Written by thetreecenters • October 03 Growing Peach Trees
Peaches are everyone’s favorite fruit, so imagine the pleasure of bringing your own harvest into your home, to share with your family and friends, to eat fresh, bake in pies or preserve. One of the really great things about peaches is that unlike many other fruits – apples for example – one tree will happily bear a full crop because the trees are what is called ‘self-fertile’ and they do not need pollen from another tree of a different variety to produce bushels of ripe peaches. This makes them a great fruit tree for smaller gardens, and with the development of exciting new varieties like the Bonfire Patio Peach Tree you can have beauty and fruit right on your terrace without even needing a garden at all!
Where do Peaches Grow Well?
Peach trees prefer warmer conditions than apple trees and do best if your winter temperatures stay above zero degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures of minus 10 may cause some damage to the tree, so although you can grow a peach tree in zone 5, zones 6 and up are best.
They also need about 600 hours of winter cold with temperatures below 45 degrees, so if you live in a very warm area, choose something more suitable, like an orange or lemon tree perhaps. That still leaves lots and lots of gardens across the country that are perfect for a peach tree.
Late spring frosts can be a problem as they can kill the developing flower buds and if you live in an area where they happen regularly, consider planting to the north of your house. The long shadows of late winter will cool the tree and slow down flowering, helping to miss those frosts, while in summer the short shadow will let lots of sun onto your tree to ripen your crop.
In cooler regions peaches grow very well spread out and tied to a south-facing wall. This gives them warmth and shelter from cold winds, so they will produce much better. It is also easy if a late-frost is coming, to hang a blanket of garden insulation in front of the tree for the night to protect it. See our blog on Growing Trees and Shrubs on Walls for more details of this fascinating technique.
Choosing a Location for your Peach Tree
Peach trees grow best in soil that is just a little acidic. If you live in an area with acid soil, such as parts of the eastern states, you may need to add lime to your soil to bring it to the magic number of 6.5 on the pH scale. This is the number where most nutrients are released for plant-growth and it is also the ideal number for peach trees. If you have a higher number it is not practical to try to make it lower, but don’t worry – 7 or a little higher is still just fine for a peach tree too.
Choose an open, sunny spot for your tree and in a large garden try to plant in a higher spot, not in a hollow where a late frost may catch the blossoms. Low spots tend to be wet as well and peaches prefer a well-drained spot in your garden.
If you are planting more than one tree, or you have other trees around, allow a 10 to 15 foot space for your tree – it shouldn’t be crowded against other trees.
Peach trees also make great container plants and they can be grown in large pots for a long time. Since they have no leaves in winter, in cold regions you can bring the container into an unheated garage or shed during cold spells – light is not needed. This way it is possible way to grow peaches even in the coldest areas.
Work some organic material, like garden compost or manure, into the soil where you are going to plant. Add some high-phosphate fertilizer like bone-meal or super-phosphate too, to help the roots develop strongly. Any fertilizer mix for tree planting will work well too – they all have a high-phosphate base.
The Best Varieties of Peach Trees to Grow
There are lots of varieties of peaches. The main differences are in the color of the flesh – yellow or white – and in how the flesh comes away from the stone. Some varieties hold the flesh tightly on the stone, which can make them harder to eat and prepare for the kitchen, while others, called slip-stone peaches, have flesh that easily separates from the stone with no waste.
For a great all-round peach variety it is very hard to beat the Elberta Peach Tree, an heirloom variety from Georgia named after the wife of the farmer who developed it. With a perfect flavor-balance between sweet and tart, beautiful yellow flesh and a convenient slip-stone character, this is the ideal home tree, since it can be eaten straight from the tree fresh, or used for baking and canning. Adaptable to lots of areas and small enough even for growing in a container, this tree will reward you with delicious fruit and be easy to grow.
For something completely different, especially if you don’t have room for a full-sized tree, plant the Bonfire Patio Peach Tree in the garden or in a container on your patio. This tree is very decorative, with beautiful rich-pink blossoms in spring; colorful red leaves all summer; and a crop of smaller fruits suitable for preserves or canning. The ideal tree for those who don’t have a full-sized garden, this is a peach tree that is sure to please whatever the season.
Caring for Your Peach Tree
In the first year, make sure you keep your tree well watered while it settles into your garden. After that peach trees are pretty drought-resistant compared to many other fruits, and do better in moist but not wet soil.
During the early years you want your tree to grow vigorously and develop its branch structure, so use a balanced tree food sprinkled around the tree each spring. Once the tree is established and growing well just a small amount of fertilizer each spring is all it needs.
Pruning Peach Trees
The ideal shape for a peach tree is like a vase – so branches which grow straight up or horizontally should be removed. When young you can use string tied to rocks to pull vertical branches down to about 450 to get them to the right angle. Each year your tree will produce long branches with just leaves on them. The next year flowers will form along these branches and that is where the peaches will grow. Cut back the ends of flowering branches at the last flower cluster to keep the plant compact and help the fruit develop. Use your fingers to pinch out the tip of leafy side-branches so that they stay compact and produce lots of flowers.
Once your tree is well established you should remove some of the old branches completely in late winter and allow new branches to develop to replace them. Otherwise your tree will be all old wood and will not bear well.
If your tree develops a heavy crop of baby fruit it is best to remove some of them – called fruit thinning – otherwise you will get a big crop of very small fruits of poor quality. When the green fruits are about the size of a quarter, you should remove all but one at each cluster. If you have a very heavy crop you may even need to remove more, so that you have one fruit every six inches along the branches.
New growers can be reluctant to do this as they often feel that they are throwing away part of their crop, but trust me, do it and you will be rewarded with large, well-flavored, juicy peaches your family will be thrilled to eat.
Peach trees are one of the easiest fruit trees to grow in warmer areas and since you only need one, why not try your hand at fruit growing – you will be amazed at the rewards it will bring and the pleasure there is in growing your own fruit!