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I have just moved into a home with a peach tree that appears healthy, but overgrown; it has clearly not been pruned in many years (although I have cut out some of the branches that made it impossible to walk under the tree).

How can I help this tree reach its peach-producing potential?

The tree is on the south side of the house; photo looks northwest.

Picture of peach tree and house

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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Edit: after the information from David that the tree produced heavily this year, renovation may be a practical course of action.

You may get a better answer from someone else, but I'd suggest that you should cut it down and plant a new tree. Peach trees are not long-lived -- a 20-25 year old tree is ready for retirement. Production typically drops off at that point. You might be able to prune this over a couple of years and have it produce some fruit, but I find it unlikely that you'll be paid back for your time and effort.

Even if you could renovate the old tree and get a few more years of crops from it, a new tree will begin producing within a year or two, will have a longer productive life, and you would expect larger crops than the old tree within just a few years.

See this article on fruit tree pruning, especially:

You will seldom have to resort to serious renovation pruning on peaches, nectarines, sweet cherries and Japanese plums. These and most apricots seldom live long enough to need renovation. A peach at 25 is old.

A major renovation will take a couple of years -- you don't want to remove too much at once. Start by removing dead/diseased branches and then stop. If that doesn't remove much material, remove branches that are crossing, growing the wrong direction, etc. But stop before you remove too much. Then take a look at what happens next year.

Keep in mind that fruit forms on this year's wood. So if you want fruit next year, make sure you leave some of this year's growth.

If you have the tools, and you can do the job safely, and you want to reduce the height (for ease of picking and/or more pleasing shape): in the second year, you may consider removing some of the upper branches. But it would really be worth calling a local arborist with experience handling fruit trees to do this kind of work -- both you and the tree may end up healthier.

Normally you'd prune while the tree is dormant (in winter), but you may want to think about a summer pruning since heavy pruning during winter dormancy can stimulate vigorous growth at the expense of fruit production. And vigorous new growth isn't what you want.

Also, if you do figure out how to keep the squirrels away, make sure you thin the fruit to avoid breaking branches.

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the tree deserves a chance. It had hundreds of peaches before the squirrels picked them off. But the squirrels may have kept the tree from breaking under the weight of peaches. Hopefully I can come up with a way to keep them away by next year. –  David Jul 19 '11 at 2:44
    
@David - That's good to hear. I'm editing to give some advice on renovation. –  bstpierre Jul 19 '11 at 2:52
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I'm definitely not going to contradict bstpierre's answer, as I'm far from a tree expert, but if you do decide to give the tree another chance, you will find the below tree pruning document/guide helpful:

How to Prune Trees by US Forest Service

Also, "Tree Care Information" from Trees Our Good contains some useful information on taking care of trees.

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those are great references, especially the one from USFS, but your answer would be better if you summarized some of the information contained in the links. –  David Jul 19 '11 at 16:32
    
At this time it really looks like I can't win here on SE. Some say I post too much information in comments (should be put into an answer instead). Others say I don't post enough information in answers, especially when pointing people aware from SE for expert/quality information. I was initially only going to post my above answer as a comment to "bstpierre" answer, but decided not to, due to my current confusion on what exactly is best practice here on SE. I thought SE was meant to have a low level of entry, but this is very! far from the case in my personal experience... –  Mike Perry Jul 19 '11 at 16:49
    
hang in there and you will reap the rewards of figuring this out. In general, if your answer is contained in a link, the content of the link should be summarized or the link(s) should be included in a comment; here is a discussion of when to comment, when to answer on the meta.stackoverflow site –  David Jul 19 '11 at 17:37
    
David, thank you for that link. I had already read the information found within that link, plus a number of other discussions on the SE network, talking about when to comment & when to answer, in the hope it would start making sense to me. Sadly at this time, it still doesn't make complete sense to me, hence "I thought SE was meant to have a low level of entry...". –  Mike Perry Jul 19 '11 at 18:56
    
perhaps you missed the question 'is it okay to answer a question with a link?'. If the first line of the selected answer "Summarize but give credit to the source via a name and link." does not make complete sense, then the appropriate course is to ask the author for clarification. –  David Jul 19 '11 at 22:14
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