Days to germination: Seedlings are usually purchased
Days to harvest: 2 years
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Regular watering
Soil: Well-drained and fertile
Container: Dwarf varieties only
Peach trees are quite delicate, and you will have to watch carefully to protect them from disease and insects. You will be rewarded for your hard work with a crop of golden fresh peaches. They are a bit frost-tender, so you can only grow peaches up to around zone 5.
Peaches are very much like nectarines, but with a unique fuzzy skin. In fact, nectarines are the same fruit as peaches, just with a smoother skin. They both come from the same plant though most people consider them to be different fruit.
There are two categories of peach varieties: clingstone and freestone. The terms refer to how easily the flesh of the fruit comes away from the stone or pit in the center. Freestone peaches are best for eating fresh, whereas clingstone peaches have firmer flesh and are usually saved for cooking or canning purposes.
Starting Your Tree
You can start off either with a peach tree seedling, or a grafted sapling. Grafted trees are actually 2 trees that have been attached, so you get peach branches and fruit but the roots from another tree. They are more expensive but will usually produce fruit sooner than regular seedlings.
Choose a location where the soil is well-drained and not in a low-lying area where water can accumulate. Your tree will need full sun as well. The best time to plant your tree seedling is in the fall. After you’ve found the best place, dig a hole large enough to hold the root ball of the tree without crushing any of the roots. Give it a thorough watering, and keep it watered through any dry spells.
An average peach tree will get to a height around 20 feet, though you should probably prune it shorter.
Sometimes a tree can be very successful pollination, and produce more fruit than it can fully develop. You can end up with a large number of very small peaches. It’s not easy to judge how many is “too many”, but after a few years you can get a better sense of what your peach trees can handle. Pick off some of the small peaches so that you can get a crop of bigger fruit later.
During the summer months, give you peach trees extra water so that they never completely dry out. A feeding with standard or low-nitrogen fertilizer in the spring when the buds first start coming out on your plant is a good boost.
Keeping your tree in shape and a reasonable size is important for a good harvest, so you should do a little pruning each year. Only prune your trees in early spring before the buds come out. If you cut branches in the fall, you’ll make the tree vulnerable to winter damage. Ask if you can get a pruning demonstration at your nursery so you can see the best way to do it. If not, there are a few easy pruning techniques to get you started.
Cut out any dead branches, or branches that are growing across one another (especially if they are actually touching). You can also take out any “water sprouts”, which are very distinctive soft green branches that grow straight up from the trunk or other branches. Pruning any tall branches from the center will help open up the tree and keep it short. The more light that reaches through the tree to the fruit, the better.
Choose a small dwarf variety such as Golden Glory Dwarf or Pixzee. These trees will only get around 4 to 5 feet high and work very well in large pots. Plant them in containers at least 10 gallons in size or larger, and take extra care to keep it pruned so as not to outgrow the pot.
Containers can dry out easily, so you will have to water your potted peach tree on a regular basis so the plant doesn’t stress. A yearly fertilizer application is important as well.
Pests and Diseases
The most likely problem you can have with your peach trees is an attack of peach leaf curl. It’s a fungus that attacks the leaves, but not the fruit. New leaves will be stunted and have a crumpled appearance. They eventually just drop off. Once leaves are full size, they are not susceptible to the fungus. The fruit is not harmed but a tree that loses too many leaves won’t be very productive.
Spray your trees at the end of winter with a Bordeaux fungicide spray, and then again in early spring. If your tree contracts it, add some extra high-nitrogen fertilizer to help the tree grow more new leaves.
For insects, there are several species of borer that favor peach trees, such as the peach twig borer. It is a moth in adult form, but it’s the caterpillar stage that you need to watch for. They spend the winter as cocoons in the tree, and chew up the new leaf buds when they hatch in the spring. A good dose of dormant oil spray before the tree starts to bud can help smother them out. If you see any small cocoons on your trees, pick them off and destroy them.
One of the biggest problems growing peaches is the temperature, not insects or disease. If you get a late frost in the spring, all the flowers will die off and your tree will produce no fruit that year.
Harvest and Storage
Your peaches are ripe when they lose all traces of green color, and they will come off the branches with only a slight twist. If they are still firmly attached, they are not quite ready yet. The fruit will bruise very easily, so be gentle handling it during harvest time. Don’t toss them into a basket from the top of your ladder.
Depending on the age of your initial seedling, you may start to get fruit in just 2 years after planting. You usually get a full crop by the 5th year, around 40 lbs of fruit. Once you start harvesting, your peach tree can keep providing fruit for 15 to 20 years.
Peaches don’t last very long, so you should use your fresh fruit within 2 weeks if you store it in the refrigerator.