Fruit Trees in Permaculture: Pruning Peaches
Updated: Apr 12
As a permaculture farmer, I thought it would be fairly simple to grow a food forest, and get tasty juicy and organic fruits to eat every season. For many years I waited for the trees to grow big, and to start fruiting. However, this season I have learnt a big lesson in fruit growing.
I have learnt that where fruits is concerned, there are 4 different scenarios.
1. Having fruit trees
2. Getting fruit on those trees
3. Getting edible fruit on those trees
4. Getting sale-able fruit on those trees
Let me elaborate with the example of peaches. We planted our peach trees (along with the rest) in July 2011. Each year we waited for them to grow bigger and give fruit. Finally, in 2015 we got a decent crop of juicy red peaches - see photo below.
Having seen the success of 2015, we waited for 2016 - but had a very poor, almost failed crop. I was told that trees give fruit every other year, so don't worry the next year will be a good crop again!
Now, it had been almost 6 years since we planted these trees, and you can imagine, how big and green they would have become. In 2017, we got a good flowering and fruit setting on the tree, but the size of the fruit was tiny, and it sort of refused to grow. At the same time a friend (and daughter of an apple farmer) came visiting Aanandaa and was aghast at the size of the peach trees. She said, why are they so big? Don't you prune your trees?
I was like, pruning? what is that?? When do you do it? How much and how?? It seemed like I was a complete ignoramus!!
Anyway, the first had at task was to fix the existing fruit problem. We had a lot of fruit formation, and it was my job to see how big and juicy I could make these right away. If you have poor quality fruit on your overgrown peach tree, I would say you could salvage the situation by doing the following:
1. Prune away the branches which are not bearing any fruit. This will take the load off the tree, and allow some sunshine and air to come into the middle. I did that with mine.
2. Fertilise the tree well - I did that with liquid fertiliser jeevamrut - which is what we use at Aanandaa.
3. Water the trees well in the hot summer - remember fruit it mostly water, and the tree needs to be well watered to produce a juicy crop.
With this effort, we managed to salvage the fruit - and even though the fruit didn't grow as big as a tennis balls (you do see commercial peaches of that size), it was a little bigger than a ping pong ball, and good enough for our family consumption. See pis below.
Now we have our eyes set on 2018, and I wanted to get the tree in perfect shape for next year. It was clear that I was making one BIG mistake. I was not pruning the tree! Why do we need to prune peach trees you may ask? As I discovered with much research that fruit grows on new wood or old wood. Fruits like peaches, guavas, pears, apples, plums, pomegranates grow on new wood - that means they will grow on branches which have grown in the past year. In contrast, fruits like mangoes, sapota and litchis grow on old wood - that means they will grow on old branches, and not on branches which have recently sprouted. This is the single most important learning for me while growing fruit.
Now, if the fruit grows on new wood, and if the tree is never pruned, every year the branches will grow longer and taller, and the fruit will be produced at the newest part of the branch - the ones right at the top, Also the tree itself will be so big and filled with foliage that all the nutrition you provide to the tree will be consumed by the foliage instead of by the fruit. That is why, it is important to cut back the tree. Another reason to do so, is to keep the fruit within arm's reach - instead of way at the top where it is difficult to reach.
Initially, I thought I would now prune the peach tree in October - the time of the year prescribed for North India. But for a tree that has not been pruned for 6 years, what I needed to do was not pruning but REJUVENATION. That means I have to cut back the tree a lot, almost down to its stumps. For rejuvenation, the correct time would be now (July), around the monsoon, so that new branches emerge from the trunk, which I will then prune in October in preparation for the fruiting season.
After all this research, I got down to rejuvenating the trees. As you can see in the pics below, I have significantly cut back the trees almost down to stumps.
The shape of the peach trees should be like a Vase - with 5-6 scaffolds on all sides, and an empty space in the middle. For this, the middle trunk needs to be cut at the base itself. We have used a sharp saw to make all the cuts, and also applied cow dung as a balm to these wounds. All cuts should be made at an incline so that water does not collect on the surface, and drips off. See pictures below:
So now, the big task of rejuvenating the tree is done. We are expecting fresh shoots to spring out soon, and then we will leave the tree untouched till October when it will be time to prune them. Will keep you posted on how that goes - keep reading our blogs for more!