Pruning Nectarine Trees To Boost Yield & Healthy Growth

The nectarine tree is unlike many other fruit trees that can grow and produce fruit with minimal effort. From the moment it is planted and throughout its lifespan, it requires constant attention and diligent use of sharp, sterilized pruning shears.

Pruning the nectarine tree is a crucial part of caring for the tree and can help boost the annual yield and improve the tree’s growth.

Why Pruning Nectarine Trees Is Important

Pruning nectarine trees is an ongoing process, and it has different benefits to the tree throughout its life cycle. We can sum up those benefits as follows:

Improve Survival Rates

When you buy a young nectarine tree to plant, many of the small roots on the tree die during transportation. This puts a lot of strain on the remaining roots to absorb enough moisture and nutrients to support the tree’s foliage.

Pruning the tree after planting it eases the strain on the root system and improves the chances of the tree’s survival.

Trigger Robust Growth

Cutting the leader of the young tree forces the tree to send more nutrients to the smaller lateral branches to develop a dense canopy. This process continues for the first 3 years of the tree’s life.

Maintain the Tree’s Desired Shape

Nectarine trees have a tendency to grow tall at the cost of spreading wide. By pruning the tree regularly, you maintain its shape and keep it compact and manageable in size.

Boost Yield

Not all the branches of the nectarine bear the same number of fruits. Branches bending downward often have fewer fruits than those growing horizontally. The same applies to vertical branches.

With pruning, you choose which branches to keep to boost the yield.

Ripe nectarines on a tree waiting for harvest.

When To Prune Nectarine Trees 

While your nectarine tree needs regular pruning every year, the exact time of pruning varies depending on the age of the tree and the purpose of pruning itself. Here’s when you should prune nectarine trees.

  • After Planting: Right after planting the young tree, give it a heavy trim to reduce the foliage and cut the leader branch. This helps the tree cope with the transplant shock and triggers the growth of side branches. 
  • January: This is the time for the main annual pruning. You’ll continue to cut the leader until the tree reaches 3 years old and remove outgrowing vertical and horizontal branches. For mature trees, focus on downward-bending branches and suckers.
  • All Year Round: When the nectarine tree gets infected, sap oozes out of the bark and sets. This is called gumming. If you don’t cut the infected branches immediately, the infection will spread to the rest of the tree.

Goals When Pruning Nectarine Trees

You can prune nectarine trees to achieve different goals — it’s not always about maintaining the shape of the tree or managing its size and growth.

Depending on your goal, you can adjust your pruning slightly. Here are the common goals of pruning nectarine trees.

Conserve the Tree’s Resources

This is an important goal of pruning no matter how young or old the tree is. Early on, you’ll cut down the branches to reduce the strain on the underdeveloped root system.

When the tree matures and suckers spring up around its base, cutting them helps the tree focus its resources on the main foliage.

Increase Yield

Once the tree starts bearing fruits, you’ll want to encourage more horizontal branches than vertical or downward-bending ones. This improves airflow and sun exposure of the inner branches.

Maintain Shape

If you don’t want your nectarine tree to shoot up in the air and have an angular shape, then cutting the leader when the tree is young and trimming the vertical branches and the top of the canopy can keep the tree compact.

How To Prune Nectarine Trees

Although it might seem simple enough, pruning nectarine trees is anything but. You need to prepare the tools, choose the right time, and plan ahead.

Before you start cutting, walk around the tree to determine which parts need heavy pruning and where you only need to trim lightly.

Here’s how to prune nectarine trees throughout their different growth stages.

1. Sterilize the Tools

Mix one portion of chlorine bleach in 9 portions of water in a bucket, and soak your shearing tools in the solution for at least 30 minutes. This will kill any pathogens on the tools to avoid infecting the tree.

You should do this step every time you want to prune your nectarine tree or any other tree in the garden.

2. Cut the Leader

After planting a young nectarine tree, you need to prune it. Your goal here is to encourage dense foliage and allow lateral branches to grow.

Identify the leader (the main branch growing directly out of the trunk), and cut it down to about 30 inches. Cut the branch at a 45-degree angle, and paint the cut with white latex paint. 

3. Create a Scaffolding Y Shape

Keep cutting any other branches on the young tree, leaving only two of the scaffolding branches. These are the main branches growing out of the leader. They will grow, branch out, and create a fuller canopy.

Use strings and stakes to bend the two scaffolding branches into a Y shape. Don’t tie them too tightly to allow the branches to grow.

4. Prune the Tree in January

During the first three years of the nectarine tree’s life, pruning is crucial for encouraging growth and keeping the tree in shape.

Every January before the first signs of growth, give the tree a heavy pruning, continuing to reduce the leader and maintain the Y shape.

Decide on the scaffolding branches you want to keep, and cut the leader just above those branches. Paint all the cuts with white latex paint.

5. Keep Short Horizontal Branches

Short horizontal branches will bear fruit one day and will help give the canopy structure and substance.

Cut any long horizontal branches as well as vertical branches. Remove higher branches to allow more sunlight and airflow into the inside of the tree. Always cover all cuts with paint to protect them.

6. Cut Branches with Gumming Signs

Nectarine trees are prone to fungal and bacterial infections where cracks show up in the bark and oozing sap gels. This is called gumming, and the infection could spread to other branches.

Cut any branches showing signs of gumming any time of the year, and dispose of them safely (don’t compost them!).

7. Remove Suckers

After the third year, the nectarine tree establishes. That’s when you’ll see suckers growing out of the base of the tree.

They typically serve no purpose and just take up resources and nutrients that the main branches of the tree need.

Cut each sucker you see back to the ground at a 45-degree angle and paint the cut.

8. Prune Downward Bending Branches

As the tree matures, branches tend to grow in every direction, and some will bend down toward the ground.

These branches have no benefit for the fruit-bearing nectarine tree, and they carry fewer fruits than other branches. Remove them, and seal the cuts with paint.

How To Prune an Overgrown Nectarine Tree

Left to its own devices, the nectarine tree will grow every which way and stick out like a sore thumb. The only way to put the tree back in shape is to prune it heavily.

Here’s what to keep in mind when pruning an overgrown nectarine tree.

  • Evaluate the shape of the tree and decide which parts of the canopy need heavy pruning and which only need light trimming.
  • Remove dead, diseased, and damaged branches.
  • Cut down suckers to the ground.
  • Cut vertical, downward, and crossing branches. 
  • Limit pruning to one-third of the canopy at a time. 
  • Cut half of the previous year’s growth.
  • Make pathways in the foliage to expose the inner branches to sunlight and air circulation.

Pruning Mistakes To Avoid

When pruning your nectarine tree, avoid making these costly mistakes:

  1. Not sealing the cut branches with white latex paint. This protective layer prevents pathogens from infecting the cut branches. 
  2. Nicking the bark while pruning. The damaged bark gives bacteria and fungal spores an opening to enter the tree and fester inside.
  3. Pruning in the spring or summer. Cutting branches during active growth could impact the yield as these branches could bear fruit next year. Pruning in mid to late summer can trigger new growth that won’t have time to harden before winter.
  4. Not removing branches with gumming signs. Gumming is a symptom of a fungal or bacterial infection. The infection could spread if you don’t cut those branches.
  5. Using unsterilized tools. This could cause an infection while pruning the tree.

Closing Thoughts

To ensure that your nectarine tree will grow successfully and give you a decent yield year after year, make sure to prune it correctly every January.

Always seal the pruning cuts with white latex paint to prevent infections, and cut the branches at 45 degrees to trigger healthy growth.

If this is your first attempt at pruning a fruit tree, I highly recommend you watch someone with experience do it first.

YouTube is great for this, but seeing it firsthand is even better. Reach out to local growers for advice, and ask for a demonstration. More than likely, they’ll be happy to help.