Greenhouse-Trained Peach ‘Duke of York’

PHASE 2
vertical fruiting offsets

AUG 2022

By late August 2022, we had experienced two heatwaves with temperatures in the thirties and two months without rain. I had watered the peach deeply a couple of times during the drought, but the heat and sun had made it put on LOTS of growth. It needed another pruning, but the more I looked at it, the more I regretted my decision to train it as a fan with so many permanent branches.

All of this growth needed removing and/or training. But where would I tie it in? I had already used most of the available wall space. The problem was that next year’s fruit will form on new growth (i.e. on these new shoots), but not on the branches that have flowered and fruited this year. As I looked at the structure, I realised that I had tied in too many young branches last year, leaving no space for this year’s growth to be tied in. Ideally, one would remove the branches that had born fruit this year, and replace them with new shoots which would fruit next year.

In the last two years I have simply tied in the new growth to create an ever-larger fan. But now I have run out of space. If I just cut off all of this excess growth, I will be left for the most part with branches that have already fruited. I can tie in a few short shoots here and there, but my crop is being pushed to the periphery. What to do?

So, I decided to do something drastic. Something that will take several years to fully realise. I decided to cut almost everything off: a serious reworking of the whole structure…

So what have I done and why have I done it? In short, I’ve come up with a sustainable management protocol based on a simple pair of permanent horizontal branches.

the new plan

New structure of my trained greenhouse peach from August 2022. (Leaves omitted for clarity). KEY: ORANGE = permanent framework branches, BLUE = flowering/fruiting stems trained in previous year, GREEN = this year’s replacement growth

To achieve the new structure I cut back all of the diagonal framework branches that I had previously trained in. Removing the fan shaped pattern of branches, I only allowed two roughly horizontal ones to remain, almost like a step-over apple. These will be my permanent framework (orange). Biennial shoots will be trained from here (blue and green) which are roughly 12-16inches apart..

Peach Fan — pruning plan vs.2

Establishing the framework (ORANGE)

ORANGE FRAMEWORK BRANCHES
If I was starting from scratch*, I would train two horizontal branches out from the main trunk at about 18inches above the ground. When these reach the ends of the wall they should be cut off to prevent further growth.

In the spring, buds are identified that are pointing upwards (approximately in the plane of the wall). All other buds are rubbed or pinched out.

Of the upward-pointing buds, only sufficient are retained to produce the vertical shoots required. These should be spaced approximately 12 -16 inches apart.

*In my case, as I was starting from a fan, I removed (pruned off) all of the other existing branches leaving just two horizontal ones.

MANAGING FRUITING SHOOTS (BLUE/GREEN)

BLUE SHOOTS
In a given year the older (blue) shoots will flower and fruit. Any side shoots or extension growth that appears along these during the season will be pruned or pinched out promptly, so that the shoot contains only leaves, flowers and, later, fruit. After harvest, in late autumn, these can be cut back close to their base, leaving a short stump from which buds will form in the spring.

GREEN SHOOTS
At the start of the year, buds that form along the base of the stumps from the previous year will be examined. A good strong bud* pointing in a favourable direction will be identified and the other buds from that stump will be rubbed or pinched out. The strong shoot emerging from here will be trained vertically up to the eves at which point it will be pruned off. Any side shoots will be removed as they form, so that a single vertical shoot is created, ready to fruit next year.

*Where there is uncertainty, or simply as an insurance policy, two buds can be kept initially. Once they start growing and their respective shoots can be evaluated, one can be removed, leaving the better of the two.

In this way the role of green and blue shoots alternate over a two year cycle, with one set producing fruit each year and the other set producing strong replacement shoots.

Well, that’s the theory. I’ve taken drastic steps, but in the end, I think I made the right decision. Come back next year to see if it worked!

2023

LATE MARCH — Considering how hard I pruned it last year, I was surprised at the amount of flowers that appeared on the stems this spring. Despite looking quite spindly at this time of the year, over the next six weeks, the tree will put on a lot of growth… See!…

Before pruning

MID-MAY — Look how quickly it has grown! The new shoots are sticking out in all directions. Time to get in there and get it back in shape.

In future years, once I have got my routine worked out, I will remove misaligned buds and shoots throughout April, tying in as I go, which will avoid this kind of chaos, but this year, while I am getting the hang of things, I wanted it to develop some long shoots that I could tie in.

First, I located the tall one year old shoots that I had in place at the end of last year. The young fruits developing along these stems only need a few leaves above or beyond them, so long side shoots are a waste of space. So, I cut back these side shoots to one or two leaves. I also took out the tips at the greenhouse eves to stop them growing taller.

Next, working from left to right, I selected and tied in long, new shoots, to create a series of verticals parallel to the existing one-year-old fruiting shoots, with an approximate spacing of 8 inches. As I did this, I cut out shoots that were too small, of didn’t fit into the scheme, and especially any that were growing towards the wall:

After pruning

This filled in approximately one third to half of the wall space. As you can see, the main horizontal branch to the left and right are still rather immature and have not produced long enough growth to create new uprights on the parts of the greenhouse wall yet. The plan is to repeat the process above next year, and gradually fill in the remaining wall space.

I had been somewhat confused about how to progress this stage in my management plan, as my aim is to end up with an alternating series of vertical canes: new…old…new…old…new…old…, but how does one get there? Currently I have this:

MAY 2023 — So, here is the situation: The main framework (orange) is in place, and the beginning of alternating vertical shoots. Currently, there are three fruiting shoots (last year’s growth – blue) and eight new shoots (this year’s growth – green)

Normally, all the green shoots would be left to flower and fruit next year (becoming next year’s blue shoots). The blue shoots will be cut down to a few inches from their base, so that they will grow replacement shoots next year which can be trained in their places (these will become next year’s green shoots). However, to produce the alternating pattern I want with half blue and half green shoots, at the end of this year, I will cut out some of the green shoots — treating them as if they were blue. If all goes to plan, then by this time next year, I should have the proper alternating pattern.

July 2023 — The tree fruited very well this year. After thinning, I had approximately 35 peaches which grew to harvest. The photo above was taken shortly after pruning back the excess growth which was shading the peaches. I think I need to do this earlier to enable the peaches to get more sunlight earlier. As you can see many of the peaches are rather green/anaemic.

A few weeks later and some of the peaches were ready for eating. This year’s peach harvest was the best so far (in terms of quantity). Their flavour varied from just OK to quite good. The flesh was generally tender, occasionally melt-in-the-mouth. Sometimes the sweetness was lacking, other times the acid-tang or fragrance was lacking. A few of the peaches were exceptionally good. Generally, these were ones that were less crowded, larger and in full sun.

Fuller’s Earth as an organic spider-mite treatment
In the photo above, you can see that the older leaves have a white bloom on them. This is due to a spray of Fuller’s Earth (also known as Diatomaceous Cretaceous Earth). This white powder is used to treat mites and fleas on pets, and treat ant colonies, woodlice and other insect pests. It consists of the fossil remains of microscopic sea creatures. These tiny shell-fragments are inherently sharp — almost like microscopic shards of glass — which can puncture the carapaces of tiny insects, leading them to die by dehydration. Fuller’s earth, is however, harmless to larger insects, pets and children. It is only effective when dry, however, and is usually applied by sprinkling or dusting around ant nests or in pet/hen housing. I recently learned that it can be mixed with water and applied to plants using standard pump sprays. I sprayed the leaves of the peach in an attempt to prevent spider-mites which are always a problem in the dry atmosphere of a greenhouse. It certainly seems to have worked.

2024

February 2024 — I gave the tree (and greenhouse wall) a second winter wash using dilute Jay’s fluid and fuller’s earth. This is to reduce the population of overwintering pests (especially any hibernating red spider-mites!)

Mid-March, before corrective pruning

March 2024 — With the peach in flower and green buds breaking, mid-March was the perfect time to undertake the corrective pruning to establish the correct alternating verticals. Unfortunately, this meant cutting out many flowering branches which, if left, would have produced peaches this year. However, in the long term, this thorough pruning was essential.

As explained in May-2023, I didn’t have an alternating pattern of shoots last year, so want to get it right this year. Also, some of the verticals (especially near the central section) are actually three or four year’s old. These have to come out, so that shoots are never more than two years old (i.e. new shoots grow from buds close to main horizontal stem in year 1, flower and fruit in year 2, then are cut back to a new bud to repeat the two year pattern in year 3/4)

Corrective Pruning

The above two photos show the drastic corrective pruning needed to get the alternating system of shoots on track, especially in the centre of the tree where there were three (or four?) year old branches and a lack of alternation.

In the right-hand image, you can see alternating vertical light and dark strings indicating the A/B years of growth. These show the desired position of the alternating (1) White string: last year’s growth which is now flowering (=this year’s fruit) vs (2) Dark string: spaces created for new buds to grow up.

Because the previous year’s growth was not yet in the desired alternating pattern (1-year old / 2-year old / 1-year old / 2-year old etc), I had insufficient 1-year old shoots to occupy all of the white strings. This time next year, I will have to treat some of the 1-year old shoots as 2-year old and cut them right back. But at that point, every string will have the correct-age vertical shoot on it. Hopefully, this long and complicated process will be worth while!

Next steps:

  1. The task going forwards is to choose one strong new shoots to train up each of the bare strings. All other new shoots will be pruned back hard (some right back, others to a couple of inches*.
  2. Side shoots on this year’s flowering verticals will be pinched back frequently so that there are just a few leaves to provide energy for the fruit.

* I have heard some people completely pinch off all unwanted buds at this stage (i.e. in March) instead of letting them grow into shoots at all, but I would be concerned that over time, there may not be sufficient active points for new buds production in the spring, as older wood will produce buds less freely. My thinking, therefore, is to always retain a few younger “spurs” towards the base of the verticals and along the main horizontal structure, that will more readily produce new vegetative buds.

Mid-March, after corrective pruning, showing the alternating pattern of A/B shoots.
Orange: main framework; Blue: (A) This year’s flowering/fruiting shoots (dotted blue = unused); Green: (B) Where new shoots will be trained this year.

More to come…

This post will be regularly updated as the peach tree develops and I train it further. Check back regularly!


10 thoughts on “Greenhouse-Trained Peach ‘Duke of York’”

  1. I am also starting to train my peach tree as a fan. I have planted it on the South facing wall of my house. It is very simiar shape to your tree. However, I have read that peaches should only be trained starting with a framework of two ribs with all branches growing from those two ribs and the top leading shoot cut off. Is that true from your experience or can I allow for more ribs in the fan?

    Reply
    • Certainly, starting with two (left right) branches (and removing the leader) is the traditional method. I was talked out of it by the nurseryman who sold me mine, so I went with his advice and simply shortened all the shoots by 1/3rd after planting. I can already see from the growth it has put on this year that the upper side shoots are more vigorous than the lower ones which may make it difficult in the long run to get full width coverage lower down. So I think the traditional method would have been better. As an experiment, though, I’ll continue with my multi-tier fan and see how it pans out. For me fruit training is an experimental and creative pursuit rather than a strictly right/wrong business and I enjoy seeing what I can do with what I’ve got. If I’m not happy with the results, I’ll chop out the middle and train it the traditional way. Hope you have fun (and success) with yours!

      Reply
  2. I have really enjoyed reading about your peach and the progress. I have been reading lots of different websites but yours is the first that has given a regular update, which is nice to see as I try to imagine what to cut/prune/train. We have just moved into a new property 6months ago, and we are now in winter (NZ) so I know I need to get onto it soon.

    Just a big thank you for the progress, it’s great to see it visually on an actual tree 😊

    Reply
    • Thanks Media, I’m so pleased! I write my blog just for the pleasure of recording what goes on in my garden. It’s so gratifying that it actually turns out to be useful to others!

      Reply
  3. Very interesting! Your new training method sounds like the “Upright Fruiting Offshoot” (UFO) method. From reading various websites and books explaining how peach trees grow, I had thought that this could be a good method, so it is very good to hear about someone doing it in practice. I planted a peach in December, and am considering using this method of training.

    Reply
    • I learned it from a Youtube video and realising that my tree was out of control thought it might be a solution. However, already this year, the new growth is overwhelming. Although simple in principle, I still find it hard to get my head round. For example, I have three one year old shoots which will fruit this year and dozens of fresh growth. I have to choose just, say, eight of these to train vertically which will bear next year’s fruit and cut out the rest. I will then cut back the three that have fruited (how far?) Then in the following year I will need new growing points for the eight new shoots which lie in between the eight I train this year… I don’t think I’ll feel comfortable with this until the sequence has proved itself for a couple of cycles!

      Reply
    • I recall reading that peaches are reluctant to sprout from old wood. So I suppose that you might want to cut the fruited branches back to their lowest bud (or perhaps second-lowest, in case there is a problem with the lowest). As a result, the stumps would gradually get taller over time, reducing the vertical space available for new growth. But since peaches are supposed to be shorter-lived than other fruit trees, this may not be a problem.

      Do you know which rootstock you have? I believe seedling peach is especially vigorous.

      I can imagine that establishing your vertical branches in the right places could be more tricky on a tree which has already been there a few years.

      Reply
      • Yes, I was thinking that (re: cutting back to lowest two buds)

        I think I have to make these decisions early in the seasons and prune back side shoots that are not part of the overall plan much earlier as the growth is quite rampant and chaotic by mid summer.

        I’m not sure of the rootstock, but looking at the supplier’s site I think it would be St Julian A.

        Reply

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