One of California's major fruit crops, peaches also find a frequent home in California's yards and gardens. Some of the methods developed by commercial growers carry over well into small-scale settings. With techniques tailored to the moderate climate, peaches grow with fewer pest and disease problems and produce more reliable annual crops. In California, pruning peach trees for maximum production becomes a nearly year-round task. Homeowners may choose less efficient tree shapes but should heed the commercial pruning advice.
Train peaches to a vase shape for a compromise between best appearance and best production. Commercial orchards place peach trees 6 to 8 feet apart in rows, training the trees to a Y-shaped trunk to facilitate harvesting. Vase-shaped canopies work well for small numbers of trees.
Head back young trees immediately after planting by clipping the central leader from 24 inches to 30 inches above ground level.
Prune when peach trees are dormant, saving major shaping and training for the winter when leaves are down. In California the best time to prune peach trees is January, but growers may work with the trees any time from December through mid-February.
Select strong limbs to form the basic structure of the tree during the first winter after planting. Keep three or four branches at equally distributed heights on the central trunk and staggered uniformly around the tree. Cut back these branches to at least 2 feet in length but no longer than 30 inches. Prune out all vertical shoots.
Select one or two side branches on the main limbs in the second winter. Cut all competing side branches back to the junction with the main branch. Prune off half the length of the side branches chosen as bearing limbs.
Perfect the shape of the tree by summer training to close gaps and correct limb placement. Drive stakes into the ground and pull limbs to them with garden twine to bend rather than prune the tree into a better shape.
Thin out 50 percent of the fruiting wood--the new branches from the previous year--on peach trees over 4 years old. Cut long branches back as much as half their length, leaving a half-inch long stub beyond the last bud kept.
Inspect peach trees for winter damage and dead or diseased branches. Prune out any problem wood by cutting back to the next healthy branch junction.