Groundhog has ruined the shape of my peach tree

Asked August 6, 2015, 1:37 PM EDT

Last year, the groundgogs discovered my baby peach tree and broke off most of its upstanding limbs leaving it looking like an upside down "L". This year I was proactive, wrapped plastic doodads and covered the truck with them and "tanglefoot" insect repellent to discourage the animals from climbing and getting to the fruit. (Now my deck is covered in dots of tanglefoot from the beasts!) How do I give my little tree a better shape than it currently has?

Nassau County New York

3 Responses

Well aren't you lucky to have such acrobatic groundhogs! I'd never heard of groundhogs climbing trees before, but in researching your situation, lo and behold!... they can, and do! Not so lucky for your peach tree...

I might be tempted to put small fence in a circle a few feet away from the tree as more secure (and less messy) way to prevent the critters from getting back on it.

As for reshaping it, I'm a bit surprised not to see new growth from below the break. In order to rebalance the tree you need to encourage new growth buds on the empty side. To do so you'll need to prune back the strong branch that is left, perhaps back to where the first laterals are growing. Also prune back the upright (water sprout?). Do this in the late winter before growth starts next spring.This may encourage new buds to break on the bare side. Once that happens you can continue pruning the way you did when the tree was very young. It'll take a few years before it is productive again.

(This is basically what I had to do with a 3-year-old crab tree this spring here which had all but one branch [looks much like your peach!] stripped off by the terrible snow load here last winter. It now has lots of new top growth and I should be able to selectively prune it next spring to re-establish a good branching pattern... so long as the snow doesn't pile up so bad again this year!).

To avoid risk of infection I would also cut off the broken trunk and dead secondary branch (on the right in the picture) with a clean smooth angled cut of your pruning shears.

The tree is pretty seriously damaged and since no buds broke on the bare side this year, I am not sure the severe pruning will necessarily change that. Since you will be essentially restarting the tree from scratch anyway, you might consider simply removing it and replacing it with a new one next spring.

Good luck

In spite of the damage, the little tree is loaded with fruit. It must be killing my groundhogs since they try to get it and instead get that filthy sticky stuff on their paws. The tree is only 3 seasons old with us and seems vigorous inspite of the damage and fungus which I keep spraying.... I will prune as suggested, Do you think that I should take the plastic guards off the trunk after we remove the fruit? Too bad you couldn't see the gouges in the branches etc that the animal made. He was too heavy for the baby tree which is why so many of the branches came off. Thanks for your help! Margaret

Great that you have a good fruit load. I thought I saw a peach in your original picture but wasn't sure it was from this tree or another one. Lucky you!

The plastic guards won't hurt anything as long as they are not tight on the tree. They're useful to have on over the winter as they can help prevent smaller rodent from gnawing the bark under the snow and will prevent sun scald in the late winter or early spring. If the guards are tight they should be removed.
Enjoy those peaches!