Fruit trees are pruned to train trees for production of greatest yield and highest quality fruit. Among the fruit trees requiring pruning are peaches, apricots, apples, pears and quince. Of these, pears and quince require the least pruning, while peaches require the most.
Pruning is not training. Training fruit trees to a strong framework is done by establishing scaffold branches, the primary limbs radiating from the trunk of a tree. Today we’re discussing two very different training systems, that of peach and pear.
The first is the “open vase” or “open center” approach that is recommended for peaches, as the center is open, allowing the sun to penetrate the interior of the tree. This system involves techniques that develop two to four — preferably three — scaffold branches that arise near each other on the trunk, about equal in size.
Branches with narrow crotches have forks that often split when bearing a heavy fruit load; therefore, leave scaffolds that have wide angles of 60 to 90 degrees spaced equally around the trunk, arising at as low as 24 inches from the ground. Small and secondary limbs with growth directed to the inside of the canopy should be removed from the center, thus creating an open vase.
Four steps to prune a mature peach tree:
1. Remove all hanger shoots, rootstock suckers, and water sprouts in the lower three feet of the tree. This removal of lower growth clears a path for herbicide applications and allows for air circulation.
2. Remove all shoots above seven feet in height other than red 18 – 24-inch fruiting shoots. Cuts need to be at selected points where the scaffold and sub-scaffold limbs extend up-ward at a 45 – 50-degree angle. Cuts which leave limbs sideways at a 90-degree angle should be avoided.
3. Remove all water sprouts (excessively vigor-ous growth) which grow toward the inside of the tree.
4. Remove all old gray wood in the three to seven-foot production zone.
Late-spring frost is the single greatest factor in Texas peach production and pruning early in the year removes much of the flower bud crop that constitutes “insurance” against crop loss. The peach tree will bloom soon after pruning when chilling is satisfied, and warm weather follows. Growers with only a few trees can wait until “pink bud” to prune while larger growers traditionally prune as late in the spring as they can while still allowing for enough time to complete the task. Mature peach trees often take 20 to 30 minutes to prune properly.
The second training system is for pears, which require very light pruning. Even light pruning may induce water sprouts and fast-growing terminal growth. Such growth will be vegetative and will not bear fruit but more critically, is susceptible to fire blight infection. For pears, restrict pruning cuts to branches that rub each other and to water sprouts as they appear.
To train pear trees, spread scaffolds of young trees by bending upright-growing branches to a wide angle and holding them there with properly cut lengths of wood, such as dowels or wood pieces used as spreader-sticks. In each end of the spreader-stick, drive a small nail in to half its length. Cut the head of the nail off at an angle, leaving a sharp point. The pointed nail in each end is used to hold the spreader in place. After several seasons, the limbs will no longer need the spreader-sticks to maintain a wide angle. Spreading branches is an essential practice with most pear, sweet cherry and apple trees.
Lonnie Jenschke is an Erath County extension agent.