The Q&A Archives: Peach Tree Care

Question: I have a peach tree that is 3 years old. We haven't done anything to care for it since we planted it. Now fruit is small and every year it's infested with small white worms with black heads. We are new gardeners, and would like some advise on how to take care of this tree. We found some dark striped worms with a web earlier in the spring, and got rid of them with knocking them out and then spraying with malathion. But we were told these worms had nothing to do with the worms in our peaches. The peach tree is now starting to fruit, your help would be appreciated. Also when would we prune the tree?

Answer: So glad you like the Web site!

Here are some basic peach growing instructions from an article in National Gardening magazine:

Keep trees well watered and fed. Water trees infrequently but deeply. The frequency will vary by climate and weather, but the soil should be moist down to at least two feet for dwarf trees and three to four feet for full-size trees. In arid summer regions, this means watering once every two to four weeks. Too much or too little water can cause fruit drop. Use a mulch, such as compost or straw, to help maintain even soil moisture.

Apply an organic fertilizer, such as compost or aged manure, or a complete commercial fertilizer such as a
10-4-4 if growth is poor. Too much fertilizer can cause bland, soft fruit that is more susceptible to brown rot. The
best time to apply fertilizer is in early spring.

Prune and thin. The primary objectives of pruning fruit trees are to create a strong tree form and to maximize the harvest. Because the tree produces fruit only on certain "fruiting woods", you maximize harvest by pruning to renew fruiting wood. Some trees, such as peaches and apricots, must be pruned eavily to remain productive. Here are some basics on pruning peach trees:

Peach trees produce best when trained to an open center, meaning that you want to end up with 3-4 main side branches ("scaffold branches"), avoiding a central leader trunk. If yours tree is fairly young and has had no previous pruning, head it back to 30-36" tall. Scaffold branches should be at least 20" off the ground and form a 45 degree angle with the trunk. If the tree has good candidates for scaffold branches, cut them back to 4-5". They should have at least a couple of buds each, which will branch out into fruiting limbs. You should have all the scaffold branches
chosen and pruned appropriately by the beginning of the spring after planting. At that time, remove is most effective -- othewise, you can kill many beneficial insects, which are more succeptible to pesticide damage than many pest species.

I hope this helps and that you get some good peaches soon! all other branches and any root suckers (sprouts emerging from the roots).

If during the second summer you notice the scaffolds bending to a wider than 45 degree angle, you'll need to remove some wood, lessening the weight on the branch. It's the only summer pruning you should have to do. By the fourth year, the tree should be bearing, and your pruning should be reduced to removing dead/weak/crossing/damaged branches, with the goal of keeping the center open, and the lateral branches within easy picking height. Older, slower growing trees need even less pruning - head back lateral branches that have grown less than 8" in a year to the next outward-branched lateral limb.

Thin the number of fruits a tree sets to get larger, higher-quality fruit and to encourage steady, year-to-year
productivity. The best time to thin is once fruits are one-half to one inch in diameter. In most cases, thin to allow six to eight inches between fruits.

As for your pest problem, once your tree becomes stronger from the TLC you've given it, it'll be less succeptible to attack by pests. The larvae you describe attacking your fruit sound like oriental fruit moth larvae. Larvae overwinter in the soil and emerge as moths in spring, when they lay eggs on twigs and the undersides of leaves. A shallow cultivation around the base of the tree will kill some of the larvae. Don't cultivate too deeply, or the roots may be damaged. Also look for cocoons on the bark or in fall -- remove these as well. If some of the twigs die back in spring, they could be victims of the first generation of the fruit moth. You can spray a summer oil to suffocate eggs and larvae, but contact your county extension office (ph# 486-4589) to find out when to apply the oil. If your timing isn't correct, the spray will do no good. Also, don't spray pesticides unless you identify the pest first and determine which control

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