Days to germination: Usually planted by seedling
Days to harvest: 2 years
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Water regularly in dry weather
Soil: Well-drained and fertile soil
Container: Dwarf varieties are best for pots
Nectarines are actually peaches that have a recessive gene that makes them grow without the fuzzy skin. They are not actually a different kind of fruit.
The trees can’t tolerate much by way of spring frost, but they can survive a fairly cold winter up to around zone 5. They are not as hardy as some other fruits, and will be more susceptible to disease and insects, so plan on a bit more care for these trees.
Just like with peaches, you can get clingstone and freestone varieties of nectarines. Freestone fruit has a pit that comes loose very easily, and is best for eating fresh. On the other hand, clingstone nectarines are firmer and the pit stays put. They are better suited for cooking or canning.
Nectarines have vitamins A and C, fiber and potassium though they are not as good of a source as apples or oranges.
Starting Your Tree
Though getting a nectarine pit to sprout may be a fun science project, it’s not a very practical way to start your tree. Most just buy a seedling or sapling instead. Fruit trees typically are grafted, so your nectarine tree may have the rootstock of a different tree for strength. It also means you will have fruit sooner.
When planting, you can assume your tree can get up to 20 feet tall, though if you are diligent with pruning, it may never reach that height. Even so, you should allow for the space when you choose a sunny and well-drained location for your tree.
Plant your tree like any other fruit tree, with a deep hole large enough for the root ball. It should be deep enough that the top of the root bundle is underground, not above the soil. Water it well for the first season until it is well-rooted.
Nectarines need a good supply of water, and should be watered at least weekly when there hasn’t been much rain. Each spring, feed your trees with a low-nitrogen blend of fertilizer, preferably before the buds start to leaf out.
Pruning is an important part of your tree maintenance, though your trees will still produce a good crop of fruit even if you aren’t an expert at it. You should time your pruning chores to the early spring while the tree is still winter dormant.
The easiest step is to just cut off any dead branches, and also prune any suckers. A sucker (also called a water sprout), is a green branch that usually grows from the trunk but will grow straight upward. They won’t ever produce fruit, so cut them off when they start. Tall branches through the middle of the tree can be cut as well, to open it up and provide better light to the rest of the branches.
If your tree is really thriving, you may get a very good pollination one year which results in more fruit than your tree can handle. It won’t actually harm your tree, but your fall harvest will be disappointing since you will have a large number of extremely small nectarines. You probably won’t be able to judge this during the first few seasons of production, but if you are getting very small fruit, consider picking some each year when they start to develop.
You have 2 options when getting a dwarf nectarine for container growing: either get a genetic or true dwarf tree Like Nectarina or a standard nectarine that has been grafted onto a dwarf rootstock. The dwarf tree will give you smaller nectarines as well. Either way, these trees will get to about 6 feet tall and can be kept in large planters or half-barrel size pots.
Regular pruning is also very helpful to keep the tree from outgrowing the pot. Give your trees regular water so the soil never completely dries out and fertilize each spring as you with a garden-planted tree.
Pests and Diseases
One issue with nectarines that can be hard to control is the temperature. The trees can survive winter just fine, but a hard frost after the flowers have come out will kill the blossoms. No more will be produced, and you will have no harvest at all for that year. Once your tree has flowered, watch the weather forecasts closely. If a frost is coming, a covering can make a big difference providing your tree isn’t too large. Even if you only save a few blossoms, that will mean some fruit come fall.
The peach twig borer is a problem with nectarines as well. The moth larvae or caterpillars attack the new leaves right when they first come open in the spring. They live on the tree through the winter and hatch when the weather warms up. Look for cocoons (pick them off) and spray your tree with “dormant oil” if you have a problem with these insects. The oil will smother the cocoons before they have a chance to hatch.
Harvest and Storage
Your tree will start to give you fruit when it’s about 2 to 3 years old, though it will take a few years to build up to a more complete harvest. Most trees will give 30 to 40 lbs of nectarines once mature, and they keep producing for up to 20 years.
Nectarines are ripe to pick when they come off the branches with just a gentle twist. If you have to tug or pull, then you shouldn’t be picking yet. They will also lose all their green color. Handle them gentle as they can bruise very easily.
Your fruit won’t store for very long unfortunately. Keep freshly picked nectarines in the fridge for about 2 weeks. They can be frozen, but it will require a bit more work than most other fruits. You’ll have to slice them to remove the pits, and then blanche to remove the peels. The fruit is usually frozen in syrup to maintain the texture and to keep it from turning dark. Books on food preservation should give you a complete recipe for doing this.