Correct angle for peach scaffolds

My new peach, a PF25 on Halford, has grown like gangbusters this summer. Starting as a typical sized bareroot tree, it’s now cresting the 7’ tall mark!

I know I need to prune it a lot, but the best looking scaffolds are all at a much more vertical angle than I believe to be ideal. Rather than a 45-60 degree angle, they’re more like 20-30 at best. The whole tree is much more vertical and upright than you expect from a peach.

There are some more horizontal branches but they’re MUCH smaller and weaker.

Should I keep the strong scaffolds and try to “bend them down” a bit or perhaps keep them but cut to a more horizontal lateral?

Or should I just keep the weaker but better-angled ones?

As a side note, I’m concerned the tree grew TOO much to where it is less likely to set flower buds yet.

Most things I plant in my soil grow like gangbusters.

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It is best, of course, to bend branches when they are still flexible- peaches can get away from you in a matter of weeks when they are establishing. The easiest thing is just to eliminate the stronger, more vertical branches- it is surprising how little this actually slows establishment, but it will reduce the chance of getting a decent crop next year. That crop probably isn’t worth letting this tree get so tall that it is hard to manage so you will have to somehow bend the branches to more horizontal position to create a manageable shape.with low and spreading scaffolds. Such branches often break when you try to get them to more horizontal position- right at the union with the trunk. You can cut a hinge in the branches to make them bend more easily without breaking or use electric tape pulling the crotch against the trunk so the branch bends a little further out where it is stronger.

In my nursery I usually just remove over-sized branches- but I’m not in such a hurry as the average home grower.

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I had a similar question. I grafted some new varieties this year on lower very thin branches, low on the scaffold. I thought of cutting off all above this graft. Worried though the scaffold will die with such a drastic cut. I have seen these small branches die at times. I would hate to lose the scaffold altogether. Also current scaffold does not have a good angle, but this small branch is 90 degrees from vertical all by itself.

So I ended up removing only two branches, one was growing straight essentially like a central leader, the other a tiny twiggy thing a foot off the ground.

I was able to get the other ones to bend enough to be worthwhile. Since the terminal shoots are still growing, I’m wondering if I might actually get enough growth yet this season for them to stay in place by the time the tree goes dormant. If not, I have no problem leaving them braced until next spring.

I still have a couple too many scaffolds, but right now I’m just doing an experiment to see which ones will cooperate with my attempt to bend them.

I think 3 scaffolds is best, but temporary scaffolds are OK. The problem is that peaches grow so fast that extra scaffolds tend to shade your permanent ones and actually compete with their development if they aren’t frequently pinched back during rapid growth… This is probably why commercial growers tend to choose their permanent scaffolds by first or second season- they don’t have time to do return training during the growing season.

Tied down or spread branches also tend to keep trying to go back to excessively vertical growth. Frequent intervention is helpful for this as well. If your trees are still growing, they will likely assume the position you tied them to within a couple of weeks- with new growth defying your plans.

This all is an especially big problem in my nursery because trees are too tightly spaced so they compete with each other for light by growing as upright as they can. By having them grow tightly together I get more bang for the buck as far as managing the weeds below- but it is a trade-off- particularly with peaches and nects.

Alan, I’m prepared for that, but my assumption is that either yet this summer, or during the dormant season, any growth that turns back towards vertical I will simply remove the “turned up” growth when I prune them. Since the scaffolds already have well over 2 feet of growth (close to 4’ on one) on them just this season and much of it has stiffened up, I assume the hardened growth will stay put, but the soft, actively growing branch tips may turn upward…

Got most of them to a 40 or do degree angle.

In the bottom pic the middle scaffold looks more upright than it is. It’s at about 40-45 degrees but I took the pic head-on so it looks straight.

The plants cluttering the area underneath aren’t staying there - they’re in pots.

I’ve always thought the weight of the fruit will bend the branches down for peaches

Often works for apples, depending on variety, but peaches almost always need some help. Instead of bending from a vertical position they are more likely to break from the weight of fruit. They really are weedy trees.

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It’s generally preferable to make scaffolds out of smaller shoots. Bill Shane has mentioned choosing shoots too large (relative to the size of the trunk) is one of the more common mistakes commercial peach growers make. He says choosing scaffolds less than 1/2 the diameter of the trunk (I prefer less than 1/3 the diameter of the trunk) will reduce the risk of the tree breaking down later on.

If the scaffold is too large, it won’t form a proper collar on the trunk and will cause the tree to split under a heavy crop load. I’ve noticed this is worse for some varieties than others.

Shane recommends commercial growers wait until the second season to choose scaffolds, so that smaller shoots can be selected. This is difficult for commercial growers because everyone wants to get their trees into production as fast as possible.

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If the tree is grown from seed, when is the recommended time to choose scaffolds?

Bill Shane recommends selecting peach scaffolds the second year from grafted trees. But there are a lot of extraneous issues to consider.

Honestly, most of the time I purchase peach trees, the trees have almost no live buds where I want to start scaffolds. Many times I end up finding a live bud low on the trunk and using that bud to start a new trunk, so I can have live, viable buds to choose scaffolds. Of course that delays scaffold selection.

Then there is the consideration of how vigorous your new peach tree is growing. If the peach tree is racing ahead like a giant ragweed, then I think careful scaffold selection could commence the first season. But if the peach tree is growing about as fast as an oak tree, then that will slow scaffold selection considerably.

I think the same applies to seedling peaches. Here, where seedling peaches are in a raised, weed free planting, with good moisture and fertilized, they will grow quite fast the first season. Seedlings here will grow to 4’ or more the first season, if cared for. If that’s the case, you may well find some scaffolds at the correct height which are less than 1/3 the diameter of the trunk.

Correct scaffold to trunk size ratio is really the most important consideration, not the amount of time the tree has been in the dirt.

One advantage of selecting scaffolds a little later is that the vigorous upright top growth will tend to spread the lower growth more outward, so that the angles are a little nicer when selecting the lower scaffolds (if that makes any sense).

I think it’s fine to pull scaffolds down to fix their angle, and I used to do that a lot. But as I’ve slowly become more and more of a “commercial grower”, labor has become everything for a labor intensive crop like peaches. If I can shave some labor off the process, I can plant and take care of more trees and produce more fruit.

It’s hard to make a profit and we are driven by customers who demand a tasty fruit at the lowest possible price. I’m not complaining. I’m selling food in the country which spends the least amount of their disposable income on food than any other country in the world, even though several other countries have surpassed the U.S. in per capita income. Americans are bred to expect cheap food.

I have to look for ways where labor gets the max return. It’s much less labor intensive to simply let the new peach tree throw out all its growth, then come back and select scaffolds by pruning out all the stuff which is overly vigorous and growing at an undesirable angle. In that case, I may prune off 75% or more of the peach tree to get desired scaffolds. That takes a minuscule amount of labor compared to tying down scaffolds. Of course this is a mute point when one has the time to train scaffolds using strings vs. training scaffolds by pruning.

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This idea about ratios came to me through a NAFEX Pomona article many years ago written by Bas van Ende, a very well known guru of commercial fruit production now based in Australia. The same article contained info about branch hinges and scoring apple trees to create new branches where needed along the trunk.

It is one thing to know something is good in the long run and another to sacrifice yield the next season to produce a stronger tree. I believe that if you run with the larger scaffolds, spread them well and subdue them with summer pruning, if necessary, they can become as strong as branches that began as smaller ratio wood. This requires too much attention for a commercial grower, I suppose. Honestly, in my own nursery, while I tend to run with the weaker branches, sometimes, with peaches, I go with developing scaffolds as quickly as possible. The part I haven’t worked out is if the extra time spent subduing an oversize branch is worth it. Vigorous peach trees establish very quickly no matter how you do it. Keeping an oversize branch in bounds and reducing its relative diameter requires several summer prunings,

Al, This is a very sophisticated decision.

I"ve run with many peach trees with unacceptably large scaffolds off the trunk.

Many of these are nowhere near splitting.

Yet, I’ll note, some peach trees of various varieties won’t tolerate big scaffolds off the trunk. They will split for sure, which ends in destruction of the tree. From my perspective, a split is a pretty big deal. That tree is pretty much done and production won’t be adequately replaced for several years.

It’s really dependent on the variety. I’ve found some varieties are so forgiving they don’t care how one scaffold weighs them down. Even if a poor collar. On balance, I don’t want varieties which can’t handle a scaffold which wants to split.

That’s a pretty big deal to me. But who thinks like me?

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After reading this thread, I took a look at my Mericrest and saw that one branch is forming a secondary leader at a very vertical angle. I wonder - should I take the whole thing off, down to the trunk, or let a bud survive to form a new branch, hopefully at a better angle to the trunk.