Innovations in Peach Training Systems
Although open vase training has reigned for decades as the predominant tree architecture system for eastern peach orchards, the results of recent Penn State research show a change in our peach orchard training systems is long overdue.
The Quad V and Hex V are productive and easy-to-train fruiting wall systems that facilitate mechanization for precision management and labor efficiency.
- [Instructor] Innovative tree training architectures for peach have the potential to improve orchard productivity and management efficiency.
In this short video, we will lead you through the steps for training two of the more promising systems evaluated at Penn State.
The natural tree form of a peach tree is a vase, and the standard tree training system has been an open vase system with three or four primary scaffold branches.
The lack of dwarfing rootstocks for peach limits the extent of orchard intensification, and this is a reason the training system remained largely unchanged for generations.
A modification of the vase is a V shape with one to three scaffold branches on either side of the trunk facing perpendicular to the row.
This more uniform architecture is adaptable to tighter in row tree spacing, which can result in higher early yields and increased opportunities for mechanization.
Our tree fruit team, with support from growers, has been comparing three two-dimensional V systems to a standard open vase system.
The systems were initially developed for California growing conditions, and we adapted our training practices for mid-Atlantic orchards.
The intensive systems tested were Perpendicular V with two main scaffolds and trees planted five feet apart, a Quad V with four scaffolds and trees planted seven feet apart, and the Hex V with six scaffolds and trees planted 10 feet apart.
The four and six scaffold systems were the most productive, as they produced more bearing surface per acre than the Perpendicular V and they filled their space more quickly than the open vase.
The closely planted V systems also produce the most two and 3/4 to three inch diameter fruit, demonstrating large size fruit is possible if good management practices, such as timely crop thinning and irrigation are applied.
In deciding whether or not you want to try the Hex V or Quad V, consider the crop value, return on investment, and new market opportunities.
The more valuable the crop, the greater is the value of increased tree density.
Also, consider opportunities to simplify pruning and crop load management.
The basic principles for training peach or nectarine trees to either a Quad or Hex V system are similar, and here are the steps beginning at planting.
Plant Quad V trees on full-sized rootstocks at seven feet between trees and 16 feet between rows, making adjustments for soils and cultivars where growth is likely to be stronger or weaker.
Plant Hex V trees at 10 feet by 16 to 18 feet.
Head the trees at planting and remove shoots on the lower portion of the trunk.
Heading height depends on the tree caliber, but is generally 18 to 24 inches above the soil line.
Save more limbs than you need on either side of the trunk perpendicular to the row so that you can select the best two or three, depending on the system, the following dormant season.
Head back feathers to leave two to four viable buds on each.
Once the new shoots have grown about 10 to 12 inches in this first season, head all of them in half.
During the remainder of the first season, walk through the orchard periodically to remove overly upright branches or branches that originate too low on the trunk.
At the start of the second growing season or second leaf, select the permanent scaffolds on either side facing the drive row.
That's two per side for the Quad V and three per side for the Hex V.
Remove all other limbs.
If the number or quality of the scaffolds fall short, rehead one or two as needed.
Thin out any side shoots on the selected scaffolds to create a single axis.
This will enable the tree to fill in its allotted space more quickly.
Early in the second growing season, begin to train each scaffold to a 25 to 30 degree angle from vertical.
Install seven foot bamboo poles in the ground at this angle, and secure the bamboo poles with a double wrap of duct tape where they intersect on the trunk.
Tie the scaffold limbs to the bamboo at least two places initially and continue to add ties as the limbs grow.
Training requirements are minimal during the remainder of the second season.
Make a quick trip through the block to remove any crow's feet where the terminal bud formed at the end of the first leaf and to select an appropriate number of scaffolds from any reheading done at the start of the second leaf.
Also, thin out any side shoots on the scaffolds that are too vigorous or plentiful.
These side shoots are fruiting laterals for the first crop in the third leaf, so be careful not to thin too many at this stage of growth.
Trees are usually not permitted to fruit in northeastern climates until the third season.
This allows the canopy to grow and fill its space without competition from the fruit.
Your strategic tree training and pruning begin to pay off in year three.
Select 10 fruiting laterals per scaffold, assuming two fruit per fruiting lateral and two and 3/4 to three inch peaches.
This allows for a crop of 250 to 300 bushels per acre, a suitable level of cropping for young trees still filling their space.
After the trees fill their allotted space, leave up to 15 fruiting laterals per scaffold, and, again, thin to two fruit each for a total of 400 to 425 bushels per acre, making adjustments for differences in tree vigor.
The goals of pruning mature trees are to optimize sunlight interception, which will increase fruit size and quality.
At this stage, the trees need only slight summer pruning in July to remove vigorous upright shoots that shade the lower parts of the tree.
Dormant pruning consists of removing branches that are older than one year or shortening secondary branches back to the first strong fruiting lateral.
The ideal fruiting shoots to retain are 10 to 18 inches long, with a basal diameter of 1/4 inch or slightly more.
Although open base training has reigned as the predominant system in eastern orchards for over 150 years, the results of our Penn State research show that a change in our peach orchard training systems is long overdue.
The Quad V and Hex V are productive and easy to train tree wall systems that facilitate mechanization for precision management and labor efficiency.
For more information on establishing and training orchards, visit the Penn State Extension Tree Fruit Production Website.
If growing fruit trees is a new venture for you, gather as much information as possible prior to planting a new orchard.
And also consider taking a Penn State Extension workshop on commercial fruit growing.