(Prunus persica var. nectarina)
About this Fruit Tree
Nectarines are stone fruits similar to peaches, minus the fuzzy skin. They have a smooth, firmer flesh and a distinctively different taste. In our area, nectarine trees can be unpredictable for fruit harvests because they bloom early in the spring, and flowers can be harmed by late frosts that ruin the fruit crop.
How to Grow Nectarines
Nectarines are one of the tree fruits that are self-pollinating. That means gardeners need to plant only one nectarine tree and it will pollinate itself. Of course, more nectarine trees of different varieties will increase pollination.
Nectarines need 6-8 hours of sun each day during the growing season, especially when flowering. Planting in a sheltered area or on a side hill offers some frost protection because cold air sinks. Northern exposures also allow trees to warm up more slowly in spring to prevent early blossom. Avoid south and west exposures which can contribute to frost injury.
Select a sunny spot in the landscape, but avoid planting a nectarine tree in the lawn. Fruit trees need to be situated so they don’t have to compete with other plants for water, oxygen and soil nutrients. Nectarine trees require less fertilizer, too.
Prepare the soil so it’s well-drained to encourage healthy roots. It’s especially important to amend clay soils that drain poorly. For this type of soil, amend deeply (12 inches or more) with an organic amendment, like compost or well-aged manure. For sandy or loamy soils mix about 1/3 compost with 2/3 native soil for good drainage.
Dig a saucer-shaped planting hole that’s shallow, but wide, and also amend the backfill before the tree is planted. Make sure the hole is no deeper than the root ball. Planting too deep slows root growth.
To prevent problems in the future, give your tree the best start possible. Keep in mind these planting tips to reduce transplant shock and to encourage root growth:
- Plant the tree at least a foot away from the lawn area.
- Set the root ball on undisturbed soil 1-2 inches above the soil grade. Give roots plenty of oxygen and make sure there is no backfill over the root ball.
- Make sure the crown of the tree (where the tree trunk meets the tree roots) is above the soil line.
- Fill in around the root ball with the soil removed from the planting hole.
- Mulch over the root ball (keep mulch away from the trunk) and around the tree to maintain soil moisture and help eliminate weeds.
- Water newly planted trees deeply, but infrequently.
- Nectarine trees can benefit from being staked for the first two years after planting.
Fruit trees take time to grow and newly planted trees might not yield much fruit. The yield of fruit crops on older trees may also vary from year to year.
Be patient and continue to care for trees through the year, which may include watering during dry winters. Water once or twice over the winter when the temperatures are above 40 degrees and there is no snow cover. Water early in the day so it soaks in before freezing overnight.
Check the soil around a newly planted tree frequently and water as needed. The root ball could dry quickly and prevent root growth. Water slowly and deeply.
Nectarine trees have few fertilizer requirements, but they may need a boost of nitrogen if they are planted in sandy soils, aren’t showing fast growth or the leaves are stunted.
Two keys to growing great nectarines are pruning and thinning. Trees need to be pruned annually so they keep an upright vase shape and are trained to grow to 7-10 feet tall. That’s because fruits grow in the top 4-5 feet of the tree and taller trees makes for a more difficult harvest.
Some nectarines may need to be removed while small to prevent heavy fruits from breaking branches. Prune the branches after the harvest.
Special Considerations for Growing Nectarine Trees
Nectarines have similar disease problems to peaches. Apply fungicides and dormant oil in spring before the nectarine tree blooms to prevent the following problems. Be sure to follow application instructions.
- Peach leaf curl
- Brown rot
- Peach scab
- Bacterial spot
Peach tree borer is the insect that attacks nectarine trees most often. Spraying with permethrin or a similar insecticide provides some help. Apply twice each season, at the beginning of July and before the middle of August. Follow all label instructions carefully and spray only the trunk (not the fruit or leaves).
Experts recommend removing fruits from the trees before they mature for the first 1-3 years. This thinning directs energy to the tree’s roots instead of forming fruit. However, nectarines are ready to pick starting in early summer. Check for a slight softness and that each nectarine releases easily from the tree without any force.
Materials for Nectarine Tree Success
- Spade or shovel
- High-quality compost or well-aged manure
- Soaker hose or other method for deep watering
- Nitrogen fertilizer
- Fungicides, dormant oil, appropriate insecticides
- Tree stakes
- Tree clippers and pruners