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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cutting Back a Recently Planted Peach Tree or Not?

Q. Last week I purchased a semi-dwarf Elberta peach from a local nursery to replace the nectarine I took out. Tree is approximately 65" tall. When I mentioned to one of the salesmen that I was planning to prune it back to the 4/5 branches that begin about 20" from the ground, up to about 26", he was pretty adament that this was not as good idea as the hormones that promote root growth are located at the tips of branches that I would prune off?

I remember that when I purchased my last tree from the orchard the gardener there recommended that I cut it back to about 24" tall. So, the only thing I can think of for conflicting instructions is the nursery tree had leafed out and the Orchard one was dormant? Anyway, any advice would be greatly appreciated. Also, if you recommend pruning, should I do it now or wait until the tree goes dormant?

A. You can do that to this tree but I would wait until winter. Taking the center out of a Peach tree and leaving the lower scaffold limbs is quite common. This is how we train a fruit tree into open center form. One of the major dangers that can occur when we take the center out of a tree, is sunburn to the top surface of the remaining limbs. We can discourage sunburn to these limbs by leaving some smaller branches above this area that might produce some shade to the upper surface of the lower limbs.

The other thing we can do is to whitewash the upper surfaces of the remaining limbs with dilute white latex paint. White latex paint is diluted with water in a 1:1 mixture. You can use more water than this as long as the remaining wood is white. This lighter color will help to reduce sunburn to the limbs. Apply it with a brush.

Taking the center out of peach tree to make an open center form.
Most of the nursery workers do not know how to prune fruit trees. In fact, few do. Looking at your pictures you could take the top out this next winter.

There is a precaution on peaches I should mention. If the diameter of the wood you are cutting on the main trunk is more than about ¾ inch with no side branches below the cut you may have trouble getting more branches to “sprout” from below the cut. But if you cut the trunk out to just above at least a couple of good side branches you will have no trouble. Don’t forget to paint the tree with diluted white latex paint to prevent sunburn after you make your cuts this next winter.

Another thing. You are going to have problems with that Peach tree if it remains in rock mulch in our desert soils.

1 comment:

  1. My comments based upon that photograph would be: 1. Remove the nursery stake. Like right now, I already don't like the taper on the trunk down low compared to the remainder of the tree. Hopefully it will stand up on its own and doesn't need to be temporarily staked, but if it does do it properly.

    2. That watering well is adequate for the initial planting. But after the first 6-8 weeks a 4 foot diameter well should be established. And after the 12th week in the ground that 1 ft diameter well should be kept dry. Looks like 2 drip irrigators (bubblers) on either side are used. Adequate for initially but will need to be moved progressively out to the 4 foot perimeter and depending upon the soil more will need to be added. Also the flows and time optimized to deliver 2-4 feet depth of water infrequently.

    3. Rock mulch works, but it is pretty harsh in the infrared it reflects and absorbs during the summer on a small young tree.

    4. That tree is too well developed to risk cutting back to 24" IMHO as remaining dormant buds may be not so remaining that low on the tree. The open center works great, but look over your branch structure carefully after the tree has gone dormant (easier to evaluate without the leaves and gentler cut) and select 3-4 branches down low and coming off in desired radiating pattern to determine your central leader removing cut. Otherwise you may end up with a single branch coming out of a short trunk and hoping it grows upward to become a new central leader so you can cut it back and hope for good branching the next year. Generally on a tree that far along the central leader removing cut is going to end up somewhere around 36-44" in height depending on branching.