Having your own peach tree at home is an appealing thought. It’s a relatively fast-growing tree that usually starts producing fruit in its third year, so you can see results quite quickly – and those results are often spectacular. A mature tree will give you from 30 to 50 pounds of peaches per year, and keep doing it for 20 years or more. It’s also quite easy to look after compared to some fruit trees. Many cultivars are self-fertile, which makes life much simpler, and as long as you plant them in a suitable location they shouldn’t make too many demands on your time. Some care is required though, so here’s a handy guide on how to pamper your peaches.
Location is everything
If you don’t find the right spot for your peach tree you’re going to have trouble right from the start, so before you even order your tree spend some time deciding where it’s going to go. The first thing to look for is sunlight. Peaches love the sun, and the more exposure your tree gets the better. All day is ideal, so look for an area that’s constantly illuminated.
Now check out the soil. It needs to be deep, and ideally sandy. Loam will work too, but if there’s a lot of clay in it you’ll need to consider drainage. Peach trees don’t like standing with their roots in water, so soil that’s prone to getting waterlogged isn’t suitable. You can modify clay by mixing in some coarse sand to improve the drainage, but a better solution is often to create a mound and plant the tree there, so its root system is raised above the groundwater. As it grows the roots will extend deeper but they’re at their most vulnerable when the tree is young, so protecting it from dampness at that stage is your priority. If there’s a natural mound you can plant on that makes a good solution. On the other hand if your property’s soil is very damp consider planting in a large container instead. Just ensure it has adequate drainage holes, and drill a few more if necessary.
Finally consider soil acidity. Peaches prefer a neutral to slightly acidic soil, with the ideal pH being around 6.5. If it’s much below this use lime or wood ash to bring it up; if the soil is too alkaline try sulfur or peat.
Before planting the tree leave the roots to soak for between six and twelve hours. While it’s doing that prepare the ground well. Rake the surface to break up any lumps, then dig a good deep hole that gives room for the roots to spread. It’s important to make sure the tree isn’t cramped, so make the hole at least twice as large as the root ball; that will give it loosened earth to expand into. Now plant the tree and backfill, but don’t tamp the soil down too tightly. Finally prune the tree to about two and a half feet high and remove any side branches. That will encourage vigorous growth.
Once your peach tree is established give it some regular attention. It’s fast-growing, so needs a lot of nourishment. Mulch well, ideally with an organic mulch that will feed the tree as it decomposes, and water infrequently but deeply to promote deep roots.
To keep your peach tree in prime condition as it grows you’ll need to keep an eye out for pests – there are a few that like to munch on it. One of the major hazards is the peachtree borer. This is a moth but adults look a bit like a wasp – the males are black with yellow stripes, while the females are metallic blue with a red stripe. It’s the inch-long larvae that do the damage though. These hatch from eggs laid round the base of the trunk then bore their way into the wood, often doing enough damage to kill the tree. Look for sticky marks low on the trunk, and sawdust-like debris. If you find traces of them act right away – first carefully peel back a small flap of bark in the suspected area to look for holes bored by the larvae, and if you find them kill them. You can do this with a parasitic nematode, Steinemema carpocapsae, which most garden centers stock or can order quickly; mix it with water following the instructions, then inject it into the borer holes.
White peach scale often parasitize the branches and twigs of trees, and can cause loss of fruit or even kill the tree. They’re immobile insects that crawl to a spot on the tree then stay there and suck the sap. If you catch scale early you can scrape them off, but serious infestations will probably need chemical intervention. Keep this to a minimum because most insecticides that kill scale will also kill beneficial insects – many of which prey on scale. Try treating the tree with dormant oil in late spring, to deal with them before eggs buried in the bark hatch.
So you’ve looked after your peach tree, it’s three or four years old and the first fruit are beginning to appear. Now what? Well, you’re going to have to thin out that fruit. The more of them you leave on the tree the smaller and less succulent each of them will be, so be ready to pick off what seems like a lot. Start thinning when the largest peaches are about the size of a quarter; at first leave one fruit about every eight inches and remove the rest. Then keep checking as they grow, ensuring that the remaining ones have plenty of space. A three-year-old tree should be able to support about 20 peaches, and this number will increase as it grows.
The satisfaction of eating peaches picked from your own tree is incredible, so while it does take a little work to keep the tree healthy it’s well worth it. At the end of the day most of what you need to do is standard gardening anyway; just choose the right location, make sure your tree is getting enough nourishment and protect it from pests. In return it will keep you supplied with delicious peaches for many years.