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How to Grow: Peaches
Learn about the best varieties and how to grow peaches in the North.
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How to Grow: Peaches
Peaches (Prunus persica) take a little more work and care than other tree fruits, but boy are they worth it. I remember when I first ate a tree ripened peach on a warm summer day. The juices flowed down my chin and my face was covered with a smile. Less hardy than apples and pears, there are some good varieties that grow well in our region — even in colder areas. Peach trees are generally hardy to USDA 5, but some survive zone 4.
Peaches are either clingstone (flesh clings to the pit) or freestone (flesh separates easily from the pit). Freestone varieties are easier to use in processing and cooking. Peach trees are naturally short growing and some even can fit in a container!
When to Plant
Plant bare root peach trees from a mail order nursery or container peach trees from a local garden center in early spring or summer as soon as the ground can be worked.
Where to Plant
Plant peaches in a full sun location on well-drained soils. Peaches don’t grow well in heavy clay, so if you have clay soil consider planting on raised beds. Peaches also bloom early in spring and are susceptible to late spring frosts. Plant on a north-facing slope so the flowers open later and are less likely to be killed by frost.
How to Plant
Plant standard-sized peach trees 15- to 20-feet apart and dwarf varieties 8- to 10-feet apart. Dig a hole twice as large as the root ball and plant so the graft union (bulge on the tree trunk) is 2 inches above the soil line. Make a shallow trench or moat around about 1 foot away from the trunk to catch water to keep the roots moist.
Care and Maintenance
Keep the trees well watered and weeded. Mulch with shredded bark or straw, keeping the mulch away from the trunk to avoid diseases. Fertilize with compost each spring. Peach branches should be growing 12- to 24-inches a year. If your tree isn’t putting on this much growth, consider adding an organic fertilizer in spring to stimulate more growth.
Prune peaches heavily in late winter to stimulate new growth and better fruiting. Prune to an open center and space branches so air can freely move around the center of the tree. Remove dead, diseased, or broken branches and any water sprouts or root suckers any time.
Peaches are susceptible to a number of diseases and insects. Avoid diseases, such as leaf spot and peach leaf curl, by growing resistant varieties, cleaning up fallen fruit and pruned branches where diseases may be harbored. Spray horticultural oil in late winter before the trees leaf out to prevent damage from insects, such as scale and mites. Cultivate around the soil in early summer to destroy the overwintering forms of various caterpillars that attack peaches. Protect trees from girdling by mice and voles in winter with tree wraps. Protect container peaches by storing them in a cool basement or garage in winter.
Peaches begin bearing fruit a few years after planting. Fruits start ripening in July and can produce into September, depending on the variety. Let the fruits turn from green to peach color and gently tug at the fruits to see if they’re ripe. Ripe fruits will pull easily off the branch. Keep picking or ripe fruits will drop to the ground, get bruised and rot.
Peaches are self-pollinating, so you can grow only one tree. In small yards, select trees on dwarfing rootstocks or natural (genetic) dwarfs. ‘Champion’ features free stoned fruit with white flesh. ‘Hale Haven’ ripens in September and has a freestone, yellow flesh, good for canning. ‘Saturn’ is a unique donut-shaped, white fleshed, freestone variety. ‘Reliance’ is one of the hardiest varieties available, and has yellow-fleshed, freestone fruits.
Excepted from the Northeast Vegetable and Fruit Gardening book.
I’m Charlie Nardozzi and this is the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio. Peaches are a special summer treat that have a long history. They have been grown in China since 2000BC. They made their way to Europe via the silk road and were called Persian apples. Early explorers of North and South America brought peaches to the New World, but it was the native Americans who spread them, planting peach pits as they traveled the countryside.Although thought of as a southern crop, many Vermonters are trying their hand at growing peaches too. And why not? Nothing compares to eating a sun-warmed, tree ripened, juicy fresh peach. Peaches are borderline hardy in our climate, so you have to be clever about how you grow them. Select hardy varieties such as ‘Reliance’ and ‘Contender’. Plant peaches in full sun, on well-drained, fertile, loamy soil. If you have heavy clay soil, plant on raised mounds. Ideally plant trees on a east-facing slope. Peach flowers will bloom at the earliest hint of spring and often get killed by late winter frosts. An east-facing slope will slow their opening.
Peaches grow quickly. Prune the tree to an open vase shape allowing light to enter the center. Fertilize in spring with compost and an organic fertilizer. You should be getting 1 to 2 feet of new growth each year.
Peaches do have some problems. Peach leaf curl is a fungal disease that causes the leaves to be deformed. Spray copper sulfate in later winter and liquid seaweed extract monthly in spring and summer to thwart this disease. Peach tree borer can tunnel holes into the bark opening the tree up for infection. If you keep your trees healthy the borer tends not to be a problem. If you find holes, stick a metal wire in them to kill the tunneling larvae.