New to pruning? Then we’ll cover all you need to know about how to prune peach trees, including why, when, which, with what, and how in seven easy steps.

What to Prune Peach Trees With

  • The tools to use depends on which type of branch you are cutting. In all cases though, be sure to sterilize the tools with hot soapy water or disinfectant to prevent any damage or infection. Moreover make sure they are sharp so that the branches don’t get bruised.
    • For small branches and twigs, use hand pruners. 
    • For large branches about 1” thick, use loppers. These provide good leverage.
    • For branches about 3” thick and more, use a saw. 
Pruning apple tree tools

How to Prune Fruit Trees in 7 Steps

Step 0: Know the Form You are Aiming For

  • Peach trees are best grown in an open center/vase shape with about 3-5 evenly-spaced 45 degree angled main branches.
  • This shape doesn’t have a central leader so it allows sunlight to enter. However, this form can have weaker branches due to the angle and more shade from the leaves of the upper branches.
open center form
Open Center/ Vase Form

Step 1: Prune With an Open Center Training System

  • When you plant a young tree
    • Remove the lower branches that are growing less than 18″ feet above the ground.
    • Then, prune any branches that are growing upward in the center to create the vase shape.
    • Choose 3-5 evenly-spaced 45 degree main branches and cut the rest. These branches should be about 18-36″ above the ground.
  • If you get a young tree that does not have 3-5 evenly spaced branches
    • Prune the leader back to 30 inches above the soil surface and remove the other lateral branches in order to promote the growth of these scaffold branches.
  • In the first growing season, prune non-primary scaffold branches so that there are 3 to 5 primary scaffold branches evenly spaced around the trunk.
  • Then, during the spring of the second season, cut back scaffold branches.
  • In the early spring of the third growing season, prune the scaffold branches.
how to plant a peach tree
Pruning after planting
Image from the University of Missouri Extension
when to plant peach tree

Step 2: Remove Any Dead, Diseased, or Damaged Limbs (3 D’s)

  • You know if a branch is dead if it’s brittle and breaks very easily.
  • You usually know if a branch is diseased if the wood is a different color than the other branches around it. 
  • You’ll see a damaged branch when it has partially broken from the weight of the fruits. Additionally, when two branches have crossed and rubbed against one another this can also damage the wood.
  • Once you have identified the branches with the 3 D’s, then cut the wood back to the nearest bud where the wood is still healthy. 
how to prune peach tree

Step 3: Prune Suckers

What is a sucker?
  • Suckers are thin shoots or branches which grow near the base of the trunk. They grow because the tree is attempting to grow more branches possibly as a response to an injury.
  • Prune the suckers so that they don’t grow below the canopy of the tree.
remove suckers

Step 4: Prune Downward, Upward, & Inward Growing Branches

  • First, identify the branches growing downward. Then prune them since they won’t be able to bear the weight of the fruit.  Additionally upward growing branches may damage other branches so prune them as well.
  • Also prune any branches growing inward so that they don’t rub against other branches.
remove upward, downward, inward growing branches

Step 5: Prune the Whorls

What are whorls?
  • Whorls are places where three or more small branches grow from the same location.
  • Once you identify the whorls then choose the healthier and strongest one, and prune the rest. After all, the branch won’t be able to support all of the small branches growing in this one location. 
remove whorls

Step 6: Prune Back All Branches

  • The fruit will develop on one-year-old wood so prune back these red shoots to about 18 inches. Consequently, these new branches will be more supported by the sturdier branches and easier to harvest from.
  • In general, it is good for the tree to have the branches cut back by a fourth so that new growth is encouraged. The stems will become thicker and develop flowers.
  • However, make sure to make these cuts just above a bud that faces outward.
prune back branches

Step 7: Thin the Buds

  • Lastly, thin out the fruiting buds so that they are 4-6” apart. This will ensure that the branch bears just enough weight from the fruit. Additionally, if there are too many fruiting buds, then the fruit may not develop their high sugar levels.
peach bud
before after pruning peach tree

Why Prune Peach Trees

  • We prune peach trees for five main reasons.
    1. First, to make the tree easy to maintain and harvest by controlling the height and shape.
    2. Secondly, to maintain a healthy tree by removing dead, diseased or damaged wood.
    3. Thirdly, to improve air circulation which reduces pests and diseases.
    4. Fourthly, to let sunlight reach the fruits so they can grow healthy and large. 
    5. Fifthly, peach trees develop fruit on one-year-old wood so we cut back so this wood can develop.

When to Prune Peach Trees

  • It is best to prune a peach tree when it’s still dormant, this means early spring, about two weeks after the late frost. Not only are the buds easier to see and cut, but the cuts will also heal more quickly.  
  • If you prune in the fall, then new growth will start but will be damaged by the cold winter. If you prune in the early winter, then the open cut can be susceptible to diseases. 
  • If you see bull shoots, which are new shoots that grow in the middle of the trunk or at the top, remove them anytime. In fact, summer pruning after the harvest will help reduce these bull shoots.
  • Likewise, if you see dead, diseased, or damaged, wood, you should cut these off as soon as you notice, no matter the time in the year so that the tree isn’t damaged further.
  • Prune during a dry day with sterilized equipment to minimize the risk of the tree getting a disease.

Which Peach Trees to Prune

  • If you plant a very young tree, then prune immediately after you plant to train it into the vase shape.
  • If you have a mature tree, wait to do the heavy pruning in the third year of growth after planting since this will allow the tree to establish itself. 
  • If your peach tree provides a lot of shade, then it needs to be pruned.
    • When there is a lot of pruning to do, then space out the pruning over several seasons. 
Learning how to prune peach trees is an important step in making friends with your tree and making sure it will stay healthy and bear delicious fruit. If you would like to discover our peach trees, explore our fruit tree catalog or shop page.

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