The Q&A Archives: pruning and spraying peach tree

Question: what do I use to protect my peach tree from insects and when is the best time to prune it in massachusetts

Answer: 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 your 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. At that time, remove 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.

Several all-purpose fruit sprays are on the market for homeowner use. These materials contain an insecticide and fungicide that will control most insects and diseases seen in a home orchard fruit tree situation. As with any pesticide, read and follow all label directions and precautions.

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