About this Fruit Tree
Peaches have been a popular fruit tree for home gardens since colonial times. In spite of the challenges to growing peaches in our region, who can resist planting these delicious fruits? Because peach blossoms show up early in spring, they’re especially vulnerable to the typical late frosts that can ruin peach crops every few years.
There are two main classes of peaches: freestone with pits that fall away from the flesh and clingstone where the pit clings to the fruit.
How to Grow Peaches
Peaches, like nectarines, are one of the tree fruits that are self-pollinating, so only one peach tree needs to be planted. However, gardeners often plant several peach trees (of different varieties) to increase pollination.
Peaches need plenty of sunshine, especially when flowering and fruiting. Plan ahead for the problem of early bloom and late frosts by planting peach trees in a sheltered location or on a side hill, like commercial peach growers. Hills offer some frost protection because cold air sinks from the top of the hill.
Another tip is to plant peaches on the north side of the property so trees will take longer to warm up in spring, delaying early flowering. Avoid planting on the south and west sides close to buildings.
Select a sunny spot in the landscape, but avoid planting peach trees in the lawn area. Like other fruit trees, peaches need to be planted where they won’t compete with other plants for water, oxygen and soil nutrients. Fruit trees typically need less fertilizer than turf areas, 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 heavy clay 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.
- Peach trees need time to get established in the landscape. It helps to stake young trees for the first two years after planting.
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.
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.
Peach trees have the potential to grow quickly, although they have few fertilizer requirements. They may need a boost of nitrogen if planted in sandy soils, if the trees aren’t showing enough new growth or the leaves are stunted.
Two keys to growing peaches 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.
Once peach trees begin to produce fruits, thin to prevent broken branches. Allow one peach to grow every 4-6 inches along each branch. Wait to prune branches after the harvest.
Special Considerations for Growing Peach Trees
Peaches have similar insect and disease problems to nectarines. Apply fungicides and dormant oil in spring before trees bloom to prevent the following problems. Be sure to follow label instructions for application.
- Peach leaf curl
- Brown rot
- Peach scab
- Bacterial spot
Two insect pests that harm peach trees include the peach tree borer and the peach twig borer.
The peach tree borer is found in the lower trunk of the tree where it prefers to burrow. Start at the beginning of July with applications of Permethrin to the lower tree trunk. Spray every two weeks through the summer, but stop spraying about 3 weeks before harvesting peaches.
Peach twig borer attacks twigs and fruit. As a preventive measure, treat peach trees with permethrin around June 15. Follow label instructions for application.
Peaches are ready to pick when they’re slightly soft, usually starting in early summer. Peaches should come off the tree easily without any pulling or force.
Materials for Peach 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