How to Grow A Peach Tree IN THE HOME ORCHARD
This in-depth article all about growing peaches will help you get started with your own peach orchard on your own property!
WHY YOU SHOULD GROW YOUR OWN PEACHES
People choose to grow their own fruit for a variety of reasons:
- Wanting to have fruit that is ripened on the tree, so it tastes better.
- The desire to return to a simpler way of life. Memories of Grandma’s Orchard often triggers this.
- And the desire to have fruit that is completely free!
If you will do your Homework before you plant your orchard, you will greatly cut down on effort, as well as the “buyer’s remorse” that comes from picking the wrong tree.
DECIDE FIRST ON YOUR PRIMARY USE
When planning to grow your own peaches, it is best to decide on your primary use before ordering your tree.
- Fresh eating
- Jelly or Jam
Consider how many peaches your family can use in a year. A few bushels of peaches that all get ripe at the same time may be way more than you can handle.
If you like to cook, try to find a peach or nectarine variety that is good for fresh eating as well as baking. Some folks “share” their tree with relatives and friends, and find that just one tree is a great plenty.
TYPES OF PEACHES
- Nectarines are smooth skinned, fuzzless peaches. They have a milder taste than peaches.
- White peaches are divine for eating out of hand, but are often so soft that they turn to mush when baked. Their flavor is milder than that of yellow peaches.
- The flavor of yellow peaches is more intense than that of nectarines or white peaches. The slices also hold up well when baked into a peach pie or cobbler
CLINGSTONE VS. FREESTONE FRUITS
When choosing a peach tree pay close attention to the words “Freestone” and “Clingstone.” With a freestone peach, you cut around the fruit all the way to the pit. Twist the two halves in opposite directions and remove the pit. It’s quick and it’s easy. I peel them afterward.
The pulp of clingstone fruits must be freed from the pit with a sharp knife. This is very tedious and messy work if you have several pounds of fruit to process at once.
THE SIZE OF FRUIT PRODUCTION
It is hard to estimate the amount of bushels that are commonly produced on soft fruits like peaches and nectarines. They smash down so easily if you pile them up in layers.
Fruit production of peaches and nectarines averages:
- Dwarf Peach Trees: 1 to 3 bushels
- Standard (Full-sized) Peach Trees: 3 to 6 bushels (which is 66-100 pounds)
- Dwarf Nectarine Trees: 2 to 3 bushels (which is 22 pounds)
- Standard (Full-sized) Nectarine Trees: 3 to 5 bushels
DWARF VS. STANDARD SIZED TREES
Selecting the size of your tree is of primary importance. You will still need a ladder to pick fruit even from a Dwarf tree.
- Dwarf trees usually grow between 6 and 10 feet tall with at least an equal spread.
- Semi Dwarf trees average 10 to 15 feet tall.
- Standard sized peach trees can reach 20 feet tall
Don’t plant your trees too close together. Even some Dwarf trees will grow more vigorously in soil that they happen to like.
Once in a while, you get a tree that has been mislabeled at the garden nursery. A Dwarf tree might actually be a Semi Dwarf. These little mishaps happen more often than you think.
A good planting distance between trees is:
- 14 to 16 feet apart for Dwarf trees
- 20 to 22 feet apart for Semi Dwarf trees
- 30 feet apart for Standard (full sized) trees.
If you squeeze too many fruit trees into a tiny space, it is an open invitation for raccoons and squirrels to jump from one tree to another. (Ask me how I know this!) Giving your peach tree ample room to spread out is easier on you than repeated hand pruning or tree removal.
WINTER HARDINESS ZONES
Peaches and nectarines are especially tolerant of the hot summers down South. Nevertheless, both are very “tender” when grown in the north. Pay special attention to the Winter Hardiness Zones listed in fruit catalogs.
For example: One catalog might claim a peach tree will grow well in Zone 6. Another might say the very same tree will survive in the much colder Zone 5.
Some nurseries use a different grafting rootstock that is able to better withstand these frigid temperatures.
In addition, some trees that are advertised as being Zone 5 hardy will only survive to maybe 5 or 10 degrees below zero. The same variety of Zone 5 tree from another nursery might live through 25 or even 35 degrees below zero temperatures.
The temperature itself is more important than the Zone number.
CHILL HOUR REQUIREMENTS
Chill Hour Requirements should be noted before ordering your tree. This is where peach trees display one of their major idiosyncrasies.
- A “High Chill” variety of peach will require a long period of wintertime cold to induce dormancy, and to produce a crop next Spring.
- A “Low Chill” variety doesn’t need nearly so many hours, and probably can’t tolerate too many. Low Chill trees love short Winters.
LENGTH OF GROWING SEASON
If you have a short growing season in your area of the country, you will need a variety that ripens as early as possible. It is also helpful to select a peach or nectarine that blooms late. It is heartbreaking to have a tree full of blossoms that turn black when nipped by a late frost.
When selecting your variety, also take into account your schedule. If you always plan for a 2 week vacation during July, you might want a peach that ripens a month or so later so you don’t miss out on the bounty.
LIFE SPAN OF PEACH TREES
Peach and nectarine trees are notoriously short lived. On average, you might get 10 to 15 prime fruit-bearing years from your tree.
If peaches are really important to your family, try Succession Planting. This is commonly done in vegetable gardening as a way to extend the harvest throughout the current season.
For Example: A new peach tree could be planted every 5 or 6 years or so. This would insure that as one tree starts to lag behind on fruit production, another is ready to take its place.
And you can easily prolong your current harvest season by planting different varieties. Succession Planting can extend your fresh peach season from late July and up into September.
The wise choice of planting location can increase the odds of survival for your peach tree. Wind damage and wintertime cold can greatly shorten the life of a tree. These things can also determine whether your tree waits a few extra years before beginning to produce fruit.
Planting on the south side of a building, especially close by a brick wall is a good thing. It gives them protection from the force of winter winds that come howling out of the north. Also a brick wall absorbs heat from the sun, which peach trees love.
DON’T PLANT YOUR TREE IN A “FROST POCKET”
Do not plant any fruit tree on the lowest part of your property. This is where cold air settles. It is known as a “frost pocket.” Cold weather will nip the buds, and your fruit crop will be damaged.
Keep an eye on where the snow melts the quickest in the Spring. This is known as a “micro climate,” and is where your ground is naturally the warmest. This is a good place to plant your peach tree. Finding that “sweet spot” is important!
The required Soil pH for peaches and nectarines is generally 6.0 to 7.0. When the trees are young, they can be pretty fussy about this, so you might have to amend your soil.
A full grown tree will be far less particular about it. Baby them while they are small, and they will reward you with ample fruit when they get older.
Peaches and nectarines have a very shallow root system. I accidentally “drowned” a peach tree many years ago. At the time, I didn’t recognize the signs of overwatering that would have been obvious to a more experienced gardener (limp or yellow leaves).
These trees love the heat of the southern states, but still must have just the right amount of water. Peaches are very juicy, and that just can’t happen if they are dehydrated. Always keep an eye on their leaves.
Peach and Nectarine trees are usually self-pollinating. The two are so closely related they can pollinate each other. However, this easygoing nature does have its limitations.
Keep both of them completely away from plum trees. Even a self-pollinating peach tree can be affected by plum pollen. This might produce oddball new varieties, some of which are not very tasty.
The same goes for almond trees. If you plant an almond tree too close to a peach or nectarine it can change the flavor of the nuts and the fruit, and not in a good way. When this happens you are faced with the choice of which tree to sacrifice.
The shallow root system of peach and nectarine trees makes them easy to blow over during a storm. It is best to prune them aggressively. Yes, I know, they’re just too pretty to prune. I feel the same way about redbud trees till I almost get knocked backward off the lawnmower when I forget to duck.
Old Timers always advise to prune your fruit trees, “So a bird can fly through the branches.” You might find that your tree will survive a few extra years if you take their advice.
Save the fallen limbs and branch prunings to use for barbecue. Barbecue champions in all parts of the country prize peach wood for its sweet smoke.
THINNING THE FRUIT
Peach and nectarine trees are very delicate, like cherry trees. Apple tree branches seem better able to carry enormous loads of fruit. This makes thinning so important to your peach growing success.
We all have our favorite methods to deal with this issue. One fellow knocked excess blossoms off with a baseball bat each Spring. (He has a longer reach than I do.) I have been known to hook a long-handled pruner over some of the limbs and give them a good shake.
Many people wait till the small fruits have formed before they remove them by hand. This is hard to do on a tree that has grown much taller than you are. And by this time the branches will be so filled with leaves you’ll have a hard time spotting them.
Simply put, if the fruit is too crowded on the branches, your peaches will be tiny. This is no time to be tenderhearted. Start thinning!
Peach trees work like a magnet on wildlife. The scent of the fruit carries for quite a distance, and there’s just no way to hide it. Beating on a pie tin with a wooden spoon isn’t always enough to deter these predators.
An air horn works well for chasing off deer. They stand on their hind legs and reach up into the branches to dine on my peaches. A long loud burst of sound from an air horn will save you from having to run across the back yard, shouting and waving your arms.
Raccoons especially love peaches and nectarines, and they are truly amazing climbers. One little opportunist sat high on a limb and hissed at me while he devoured my entire harvest. The ground was littered with so many nectarine pits they crunched when I walked on them. I plotted my revenge!
Next season, I purchased a container of “Tanglefoot,” which is a sticky insect barrier. I added loads of excruciatingly hot chili peppers and painted it all over the trunk and limbs of the tree. Coons are said to wash their food before eating it and will lick their paws like a cat.
What can I say? Like the little kid in the movie that booby-trapped his house to keep the burglars out, you just can’t play “nice” when it comes to protecting your harvest.
RECOMMENDED PEACH VARIETIES
All the hard work of the season fades into memory as you enjoy wonderful rustic fruit desserts, especially those with memories of Grandma’s kitchen. A jar of peach jam that is melted and thinned to be poured over pancakes. Peach juice or nectar that is added to iced tea. Aahhh!
Each area of the country has their particular peach “favorites.” I try to stick to varieties that have been in commerce for many years. There is a reason why some varieties are only sold for a few years before they virtually disappear from garden catalogs.
These four yellow freestone varieties are good to plant in Zones 5 through 8. The Contender Peach can even grow as far north as Zone 4. Contender and Reliance Peaches are “late bloomers.”
- Reliance Peach can be harvested by late July.
- Redhaven Peach ripens in late July.
- Contender Peach is ripe by mid-August.
- Elberta Peach is ready to pick in late August and into September.
Each of these peaches are good for fresh eating, canning, freezing, cooking, and baking.
HAPPY PLANTING! Susan
About the Author:
Susan R. Godden is a former bank bookkeeper, former wedding photographer, and has been an insurance agent for 32 years. She currently lives on a small acreage in southern Iowa and blogs about Gardening, Cooking, and Homesteading at "A Country Garden Journal".