Show some love: Make February time to prune peach trees

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 8, 2009

In last week’s column, I wrote about planting trees and pruning perennial plants. This week’s is devoted entirely to pruning peach trees. Proper annual pruning is crucial to the overall performance of a peach tree, but it is a practice many people are tempted to skip.

Peach tree pruning is labor intensive and just plain hard work, so it is doubtful someone is going to volunteer to help out unless you have developed a reliable history of sharing peaches with the prospective volunteer pruner. So, it is probably best that the peach tree grower learn how to prune for oneself and make February the month to get this done. Keep in mind that skipping the pruning process can result in weak trees, overproduction, increased disease and short tree life.

Pruning done this month will set the stage for next year’s crop. Peaches bloom and bear fruit on second-year wood. Pruning in February stimulates growth in the spring and summer, which insures the subsequent crop. 

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Ideally, the peach tree should have a large number of red, 18- to 24-inch shoots. Those shoots are often referred to as fruiting wood. If the tree is not pruned annually, the volume of fruiting wood diminishes each year, and the fruiting shoots just move higher and higher. In a matter of just a few years, the fruiting wood is out of reach and is difficult if not impossible to protect from insects and disease with routine sprays.

Some research has studied the effect of alternate-year pruning, but annual, moderate pruning is considered best for the long-term control of tree vigor and fruiting wood production.

The main idea in pruning is to remove old, gray-colored, slow-growing shoots, which are nonfruitful. Leave most of those 1-year-old shoots, however. Proper pruning to some resembles a $3 haircut, but it is likely that one will actually remove about 40 percent of the tree if the job is done right.

Another function of pruning is to lower the fruiting zone to a height that makes hand harvesting from the ground possible. Lowering also makes the process of applying crop protection chemicals, safer, easier and more effective.

Pruning to open the center of the tree increases air circulation, naturally reduces disease pressure and allows sunlight into the tree, which helps speed up fruit color. Finally, pruning allows the grower to remove diseased or dead shoots as well as suckers and shoots that sprout from the rootstock.

John C. Coccaro is county Extension director. Write to him at 1100-C Grove St., Vicksburg, MS 39180 or call 601-636-5442. E-mail him at