Pruning for Fruit Production

Peach trees are my all-time favorite fruit to grow here on Vancouver Island. The smell and taste of a tree ripened peach on a hot summer’s day cannot be described but rather, needs to be experienced. With proper pruning, and good sight selection a single peach tree can bare enough fruit to supply a small family with fresh eating and some fruit to preserve as well. I love the taste of home jarred peaches on a cold winter’s day. A jar of sunshine for sure.

I have grown a variety of peaches for the past ten years and have made a few observations along the way. One, “peach leaf curl resistant” varieties are still susceptible to this disease. It is a fungus (Taphrina deforumans) and can be controlled with an application of sulfur labelled for use on peaches and nectarines in the late fall once the leaves have dropped and again in the early spring before the buds begin opening. Two, don’t stress about the disease. In my experience pick off all the infected leaves and then fertilize with an organic, soluble fertilizer out in the drip line at two week intervals for a month. This will assist your tree in growing new leaves. I recommend a yearly spring application of organic compost as well, again out in the dripline where it will have the most beneficial effect. This past season I was unable to get around to removing the infected leaves on my” Red Haven” peach and was surprised that regardless, nature took its course and soon fresh, unaffected leaves were growing and I was rewarded with a bumper crop of fruit. This is not a recommended practice, but my point being that sometimes if we can practice patience, nature has a way of sorting these difficulties out. Third and lastly, pruning is crucial to the health, productivity and visual esthetics of your tree.

Pruning is the one task that should never be overlooked. Your peach tree and in fact any fruit tree will be healthier, more productive and much easier to work with and harvest from if you make sure to organize an annual pruning routine. Peaches do require pruning every year. The fruit develops on year old wood so it is important to prune hard, approximately   30 to 40 percent of the tree annually to encourage lots of new growth. The older wood can be removed as it will not be productive .Timing is also an important factor to consider when pruning peaches as unlike other fruit trees, peaches should not be pruned when they are dormant but instead prune in early spring just as the buds are beginning to swell.

It is recommended that peaches here on the coast are grown on a southern wall under an eve to protect them from rain and colder temperatures. Often they will be trained into either an open vase shape or a traditional espalier, flat against the wall. This type of training is very advantageous as it opens up the fruit to more light, which helps develop the natural sugars for a sweeter, tastier peach. It creates a micro climate with the peaches benefitting from the added heat and it is much easier to protect the fruit from late frost and birds. This type of training adds an ornamental appeal as well.

“Red Haven” is one of my favorite peaches to grow. It produces a consistent early crop of large, semi-clingstone fruit. Another good choice is “Frost”. It takes a little longer to produce fruit but the yields are good once the tree matures.

Jan McKirdy is the manager for Ceres Edible Landscaping.