Nothing says summer like peaches. Fresh, in pies, with ice-cream, in smoothies or for canning and jam-making, having a great supply of ripe peaches available makes for a great season and makes everyone feel, well, just peachy. Many gardeners are surprised to discover that this delicious fruit is actually one of the easier fruits to grow at home and with yields of up to 6 bushels of fruit per tree, the results can be amazing.
One reason for the relative ease of peach growing is that they do not require a second-tree as a cross-pollinator, so a single tree can be grown that will produce plenty of fruit for the average family. When you have chosen the right variety for your area you just need to choose a sunny spot, make sure your tree has sufficient water, do some simple pruning and in a short time you will be picking luscious ripe peaches straight from the tree.
Peach Trees develop into a spreading tree 15 to 25 tall and around 15 feet wide. If you grow a tree on a dwarfing rootstock it will reach around 10 feet only, which is great if you have less room, but the yield will only be around 2 bushels from a smaller tree. Because of the pruning method used, the tree has an open center with spreading branches from which the peaches hang. So a Peach Tree can be used as a shade tree in your backyard, or planted among other trees and large shrubs as part of your general planting.
Because you only need one – although you may want more to enjoy the different varieties available – you do not need to develop an orchard to enjoy home-grown peaches. Peach Trees can also be trained as a fan on a sunny wall and that way take up no room at all in your garden. This method also makes them easy to prune and to pick the fruit from.
Peach Trees form an open tree that has dark-green, simple leaves on it, which turn yellow and drop in the fall. The flowers are small. open in shape, pink and with five petals. They are born singly or in pairs along the branches and appear in spring before the leaves. So as well as giving you fruit, a Peach Tree in bloom is a beautiful sight that will light up your garden.
Each flower develops into a single fruit, and fruits come in different sizes depending on the variety you choose to grow. The Majestic Peach Tree has perhaps the largest fruits of any peach tree available, as well as an excellent flavor. The flesh of the peach fruit is delicate and easily bruised, which is why commercial peaches are picked and shipped before they are fully ripe. Unfortunately this robs us of their best flavor, which happens only when the fruit is picked fully ripe.
The large stone inside is of course the seed, but growing peaches from their own seeds is not a good idea as they will not grow up to be like the parent plant, and may take many years to even fruit. However, a purchased tree will begin to fruit in the third season after planting, so only a little patience is needed before you can begin picking your own juicy peaches. Peaches ripen from June to September, depending on the variety and the location in which they are grown.
Peaches are of two kinds, slipstone and clingstone. The flesh of a slipstone peach comes easily and cleanly away from the stone, so this type is easier to work with when preparing pies, desserts or canning. With clingstone peaches the flesh is harder to remove from the stone, so they are generally not so popular. The Scarlet Prince Peach Tree and the Elbert Peach Tree are examples of freestone peach. With each type the peach itself can have either yellow flesh or white flesh. White flesh peaches have less acidity and so taste sweeter but can be a little bland, and most people prefer the more tangy flavor of a yellow peach, like the Elberta Peach Tree, or the Red Haven Peach Tree.
Peach Trees are generally hardy in zones 5 to 9, so most Americans can grow peaches in their garden. However, there are some other points to consider. Peaches need a certain number of hours below 450F to develop properly. These are called ‘chilling hours’ and a tree usually needs between 600 and 1,000 hours depending on the variety.
Once they have had the necessary number of hours, they are ready to bloom and will begin to do so as soon as the weather becomes a little warmer. However, this leaves them open to damage from late frosts, so as a general rule, choose a variety with more chilling hours needed, the colder your growing zone. This is because in colder areas the chilling hours will be reached earlier in the winter. For example, the Red Haven Peach Tree needs 950 chilling hours, so is a good choice for cooler areas, say in Michigan, while the Majestic Peach Tree needs just 800 hours of chill, so is suitable for warmer regions, such as Georgia.
Peaches do best in a sunny location with well-drained, slightly sandy soil. They do not do well in heavy clay soils that stay wet for a long time. They do however need water and are not drought tolerant. The size and quality of the fruit is greatly improved in sufficient water is provided at all times during the growing season. Peach Trees are not entirely pest and disease free and if pests become a problem a control program may be necessary to ensure a good crop.
Peach Trees are grafted onto a hardy root-stock. The position of this join is visible low down on the stem. When planting your peach, do not plant deeply and make sure that this union is a good inch above the final soil surface. Enrich the soil with organic material before planting and water well during the planting process. Water newly planted trees once a week until they become well established.
Peach trees originated in China, where they have been cultivated for about 4,000 years. They were introduced into Europe via Persia (modern Iran) and from there into America, where Thomas Jefferson had peach trees at Monticello. They were first commercially produced in the 19th century and have become the most popular fruit after the apple.
Peaches need rather more care than some other kinds of fruits. They particularly need plenty of fertilizer and should have ½ a pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer 7 to 10 days after planting and again 40 days later. Spread the fertilizer evenly, 8 to 12 inches away from the trunk. Each following spring, they should be given ¾ of a pound of 10-10-10 in March and again in May.
Once your trees are four years old, increase that amount to 1 pound and later to 2 pounds for large, older trees. Spread this over the soil below the branches and keep it well away from the trunk. Organic growers can replace this with 25 lbs. of rotted manure or good compost. From flowering time to harvest, keep your tree well watered. A trickle line spread over the area beneath the branches is the best way to ensure even watering, or put a sprinkler below the tree turned down low, as you don’t want to spray the leaves and fruit more than necessary.
Pruning should begin immediately after planting. Cut off the center stem 30 inches above the ground – this may already have been done if you buy a larger tree. Remove any branches close to the ground. This cutting will cause several shoots to grow out to form a vase shape, allowing sunshine into the center of the tree and eventually help ripen the fruit.
Continue to remove any low-hanging, weak shoots or any shoots that grow into the center and continue to develop an open, vase shape to your tree. The height can be controlled by cutting back tall shoots to an outward-facing bud or shoot. Do not allow your tree to become too crowded with branches as this will reduce the ability of the fruit to ripen properly.
To get large fruit it is sometimes necessary to thin out the crop. If you have a heavy flower crop, three to four weeks after the end of the blooming, when the young fruits are the size of a quarter, go over your tree and remove fruits so that the remaining ones are about 8 inches apart. This sounds drastic, but if you neglect to do this you will have a large crop of very small fruits that are more stone than flesh.