Spring brings three important tasks involving the peach fans. The first is hand pollinating and protecting the blossom – this was covered in a recent post. Then comes the first, and arguably the most important, stage in pruning and training – the pinching out of young shoots. These start to emerge with blossom, and the tree is probably ready for pinching out as petals start to fall from the first flowers.
Peaches put on a lot of vegetative growth and managing this in a small space requires regular and extensive pinching out. Peaches fruit exclusively on one year old wood, so unless a shoot is needed for either the permanent framework of branches – known as scaffold branches – or is intended to bear fruit the following year, it should be removed. Leaving excess shoots will result in a crowded tree, fruit that cannot be properly exposed to the sun, and poor airflow. Unless replacement fruiting wood is selected with care and tied in as it develops, the tree may be in poor condition for the next season.
A few weeks later and it will be evident how much fruit has set. When the fruitlets are around the size of an almond, they need, ideally, to be thinned out. This is also a good time to review the shoots to see if any more can be removed, either where small young shoots were missed when pinching out or have developed since, or where several possibly useful shoots were left to grow on pending a final decision on which are to be kept.
The tree will abort many fruitlets naturally, but will still tend to hang on to more than can be brought to perfection. The idea is to secure fruit that can grow on to full size and ripen well. This typically requires removal of some fruitlets, selecting those that are best place for further growth and exposure to the sun for later ripening. Experience over a few years will be needed to find the desired balance between the size and quality of the crop, and may well vary between varieties and soil and other conditions.