Pruning peach trees: when & how?


Having worked as a journalist for many years I studied horticulture and now work as a professional gardener. I work as a specialist kitchen gardener, growing a wide range of vegetables, fruit and herbs for chefs in the north of England. I am passionate about gardening and writing, and love growing edibles and trying to inspire others to get outside and grow their own.

Favourite fruit: Apples and Raspberries
Favourite vegetables: Beetroot, celeriac, parsnip and broad beans

Peach trees grow fantastically in our UK climates, but it is important to understand how to prune peach trees to get the best crop. Learn how to prune a peach tree correctly to ensure a healthy growth and a delicious harvest.

Peaches on a peach tree branch
Prune peach trees in spring or summer [Photo: Roxana Bashyrova/]

The peach tree (Prunus persica) is a popular stone fruit that can be successfully grown in cooler climates or in a greenhouse. They will thrive in a warm bright spot that gives them enough sunlight to ripen the juicy fruits. Peaches flower and fruit on 1-year-old wood, so the main aim is replacement pruning that is substituting old fruited wood with new young wood.

When to prune peach trees

If you are wondering when to prune a peach tree, then the answer is in spring or summer, when they are actively growing. If the peach pruning takes place when they are growing in spring or even just before the growth starts, it makes them less susceptible to disease or dieback. If pruned in the dormant season, as you would in winter with the likes of apple or pear trees, they are at risk of diseases, such as silver leaf disease (Chondrostereum purpureum) entering the pruning cuts. Peach trees are also more prone to dieback than other fruit trees and pruning peach trees in winter can negatively impact their cold hardiness.

Tip: pruning can be employed as a preventative measure to help combat peach leaf curl.

The early replacement pruning in spring before or during flowering allows for the shape to be formed and ensures a supply of new wood to carry next year’s flowers and fruit, as peaches fruit on 1-year-old wood. Pruning a peach tree in summer will restrict and control its growth and help ensure growth is not clustered or going in unwanted directions. Summer pruning is also an ideal time to rejuvenate older trees.

pruning a peach tree with secateurs
The pruning cuts will promote new wood to carry next year’s peaches [Photo: encierro/]

Pruning peach trees: instructions

As mentioned earlier, the fruit on peach trees grow on 1-year-old wood, so the main aim when pruning peach trees is to replace that wood that has borne fruit with new shoots to carry the crop next year. As with all tree pruning, peach tree pruning should start by following the basic rules of the 3 Ds: cut out any dead, diseased and damaged branches first.

How to prune a peach tree – basic peach tree maintenance guidelines:

  • Only prune in spring or summer
  • Do not prune in winter – this will make the tree more susceptible to silver leaf and branch dieback
  • Spring is the time for replacement pruning before or during flowering
  • Think 1 year ahead – replacement pruning means replacing older branches with new growth
  • Control new growth and rejuvenate older trees with summer pruning after harvest

Pruning young peach trees

A newly planted maiden peach tree should be pruned back to just above a bud, around 60 to 75cm from the ground. Cut back any side shoots to 2 or 3 buds from the main stem. Any of these side shoots, also referred to as feathers, that are closer than 60cm from the ground should be removed in subsequent seasons.

Each spring, prune semi-mature growth by around a third to encourage new growth that will bear the flowers and fruits the next year. Remove the old non-fruiting shoots and leave 1-year-old shoots that are 45-60cm long. Cut back older branches to a vigorous new shoot. Also remove branches that are growing towards the main stem. Up to 40% of the tree can be removed each year.

up close peach blossoms
Peach blossoms bloom in spring but are susceptible to frost [Photo: Daniel Prudek/]

Pruning Mature Peach Trees

The rules for trimming peach trees do not change when it comes to older trees. Continue to carry out replacement pruning in spring, removing the branches that carried last year’s fruit to encourage lots of new vigorous growth to carry next year’s fruit. Remove any branches that are crossing or going in an unwanted direction to open up the shape of the tree. Again, make sure to not remove more than 40% of the tree in total. The key is maintaining a good balance of fruiting wood and older shoots.

When pruning mature peach trees, cut out thin shoots that will not be strong enough to carry fruit next year and remove any shoots that only bear leaves. Leave shoots with both leaf and flower buds on to the peach tree; to identify these: one pointy leaf bud is accompanied by two rounder flower buds. These are the true fruiting shoots and will give the best fruits.

If you want to prune an overgrown peach tree, then plan to carry out the extensive pruning over several years, as only 40% of the tree should be removed each year. Start by removing dead and diseased branches, then cut out ones that are crossing or growing in unwanted directions that can cause parts of the tree to become congested.

Remove any branches that are growing beyond the height you can get to and pick fruit. This will help to thin the canopy, allowing more sunlight to reach the fruit lower down the tree. This will result in lots of vigorous growth at the top of the tree, which will need to be pruned back annually in summer. Also look for any branches that have been pulled down or broken from bearing fruit and cut these back to an upright position.

When pruning old peach trees, refrain from drastically cutting back lots of the branches. This is because there is no guarantee a peach tree will sprout back, primarily because these types of old stone fruit buds might struggle to penetrate old and thick bark. When pruning older branches to rejuvenate a tree, cut to a young shoot that can take over.

juicy peaches freshly picked
Pruning correctly will increase the yield of peaches [Photo: Africa Studio/]

Pruning trained peach trees

Peach trees are perfectly suited to being grown in formal shapes, such as columns, fans or espaliers. The overall outcomes and principles of pruning peach trees trained in such shapes remain the same, cutting in spring and summer to promote lots of new wood to grow and carry next year’s flowers and fruit.

Pruning fan-shaped peach trees – growing a peach tree trained against a wall is a great way of utilising the extra heat given off by walls to help promote growth and ripening of peaches. This form of peach pruning is a bit more intricate but there are some simple guidelines to follow.

How to prune fan-shaped peach trees:

  • Work along each branch of the fan in turn
  • Remove any shoots growing towards or away from the wall
  • In spring, pick 2 developing shoots at the base of the previous year’s growth to retain
  • In spring, thin out the rest of the young shoots along the branch to about 15cm apart
  • In summer, cut growth on the 2 shoots identified back to 6 leaves
  • Cut back all other to one leaf in summer
  • After harvesting, remove some older wood and laterals that fruited last year
  • Tie in new growth from the current year as replacements to carry fruit next year – choose the strongest of the 2 shoots you left in spring

Pruning a columnar peach tree – a columnar tree is a successful way of growing peaches without the need for much space. However, not all varieties are suited to columnar growing, so you need to check that your peach cultivar is suited to fruiting in this stunted form. Columnar peach trees can even grow in a pot or container and are capable of providing a good yield of fruits year-after-year. Peach trees grown in pots need regular feeding to ensure they grow strong. For this, use a balanced fertiliser, such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food, to provide the peach tree with all the nutrients needed to grow healthily and have a bumper crop of fruit.

How to prune columnar peach trees:

  • Prune in spring and summer
  • Shorten the main shoot 2x a year up to 3 buds from the main stem
  • Shorten the side shoots to a max. of 15cm 2x a year
a dwarf peach tree in a pot
Dwarf peach trees can thrive in pots on balconies or patios [Photo: Michael-a/]

The peach tree is closely related to the sour cherry tree (Prunus cerasus), which fruits on 1-year-old wood just like a peach. If you have a cherry tree or are interested in adding one to your fruit garden, then check out our guide on pruning cherry trees.

Subscribe to the Plantura newsletter