Although only a month of autumn remains ‘down-under’ in Australia, the failure of follow-up rains to fall, following the break of the season, has meant that our soils have stayed warm and that deciduous fruit trees have remained in leaf. So summer pruning still remains a very real option in gaining control of next year’s peach crop.
That pruning is necessary at all, following such a spectacular peach harvest, comes about because of the sheer magnitude of the damage done to the trees; branches broke under the weight of dozens of peaches despite my best efforts to tie and prop them up. They had gone unpruned in the previous autumn while I was away in Europe for four months for the family’s sake.
Whereas ‘winter pruning’ is useful for getting control of a tree’s shape, ‘summer pruning’ of peaches allows me to control next Spring’s vegetative growth – I need to restrain the amount of light-weight fruit-bearing shoots that the tree produces. Specifically, I’m looking to grow fruit only on stubby limbs of the tree that point upwards; these tend to bear the weight of fruit better than those longer ones that already hang somewhat downwards.
And because these trees are inside the netted orchard, unless I get control of their height this autumn, they will punch up through the net next year and damage it. So two months after harvest, with no rain in sight and while the tree still has a chance to use its energy to heal the saw cuts, the pruning saw and secateurs reshape the tree to this purpose.
Meanwhile, up nearer the house, my espaliered peach is easier to prune – I just use secateurs to prune it back to a set height while maintaining its basic chalice shape. Some of these cuts take the shoots back to last year’s wood, but others merely take out half of the vertical risers. Not only does this keep fruit at a respectable height for picking by the cook, but it allows the winter sun to reach into the kitchen over the coming months when it is most needed.