A few weeks ago, my brother-in-law asked me to come out to the family farm (Double S Farms) asked me to come over and help him to prune their numerous fruit trees.  I had been wanting to work on them because they had been sorely neglected by the previous owners of the farm.
These three peach trees produced a large amount of fruit that we all enjoyed last summer.  However, they had been badly pruned over the years and their branches reached so high into the sky, that it was impossible to reach all of the fruit.

Why did we decide to prune them you may ask?  Well, besides the fact that they had been disfigured by bad pruning, the other benefits would be numerous.  There would be increased fruit production, strengthened trees, earlier fruit production and easier  maintenance.
 
Our tools – Loppers, Pruning Saw, Hand Pruners and Pole Saw.
The two types of pruning cuts that we used were thinning and heading cuts.  The first type – thinning cuts, removes branches back to the larger branch they are growing from.  So, we concentrated on removing all crossing branches and those growing into the center of the tree.  We did this because peach and plum trees should have an open center.

The second type of cut we used – heading back, removes part of the branch, pruning back to a outward facing bud.  So we made sure that our cuts, were pruned back to an outside facing bud and cut at a 45 degree angle.
 
 Farmer Dad, working hard making a thinning cut with a pruning saw.

Pruning should be done while the trees are still dormant, which is January here in the desert.  

Since dwarf forms of peach trees do not exist, pruning is the only way to shorten the tree in order to reach the fruit and also to be able to fit a net over the tree to protect them from the birds eating the fruit.  Unfortunately, a lot of fruit was lost to the birds last year.
 
  
As we pruned, evidence of bad pruning was evident.  The photo above shows an incorrect pruning cut, while the bottom one is the right way to prune.  You want to prune back to the trunk to the branch collar.  

Peach and plum trees can take heavy pruning, but we removed only 20% of the trees branches.  Next year, we may do more if needed.  We felt that is was better not over-prune and stress the trees.
 
You can tell why it is important to prune back to the branch when you see how the cut branch above died back because it was not pruned close enough to the branch it came from.
Once we were finished with the peach trees, we started on the two apple trees in the backyard.  Both of these trees were better maintained and so we removed a few of the lower branches and made some heading cuts.

 
Pruning cuts back to the trunk.  You can see the branch collar, which is a specialized area that surrounds branches.  Do not cut the branch collar, but make your pruning cut just before.
 
Making heading cuts to the apple tree.
Apple trees only require light pruning.  They have a different shape then peach trees and do not have an open shape.  Rather, they should have many interior branches.  So, the majority of pruning we did were some heading cuts and just a few thinning cuts.

You know, there is just something so fulfilling after spending the day pruning and seeing the instant results of your work.  A couple of weeks later, I took the following pictures of the now flowering trees we had pruned.

Peach blossoms reach towards the sky.
 
The apple trees are now covered in blossoms.

Next year, we will probably do some additional corrective pruning for the peach trees in order to further fix the damage done by the previous owners.  But for now, we are sitting back and enjoying their beauty and looking forward to peach jam and apple butter this summer.
Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

21 replies
  1. Bren
    Bren says:

    If this is rambling…. please continue on! I always learn so much from your blog entries.

    I hope you stop by my snow covered blog in the Midwest. I have been collecting SEEDS!!!!

    Reply
  2. Bangchik
    Bangchik says:

    I miss the bigger trees so much. The biggest plants in "my little vegetable garden" are banana and papaya. I don't think they like to be pruned… haha,, ~bangchik

    Reply
  3. Martha Z
    Martha Z says:

    This is very helpful, Noelle. With a garden that is only five years old I hope to do things right from the beginning. Lack of space will make in necessary to keep my fruit trees small.

    Reply
  4. Liza
    Liza says:

    Wonderful post – instructive and clear. I knew a guy who wouldn't call it pruning – he would say that he was editing the tree. Kinda nice, I thought.

    Reply
  5. Meredith
    Meredith says:

    That looks like a major job, but worth it when you consider the harvest. 🙂 Do you have to worry about diseases or pests getting in through the cuts stumps? Some of those branches leave quite big wounds behind on the trunk, it seems.

    Reply
  6. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress says:

    What a great post! We have an apple tree and I just did some pruning on it, saving the high branches for my husband though. I wish I had you here to help me, I'm not sure how well I did.
    The peach and apple blossoms are so pretty! I can't wait to see some here too.

    Reply
  7. Edith Hope
    Edith Hope says:

    Dear Noelle, This has been a most informative and explanatory posting. I have found it of particular interest since I have a solitary, old, largely unpruned apple tree on the top terrace of my garden which I now feel inspired to tackle.

    I have added myself as one of your considerable number of 'Followers' having caught back up with you since the restoration of Blotanical.

    Reply
  8. Kate
    Kate says:

    Great post, Noelle! So informative. I have two flowering plums that are in desperate need of pruning.. but I'm always fearful I'll screw it up and harm the trees.

    Reply
  9. Rose
    Rose says:

    So helpful, Noelle! We have two old apple trees that my husband pruned a few years ago, but I'm afraid he may have done it improperly. We're going to work on them again this spring, if the weather cooperates, so this time I'll refer to your instructions. Those peach blossoms are so pretty!

    Reply
  10. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    OH how i wish i also have all those pruning gadgets for our mango and citrus trees, plus coffee, santol, guava and jackfruit. Because our land is sloping it is also difficult to prune big trees. How i envy especially the pole saw.

    Reply
  11. sue
    sue says:

    I am in Arizona, too. I appreciate your blog and the insight you bring to the rest of us concerning desert gardening.
    I noticed you mention that there's no such thing as a dwarf peach tree. As a matter of fact, I am harvesting the peaches from our dwarf peach tree to make a cobbler this weekend.
    Your ranch is stunning. I hope you are enjoying the fruits of your labor!
    ~Sue

    Reply

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