In peach- and prune-growing centres from California east to the Atlantic the commercial pruning is often excessive, literally cutting wagon-loads of brush to the acre. This severe thinning and cutting of side limbs is followed by excessive growth of new wood which forces summer cutting back to check excessive growth of new wood. Beyond all doubt this is an exhaustive and useless procedure where lighter annual pruning is possible under methodic management. The peach bears upon wood of the preceding year's growth mainly. Hence the growers who follow the directions of Charles Downing will secure the most perfect conditions for continued growth of firm bearing wood. He says: "Let us take a healthy tree in the orchard or garden in its first blossoming year. It is usually about six to eight feet high, its well-shaped head branching out about three feet from the ground. It has never yet been trimmed, except to regulate any deformity in its shape, and this is so much the better.
"At the end of February, or as early in the spring as may be, we commence pruning. This consists only of shortening-in, i.e., cutting off half the last year's growth over the whole outside of the head of the tree, and also upon the inner branches. As the usual average growth is from one to two feet, we shall necessarily take off from six to twelve inches. It need not be done with precise measurement; indeed, the strongest shoots should be shortened back most, in order to bring up the others, and any long or projecting limbs that destroy the balance of the head should be cut back to a uniform length. This brings the tree into a well-rounded shape. By reducing the young wood one half, we at the same moment reduce the coming crop one half in number. The remaining half, receiving all the sustenance of the tree, are of double the size. The young shoots, which start out abundantly from every part of the tree, keep it well supplied with bearing wood for the next year, while the greater luxuriance and size of the foliage, as a necessary consequence, produces larger and higher-flavored fruit."
Where peach-trees are not subject to injury of top, as in southern Georgia at Tifton, or in California, the Downing plan, with such modifications as the age of the tree suggests, is still followed by methodic growers, with the added work of cutting out dead wood and all wood that has lost its usefulness. But in sections where the new wood is occasionally injured by winter, pruning is done on the principle of retaining a large majority of the buds found alive regardless of the form of the tree. With more favorable years the defects in form can be righted in large part. Pruning every year to regulate the supply of healthy bearing wood is the correct plan, and in reality it involves no more work than neglect for a few years, followed by the severe cutting back so often practised.
The apricot bears on the wood of the previous year's growth and on spurs of the newer wood. In the apricot-growing centres of California under irrigation, the first two years, and the first half of the third year, are given to the development by pruning of a vigorous upright tree with good form and strong limbs, so arranged as to get the main crop of fruit near the centre of the tree. After fruit-gathering while yet the foliage is perfect, the after-pruning consists mainly in cutting back half of the new growth over the whole top. This, with water at the roots, starts new growth on which fruit-buds develop for the next year's fruiting. The late summer pruning is continued until the time comes when the old wood must be cut out on the renewal plan for the formation of a new top.
East of the mountains the tendency of all the varieties tested under culture is to make long open growth when young. Hence the young trees need cutting back in the dormant period to thicken the top and increase the number of well-grown bearing spurs and shoots. After reaching bearing size summer cutting back of one half the new growth after fruiting tends to check the naturally rampant growth and seems to favor the holding and ripening of the fruit. But this cutting back is only needed in the early stages of bearing. As the trees get older the extension of growth will be less and the main pruning will be in the way of cutting out dead wood and when the trees get old the shortening of the whole top (144). Old apricot-trees will bear this cutting back as well as the apple, if a few limbs are taken out each year until a new top is formed, as is done in California.