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Horticulture Questions and Answers

Home  >  Fruits and Nuts  >  Selection, Culture and Care  >  How do I prune my cherry, plum and peach trees?

How do I prune my cherry, plum and peach trees?

Initial pruning of cherry, plum, and peach trees is to establish a strong well-spaced permanent branch structure. The open center method of training is most common. The method consists of a 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 foot trunk with 3 or 4 scaffold branches arising from it. Select branches with a wide angle of 80-90 degrees. They are stronger than ones with a narrow crotch angle.

Plums, cherries, peaches and other stone fruits need yearly pruning. If you prune regularly, you improve the chances for a good crop every year. Regular pruning also reduces pest problems, keeps trees attractive and improves tree longevity.

When you plant any fruit tree and each year thereafter, prune out any dead or broken branches. Remove any conflicting branches, that is, branches that rub or cross against each other. This can cause a wound in time, and diseases can enter easily through these wounds.

The best time to prune stone fruit trees is in late winter through early spring. Each year remove any dead or broken branches, water sprouts, suckers and any new conflicting branches that have developed. Water sprouts are long straight shoots that grow vertically from the trunk and main branches. They grow rapidly, conflict with other branches, and are unproductive. Suckers are also fast-growing straight shoots, but they grow out from the base of the trunk. Suckers grow from the root stock and should be removed promptly. Make sure the center of the tree is kept open to admit light and air.

Whenever you prune, make the cut flush with the branch collar and avoid leaving stubs as they do not heal well and invite disease. Pruning paint is not necessary; in fact the wounds heal better when left untreated.

Cherry trees can grow to be very large, and can also be trained using the central leader method. Head back frequently to encourage them to grow horizontally instead of vertically. For information on the central leader method of pruning listen to Hotline message #501 "Training and Pruning Young Apple Trees".

With plum trees, it is a hands-off approach to pruning. Once you have established the basic shape of the tree, your only job for the next 3-4 years is to remove water sprouts, suckers, and dead branches. Leave the rest of the tree unpruned to allow it to produce fruiting wood. Once the tree begins to bear, you will need to remove some of the secondary branches every year, so that the tree doesn't bear so heavily that it breaks the scaffold limbs.

Peaches and nectarines produce fruit on the shoots of new growth. Once the shoots bear, they will not bear again. It is essential to remove them to allow for the development of new fruit-bearing shoots. Peach trees are sometimes thinned to remove part of their crop as they tend to bear more fruit than thy can properly develop. To get better fruit, thin so you have only one peach every 6-10 inches. Do not thin, however, until after the natural "June drop".