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

Plant and grow a peach tree and you can enjoy delicious homegrown peaches as the trees are suited to growing in the UK climate. Learn all about the correct methods of pruning peach trees to ensure you have a healthy tree and a strong crop of fruits.

Peaches hanging on a peach tree branch
Peach trees can be pruned in spring or in 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 one-year-old wood so the main aim is replacement pruning, 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 in active growth. 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 also pruning peach trees in winter can negatively impact a tree’s cold hardiness.

The early replacement pruning in spring before 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 one-year-old wood. Pruning a peach tree in summer will restrict and control this 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 peach trees: instructions

As mentioned earlier, the fruit on peach trees grow on one-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 D’s, first removing any dead, diseased and damaged branches first.

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

  • Only prune in spring or summer.
  • Don’t 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 flowers blooming.
  • Think one-year ahead – replacement pruning means replacing older branches with new growth.
  • Control new growth and rejuvenate older trees with summer pruning after the harvest.

Pruning Young Peach Trees

A newly-planted maiden peach tree should be pruned back to just above a bud around 60-75 cm from the ground. Any side shoots should be cut back to 2 or 3 buds from the main stem. Any of these side shoots, also referred to as feathers, that are closer than 60 cm 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 the one-year-old shoots that are 45-60cm long. Cut back these 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.

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 the spring, removing those branches that carried last year’s fruit to encourage lots of new vigorous growth to give next year’s fruit. Any branches that are crossing, or going in an unwanted direction, should be removed to open up the shape of the tree. Again, ensure to not remove any more than 40% of the tree in total. The key is maintaining a good balance in the tree between the fruiting wood and older shoots.

When pruning mature peach trees look to take out thin shoots that will not be strong enough to carry fruit next year and remove shoots that only bear leaves. Look to leave shoots with both leaf and flower buds – identify where one pointy leaf bud is accompanied by two rounder flower buds, as these are the true fruiting shoots and will give the best fruits.

If pruning overgrown peach trees then potentially plan for work to be carried out over several years. Start by looking at removing dead and diseased branches, then look for ones that are crossing or growing in unwanted directions that can cause parts of the tree to become congested.

One thing will be to look to remove any branches that are growing behind the height you can get to and pick fruit. This will help to thin the canopy and allow more sunlight to get 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 the summer. Also look for any branches that have been pulled down or broken from bearing fruit and cut these back to an upright.

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 as 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.

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 and promoting the growth of lots of new wood to carry the 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 bit more intricate, but there are some simple guidelines to follow.

Fan-shaped peach pruning guidelines:

  • Work along each branch of the fan in turn.
  • Remove any shoots growing towards or away from the wall.
  • In spring, pick two 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 two shoots identified back to six leaves. All other shoots are cut back to one leaf.
  • 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 two 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, and you need to ensure a cultivar is suited to fruiting in this stunted form. They can even grow in a pot or container. They are capable of providing a good yield of fruits year-after-year. Fruit trees grown in pots need regular feeding to ensure they grow strong, and the Plantura All Purpose Plant Food is a balanced fertiliser with all the nutrients needed to help grow a healthy tree and get a bumper crop of fruit.

All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
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Columnar peach pruning guidelines:

  • Prune in spring and summer.
  • Shorten the main shoot twice a year up to 3 buds from the main stem.
  • Shorten the side shoots down to a maximum 15cm twice a year.

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

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