Keeping peaches fruitful but small

I grafted a few peaches some years ago and last year was there first great harvest. I have them planted 4 to a hole, about 18” apart in a square pattern. Baby Crawford, Zee Lady, Early Crawford, and Gold Dust.

I’m hoping to keep them always under 8’ tall. Last year I did summer pruning after harvest. I probably took it down to about 5’. I’m underwhelmed by the resulting bloom and imagined fruit set this year.

I’m thinking I need to cut it back much harder and fertilize heavier after pruning. Maybe cut it to 30”, and try to get 30” of growth or so by dormancy. I imagine this will be a good strategy for keeping peach trees small but harvests large.

Think this will work?

I have a pretty long growing season in Napa, CA, zone 9.

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If you want to prune heavily I would do it right after the fruit is picked so there is enough time for the tree to put on new growth for next spring. Peaches produce fruit on one year old growth. Keep that in mind when you are pruning the tree.

I usually top my trees at 8-10 feet but do it frequently a little bit at a time. The peaches produce a lot of fruit at that height as long as there is a lot of one year old growth in the spring.

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Thanks! Yes, I am hoping to achieve a lot of growth after cutting them hard right after harvest and applying high N fertilizer. So far, the trees seem to grow more while fruiting than they do after harvest. I’m not sure if that’s the preference of the tree, or if that’s a result of my care and attention (which probably does decline once I’m eating tons of peaches).

I am wondering if you wouldn’t be better off using a balanced low nitrogen fertilizer that promotes bloom and bud development rather than excessive growth on a tree that you are trying to keep relatively small.

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Which were your favorite tasting?

I like them all! So far, no overwhelming preference. Maybe a slight edge for Baby Crawford and Gold Dust.

I’ll share what I’ve been doing for peach pruning in case it helps. Below are 2 views of my contender peach that is on whatever Gurney’s sells as “standard” rootstock. The current height is about 7-feet tall and about the same in width. I winter prune for structure, thin the canopy a bit after fruitset as part of my thinning and to keep good sun on the fruit and then do another prunning around late July to tame the biggest new shoots and cut off the ends of most shoots getting too tall. It is far from perfect, but part of my aim has always been to build up lots of ramification of the branches, sometimes even following up with nipping off the ends of the more vigorous new shoots in mid-August. Basically, I understood that the more linear feet of branches the roots were supporting the more the energy was distributed and the less rampant vegetative growth. For shorter tree height you need denser branching and then have to work hard to avoid crossing branches, fruit shading, etc. So far this is working quite well. The buds are just opening now, but even now you can see there are a lot of blooms.

I certainly don’t have the experience and knowledge of some folks here so hopefully they will chime in, but my suggestion is that you need to approach your pruning in a way that you are generating more small branching overall and that, while timing is important, just pruning back hard won’t do it, since the new shoots will be very vigorous and probably put more energy into growth than fruit buds. For that reason, I wonder if your growth is strong if you need any fertilizer at all. I’ve never fertilized this tree. Plus with the trees planted close together you are limiting the total canopy room for each, so I would do what I can to tame vegetative growth, not increase it. If you zoom into the pictures you can see the fewest buds are on the most vigorous branches.

Again, listen to the experts here, but this is just what I’ve been doing.


Walter, I actually meant to comment on this peach tree earlier, but my scattered brain probably had me talking and noting other things at the time. How old is your tree and do you ever irrigate it? Are the fruit still sizable despite lack of fertilizer? I have a 4 year old Intrepid peach that I’m trying to tame to a suburban friendly size. I heavily summer pruned it after it ripened the few fruit that survived last year and winter pruned it to shorten the new branches. It’s probably 8 feet tall by 8 feet wide but branches lower than yours. It’s hard to shape because new vigorous growth tends to be very upright.


My tree is probably going on 6th leaf at this point and arrived as a 1.25" caliper trunk. When I planted it I took all the side shoots off it and topped it at the height you now see it branching. In terms of irrigation, nothing beyond the occasional watering to keep it alive in an extended dry spell. My clay soil holds water pretty well until it gets really dry and I expect there is some reasonable fertility in my base soil, so if it was a low fertility soil with high drainage, like sandy loam, I’d probably get different results. I definitely have to thin aggressively because of all the flowers, since this isn’t a very large tree and it can’t realistically support hundreds of peaches. Squirrels thin it so much more during the season that I get few fruits to maturity, so it is hard to say for sure about fruit size. But what I get seems the right size to me.

Since I have spent some time doing bonsai, I’m more likely to prune early and often to keep balance than just let things grow. The first few years I may have done 2 to 3 rounds of summer pruning to keep it tight and build up the closer branching. I’m not saying it is the right way to do it, but I think the more frequent pruning kept the vigor in check. Your tree has a nice shape, but I probably couldn’t have helped myself from pruning some of those shoots back by half if I was walking by and had pruners in my hand, lol. If you have space, I expect your tree can give you more fruit than mine can support.

For reference, here is a second Contender from Gurney that is a year younger, but I changed my mind and was going to take it out so haven’t been doing the same pruning on it. It is probably at least 12 feet tall already.