Pruning and Thinning the Peach Tree for Best Results



Pruning is necessary to form a well-shaped, strong tree and to maximize production of high-quality fruit. The predominant system in Florida is an open-center or open-vase system with three to five scaffolds covering 360° (Fig. 1). When planted, trees can be cut back to a single stem 15–20 inches high. This encourages lateral branching and various shoots from which scaffold branches can be selected. If lateral branches have formed on the nursery tree, cut the laterals off nearly flush with the stem if they are within 12 inches of the soil line. If lateral branches have already formed in an appropriate location for scaffold development (see below), they can be left on and pruned back to 1–2 inches long or longer if desired. For trees planted in the autumn, select three or four evenly spaced, vigorous, wide-angled shoots to be the major scaffold branches between 10 and 20 inches from the soil surface. Remove or cut back other shoots and remove all low-growing suckers, including those from the rootstock when growth begins in February and March. 1
 
One-year-old peach tree pruned to four main scaffolds.
Fig. 1
One-year-old peach tree pruned to four main scaffolds.

In the first winter after planting, cut back the main scaffold branches that developed during the previous growing season by approximately a third to allow lateral branches growing on the scaffold to spread. Water sprouts and limbs that are too low should also be removed. The height of limbs selected to be scaffolds affects the eventual height of the canopy from ground level; orchards in Florida are maintained at a height of about 8 feet. The tree canopy should be low enough to facilitate fruit harvest from ground level but high enough for management practices, such as weed management, fertilization, and irrigation line maintenance.
Continue this training procedure for the second and third winters. Bearing trees can be pruned in late December to early January. As the trees grow larger (3+ years), the main objectives of winter pruning are to remove overcrowded branches and water sprouts, and to head back terminal growth to prevent excessive tree vigor. This keeps the center of the tree open to allow sunlight to reach all parts of the tree.

 Take care to keep three to four short shoots in the center of the tree. This provides some shade to prevent the upper surfaces of scaffold limbs from getting sunburned and cracked. In order to reduce excess fruit load, fruiting laterals need to be thinned and renewed depending on vigor, flower bud set, and cultivar habits. To promote bud development lower on the tree and control tree height, top vigorous shoots and remove vigorous sprouts from the center of the tree in summer after harvest. 1

Two-year-old tree with branches distributed around the circumference of the tree.
Fig. 2
Two-year-old tree with secondary lateral branching

Pruning is a time-consuming, costly operation. Along with fruit thinning, it is one of the major production costs. Studies from other production areas have shown that 18–23 hours of labor per acre are required for pruning, and 21–35 hours are required for thinning heavy crops. Other studies have found that mechanical hedging, followed by some hand-detailed pruning, can cut pruning time in half. 1

Peach tree pruned to an open center
Fig. 3
Peach tree pruned to an open center

Mature, producing trees from about three to ten years of age are usually pruned when dormant ( at December to February) and
during the late spring and summer (at May to August).  3

Thinning

Thinning stone fruit is one of the most important tools in your toolbox to ensure the production of large, high quality fruit. Peach trees tend to set fruit throughout the bloom period and fruit of varying ages often exist on a branch or scaffold. Weather conditions during the bloom period may naturally "thin" some of the fruit, especially if frost events occur during this period. Ideal weather conditions may allow for excessive fruit set which can be detrimental to fruit size, quality and tree longevity.  2

Thinned/Unthinned Trees
Fig. 4
A properly thinned tree on the left, and an unthinned tree on the right. The tree on the right is chlorotic with poorly colored, small fruit

To achieve maximum marketable fruit size and optimum quality, peaches should be thinned before the pit hardening stage. If the fruit can be cut completely through the pit area, then pit hardening has not occurred. At this stage, the peach size is on the order of a marble or nickel and the fruit can be twisted off the stem and dropped to the orchard floor. According to the Florida Subtropical Peach Production Practices guide, peaches and nectarines should be thinned to one every six (6") to ten inches (10"). 2

Thinning 4"Thinning 6"Thinning 4"
Fig. 5
Thinning 4"
Fig. 6
Thinning 6"
Fig. 7
Thinning 9"


Further Reading
Training and Pruning Florida Peaches, Nectarines and Plums from the University of Florida pdf 5 pages
Pruning Peaches and Nectarines from the Clemson Cooperative Extension pdf
Pruning and Thinning Videos From UFTREC ext. link
Peach Thinning from Clemson University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University pdf 5 pages



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Pruning and Training Page


Bibliography

1 Olmstead, M., Chaparro, J., Williamson, J. G., Rouse, R., Mizell, R., Harmon, P. and Ferguso, J. "Florida Subtropical Peaches: Production Practices." edis.ifas.uf.edu. This document is HS1109, one of a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Publication July 2007. Revised Aug. 2013. Web. 5 Sept. 2014.
2 "Thinning Stone Fruit." hos.ufl.edu. Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida. Website modified 11 Apr. 2011. Web. 5 Sept. 2014.
3 Ferguson, J. "Training and Pruning Florida Peaches, Nectarines and Plums." edis.ifas.uf.edu. This document is HS1111, one of a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date July, 2007. Reviewed June 2015. Web. 5 Sept. 2014.

Photographs

Fig. 1 Olmstead, M. One-year-old peach tree pruned to four main scaffolds. N.d. Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida. edis.ifas.uf.edu. Web. 5 Sept. 2014.
Fig. 2 Breman, J. Two-year-old tree with secondary lateral branching. N.d. Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida. edis.ifas.uf.edu. Web. 5 Sept. 2014.
Fig. Peach tree pruned to an open center. N.d. Credit: Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida. edis.ifas.uf.edu. Web. 5 Sept. 2014.
Fig. 4,5,6,7 A properly thinned tree on the left, and an unthinned tree on the right. The tree on the right is chlorotic with poorly colored, small fruit. N.d. Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida. edis.ifas.uf.edu. Web. 5 Sept. 2014.
Fig. 5,6,7 Thinning at four inches, at six inches and nine inches. N.d. Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida. edis.ifas.uf.edu. Web. 5 Sept. 2014.

Published Feb. 2013 LR. Last update 15 Apr. 2015 LR
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