What to do with this Contender Peach



This Contender sent only one branch out off the central leader and that branch sent up a water sprout that seems to want to be the new central leader. So here is my conundrum. Do I cut off the water sprout and hope the central leader isn’t dead and decides to send out some more scaffold branches or do I cut back the central leader and let the water sprout become the new central leader? The second picture is a close up of the water sprout to show the blotchiness of the bark. All of the branches have this. Is this normal for the bark of a Contender or is it something I need to worry about? The tree behind to the right is a Reliance Peach and the tree behind to the left is a Hale Haven.


So my purpose of wanting to have a taller central leader is that my goal is to do delayed open center for my scaffolds so the scaffolds don’t all originate from the same elevation on the central leader. I also need to encourage more scaffolds to grow. If I can somehow encourage those scaffolds to come off the original central leader I am thinking that will make a stronger tree. If I cut the original central leader down to where the one branch currently comes off from it and let the water sprout become the new central leader then I already have a number of branches on it to select from for the scaffolds, but I am concerned about the point where the branch comes off the original central leader being weak and eventually break supporting the load of the rest of the tree above it. Thoughts, opinions?


If you can’t tell if the central leader lives (scratch bark to see if it is green underneath) then wait until tree buds out to prune. Peaches don’t need to be pruned when dormant and in the east it is recommended to wait until they are actively growing.

If the central leader has life you can cut off the vigorous “branch”, but you still may be better served to leave the vigorous upright and create a new trunk from it. Just remove the current lateral and cut it to the height you desire your scaffolds, or somewhat above if you want more control and to sustain a central leader for a while.

The tree will grow faster using he vigorous upright, but will never have as straight a trunk, which isn’t a problem beyond visuals. Just make sure it is coming out above the graft union.


Thank You. Having a crooked trunk doesn’t bother me. I plan on pruning it to an open center. I am just wanting to have 8 to 10" vertically between scaffolds. So it sounds like I need to prune back the original central leader and let the more vigorous branch take over and provide the scaffolds. Should I also prune back the branch the new central leader is growing on? It will probably be a couple months until I get up there to do this pruning.


Can you tell me why it is recommended? to prevent mass shoot growth from thinning cuts? just curious, I failed to prune one of my peaches over the winter and was just lamenting about it yesterday, but if i have more time…:partying_face:


Because they are better able to ward off canker when in active growth and wounding cuts make them vulnerable. Pruning later seems to have no affect on overall vigor and growth of peach trees.


I never worry at all about distance between scaffolds and neither do growers of commercial orchards I’ve seen, although I’ve read some concern in the literature of scaffolds close together trapping snow and being broken by the expansion of ice created by freeze-thaw. I’ll need to see that happen with at least one of the hundreds of trees I manage to consider that a genuine issue in S. NY

However, I don’t believe I’ve every read guidelines suggesting 8-10 inches between scaffolds, with 2-3" seeming more sensible. That strikes me as highly impractical in the creation of a tier in a central leader or for a central leader shape.

What is your reason?

My concern is for scaffolds to be of similar diameter, and to certainly avoid a substantially larger one on the south side of a tree. For strength of union, it is also helpful if scaffolds don’t exceed one half the diameter of the trunk where they meet.

I occasionally break that rule with peaches, but certainly avoid scaffolds with inverted bark at the union with the trunk.


I may be off on the 8-10". I’ll have to look more into what is recommended for delayed open center. The different pruning methods I’ve read about so far are Open Center, Delayed Open Center, Central Leader and Modified Central Leader.


If you are pruning to an open center, 2-3" of vertical space is sufficient. 8 to 10" would leave your highest scaffold too high.

I try to keep 2-3" of vertical space b/t scaffolds. If scaffolds arise from the same vertical point, any growth of the central trunk beyond that will be choked. If the last two scaffolds arise from the same vertical point, they have a bit more probability of one of them splitting the trunk at that point.

As mentioned, you want to prune young peach trees during the growing season if possible. They tend to die if pruned heavily just before or during dormant season. I’ve never seen any drawback pruning young peach trees during the growing season.

In terms of picking a new central leader to prune to a delayed open center, this is going to be a gamble for you, in this case. Newer wood tends to throw more adventitious shoots. If you do choose the new offset central leader, I would remove the lateral extension at the base of the new central leader. One key to getting peach wood to throw some adventitious shoots is to make sure the tree doesn’t have a lot of choices to push growth elsewhere. This works most of the time if the tree is set up to be vigorous, but it’s not a 100% guarantee by any means. I have a few peach trees which wouldn’t throw out new wood where I wanted them to when they were younger.

It’s not “normal” to have those spots on the bark you asked about. Normal being defined here as healthy. My guess is they are scab lesions. In humid/rainy areas, it is normal to have scab lesions on shoots of peach trees which have been sprayed little or nothing. But if your question is, is it good, then the answer is no. Those lesions require energy from the tree to be healed, cut off nutrient flow and provide more inoculate the following season to peaches and shoots.

For sure, scab lesions on shoots are not panic time for a home grower, as many home growers live with lots of scab on peaches, but scabby peaches (although only a cosmetic issue by itself) do offer more opportunity for brown rot, which is more serious than a cosmetic issue.


If pruning is followed by very cold weather. It’s not a problem for me in late winter after extreme cold is passed. I prune most of my customer’s trees when they are dormant out of necessity because there’s just too much to do in spring. The only time trees have suffered is when temps dropped to single digits (not predicted) immediately following.

I don’t see much peach canker either, if I did, it would have to alter my timing strategy.


Totally! I just see death from severely cutting back young peach trees in the dormant season or just before,. Mind you, these are vigorous trees which are cut back severely (50% or more of the wood removed) to choose 3 scaffolds. They have mixed results cutting them back hard at that time. Some do OK, but some don’t make it through the winter, even if the winter is mild.


I’m suspect the physiology of your trees is different due to colder winter temps here. The vast majority of peach trees I manage get pruned in March and that means some big branch removal at times.

You know that the “dormant” season represents a lot of different levels of winter hardiness. Here, once we are out of single digits, I consider it safe to prune peach trees as hard as needed. However, we do occasionally get extreme cold in March- this year our coldest night was actually in Dec.


Whatever the dark spots are along with a grey powder on the branches seems to be slowly killing the tree so I am thinking it is going to have to be pulled out and burned before it infects my other trees. I ordered another Contender to replace it. The question now is whether it is safe to plant the new tree in the same location this tree is coming out of.


In keeping with the peach questions and not starting a new thread for a topic that doesn’t need it’s own thread. I have a Hale Haven peach tree that seems to be the most vigorous growing peach I have so far. I don’t hear much about and searching doesn’t find much conversation about this particular tree. I am wondering why that is. Is there a problem with this tree that makes it undesirable or is it not talked about because there are more desirable trees in its fruiting period that people prefer over this variety?


Hale Haven is a fine peach. I’ve not grown it myself but other people on the forum have. It is supposedly more susceptible to bac. spot, which is why I’ve never tried it, but that shouldn’t be too big a deal for a backyard orchard.

It is one of those rare peach varieties which is pollen sterile, so you will need a different variety to pollenize your Hale Haven.

In terms of your dying Contender peach, the spots should not be contagious in the soil, so you should be free to plant another peach in the same location.

There is a caveat though. Generally spots like you show in your pic won’t kill a tree, although they can weaken it. But by themselves, the spots shouldn’t kill your tree.

There is probably another contributing factor killing the tree. My guess is too much water. I don’t know what the ground water situation has been in MI this spring, but probably very wet, which peach trees hate.

I know you have other peach trees close by the dying one which are doing fine, but I’ve found sometimes some peach trees close by tolerate more water on their roots than others. I don’t know what the reason is, but I’ve seen it in my own backyard orchard at my house. So, if you plant in the same spot, you might get the same result (i.e. dying tree).

One thing you can do (and I’ve done in my backyard orchard) is to find a place where you can get some good dirt (ideally some you don’t have to buy). Collect about ten 5 gallon buckets of dirt. Then put your new peach tree right on top of the soil in the place you want to plant it. Don’t dig a hole, just place the roots right on top of the ground. Then dump your 5 gallon buckets of dirt on top of the roots, until you’ve built yourself a little mound around your peach tree. After that you should have no worries about getting your peach tree started, no matter how much rain occurs.


i have to do this with all my fruits here because we get a lot of rain and my rocky clay soil doesn’t drain well. some I’ve also planted in raised beds. they also grow a lot faster than planting in the ground.


I have sandy loam soil that drains very well and about 100ft back from where the peaches are is a slope down to a valley so no standing water in the area and the water table is lower than the trees root systems. Besides the spots in the bark there is a grey powdery substance on the branches. Unfortunately I am in Texas so don’t have any first hand information about what is going on. I just get pictures and information from my family member that is taking care of the trees for me.

I was not aware that the Hale Haven was pollen sterile. Everything I have read about it says it is self pollinating. I do have 2 Red Havens a Reliance and a Contender nearby though so shouldn’t have any pollination issues. The J.H. Hale which is one of its parents requires a pollinizer, but the only site I found saying the Hale Haven needed a pollinizer seemed to be confusing it with its parent the J.H. Hale.


If the soil drains as well as you indicate, then water wouldn’t be the issue. I have no other suggestions as to why your tree is dying.

I’ve always read Halehaven is pollen sterile, like it’s parent J.H. Hale. There are some nurseries which claim Halehaven is self-fruitful in the descriptions, but many times nursery descriptions lack accuracy.

Here is a link to the Handbook of Peach and Nectarine Varieties by Dick Okie. Fairly authoritative, imo. In remarks it says, “Too soft and does not ship well. Susceptible to brown rot. Obsolete. Carries gene for pollen sterility.”


Here is what Arizona extension says, “Nearly all peaches are self-fruitful and do not need pollenizers. Varieties with Hale in the name like Early Hale or Hale Haven will require another variety as a pollinizer. The variety Indian Free produces sterile pollen and needs another peach variety for pollenization. Thinning needed for large fruit, (see page 5). Genetic dwarfs are available.”


“Carries gene for pollen sterility” is not the same as “pollen sterile” since the gene is recessive. For varieties like J.H. Hale, Earlihale, Hal-Berta Giant, Mikado, Summerqueen, etc., Okie explicitly writes “pollen sterile”, but not so for Halehaven. Also, Okie uses an 8-letter code for each variety, and for pollen sterile varieties the 8th letter is “p” (see page 375). For example, J.H. Hale’s code is “pyfmlrnp”. However, Halehaven’s code is “pyfmmgn-”, i.e., it has no “pollen sterile” designation. Furthemore, there exist multiple varieties (e.g., Cardinal, Dixired, Milam, Southland) that are self-pollinated seedlings of Halehaven (Okie designates them as “Pedigree: Halehaven self”), which would be impossible if Halehaven had sterile pollen.


Thanks Stan. This has turned in a bit of a mystery. As I mentioned I’ve always read anything with Hale in the name is pollen sterile. But maybe they are reading into things like I was. You make a good case that Okie seems to indicate Halehaven is not pollen sterile. I consider his book an authority, so I think I’m swayed (for the moment) that it is self-fertile.

Again thanks for bringing more clarity.