Growing Perfect Peaches

Take care of your tree and you'll have a harvest of delicious fruit.
Peach 'Galaxy'

Peach 'Galaxy'

Photo by: Courtesy of Park Seed, parkseed.com

Courtesy of Park Seed, parkseed.com

'Galaxy' is a Chinese peach tree with unusual "doughnut"-shaped, white-fleshed fruits. The trees grow in normal to sandy soils and are hardy to -20 degrees F. GIven the right growing conditions and care, the trees, which are bred from nectarines as well as peaches, may bear 50 pounds or more of fruit each year. They grow 10 to 12 feet tall and are self-pollinating.

Pies, cobblers, jams, and muffins taste so much better when they’re made from sun-ripened, homegrown peaches. Peach trees grow in USDA Zones 5 to 8 or 9, and they’re available in dwarf or standard sizes, making them a great choice for backyard orchards. They'll produce delicious, juicy fruits for many years if you give them regular care and attention.

Before you buy, research the varieties recommended for your region. In general, peach trees need full sun, moderately fertile soil that drains easily, and a certain number of hours of cold each winter. Most commonly grown varieties are self-pollinating, but read the tag on yours to see if you need more than one.

When you plant, space standard-size peach trees 15 to 20 feet apart, and dwarf types 10 to 12 feet. Loosen the roots, and dig a hole several inches wider and deeper than the root system. Mound a little soil in the bottom of the hole, and spread the roots over the it. Backfill the hole and water thoroughly. 

About 6 weeks after planting, apply one pound of a 10-10-10 fertilizer with nitrogen. In the second year, feed the tree with ¾ pound of fertilizer in the spring, and another ¾ pound in early summer. In the third year and subsequent years, give your mature tree about a pound of nitrogen per year in early spring, as new growth starts. Stop fertilizing 2 months before you expect your first fall frost.  

Unlike most ornamentals, peach trees need regular pruning, fertilizing, and spraying to stay healthy and productive. Keep the ground around your tree clear of grass and weeds that would compete for water and nutrients, and mulch generously.

Peach 'White Delight #2'

Peach 'White Delight #2'

Photo by: Courtesy of Park Seed, parkseed.com

Courtesy of Park Seed, parkseed.com

Recommended for zones 5 to 9, ‘White Delight #2’ has sweet, white flesh and rosy skin. The semi-freestone fruits mature in early summer on trees that mature at 15 to 25 feet tall.  (Clingstone peaches have stones, or pits, that can be difficult to remove. Freestones are easier to  remove. Semifreestones are a cross between clingstones and freestones.)

Keep newly planted peach trees watered, if rain is scarce. Once their roots are well-established, irrigate about every two or three weeks. The water should soak deeply into the soil, not stand in puddles or run off.

Peach trees should be pruned just as the buds start to swell and show a bit of pink, not while they're completely dormant. The fruit grows on new wood, so plan to cut back about 40% of the tree each year.

Start by choosing 3 to 5 side branches with wide-angle crotches (more than 45 degrees) that are evenly spaced around the trunk. They should grow out and away from the center of the tree. The lowest one should be about 15 inches from the ground; the highest, about 30 inches.

Remove branches in the center of the tree to create an open, vase-like shape. (The side branches will be the "sides" of the vase.) Opening the center will let in lots of sunlight and permit good air circulation. It will also make it easier to reach the leaves when you spray for pests or diseases. 

Prune out dead, diseased, or broken wood and any branches that are growing straight up or crossing over other branches. 

As the tree continues to grow over the years, keep the center open by removing shoots inside the tree that are smaller in diameter than a pencil. If any fruiting branches become longer than 24 inches, prune them back by about one-third, so they won’t break under the weight of the fruit. Keep removing dead, diseased, or broken wood, too.

When the peaches start to form, thin them to every 6 to 8 inches. This will help the remaining fruits grow bigger and taste better. 

Apply a dormant spray during the winter to help control pests like aphids, borers, scale, and mites and diseases. Wait until a day when the air temperature is above freezing to spray, and the air is still. Follow the directions on your product label. 

Peach trees typically need to be sprayed several times a year. Check with your county extension service agent for a recommended application schedule, so you'll know what product to use and when, and you'll stay ahead of potential problems in your growing region.

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