will ensure that all the growth over those 5 years looks exactly like you want it to look.
Dormant Pruning is Invigorating
Maybe it isn’t invigorating for your tired body, but it’s definitely invigorating for your peach trees. Dormant pruning, or pruning that is done in the winter while the tree is dormant, will produce an explosion of new growth in the tree when it wakes up in the Spring. We are using that trick to our advantage by pruning a LOT of the tree now so that we can shape it exactly like we want to shape it.
18 – 24 Inches Tall
First year pruning is all about creating the crotch of the tree. Kinda like an upside down person, the crotch is where the branches will spread out from the main trunk. While you can create that crotch as high or as low to the ground as you’d like, 18-24 inches is considered the correct height. This means it is high enough off the ground that you can work under the tree branches without injuring them, and it’s low enough to the ground so that you’ll still be able to reach the top of the tree without a ladder. You’ll be working on the tree by hand for the rest of its’ life, so getting it right now is going to save decades of exhaustion and frustration later.
How To Prune
Start by topping the tree at 24 inches. In the mature peach tree you dont want any main trunk branches higher than this, so topping it now will take care of that concern. After topping the tree, measure down and cut off any branches that are below 18 inches in height. Your end goal here is that by Early May we will have a mere 3 equally spaced branches that are between 18 and 24 inches off the ground. If you already have 3 equally spaced branches, great! If all you have is a stick in the ground now with no branches at all, dont worry. In the spring your tree is going to explode with new branches and you’ll have plenty to choose from. By May that little twig is going to be swimming in branches. Resist the urge to NOT top the tree. I know it looks like a fragile little stick in the mud right now, but you’re doing yourself a favor and you’re imparting vigor in the tree that you’ll see in just a couple months.
New Branches Are Coming
Take a close look at this image. The dark colored branches are the ones the tree still had after pruning. There’s only about 4 of them. See all those light green branches? Those are BRAND NEW BRANCHES and those branches rival the original branches in size. This image was taken in late March. After only a few months, the baby peach tree has exploded with new growth and new branches. Too many branches! We only wanted 3 main branches. We already need to prune the trees more! So take heart and prune as aggressively as your tree requires right now. You aren’t killing it, you’re helping it.
Mistakes Were Made
Last Year in 2015 we planted a peach tree and I forgot top prune it to create the crotch of the tree. By the time next winter rolled around, I realized that not only did I STILL need to prune it, but I needed to move it somewhere else as well (unrelated reasons). Rather than let it grow the way it wanted, I decided to make the hard choice and lop off the top of the tree at 24 inches and replant it. Everyone laughed because it looked like I planted a stump. To be fair, it looked pitiful. It was a bare 1 inch diameter stump 24 inches tall. Thankfully at this point in time the tree has branched out and is developing new branches that will become the main scaffold branches.
The lesson here is to prune your trees right after you plant them! It takes only a moment and forgetting will face you with a hard decision in the future. This tree should be significantly larger than this, but at least this way it will grow into the proper shape.
What do I do next?
Let your trees grow for a few months. At the first of April we’re going to revisit them and prune them again. When you’re ready you can read about that here at Selecting the Main Scaffold Branches.