Overcome the Challenges of Growing Peaches

Few fruit say summer quite like a tree-ripe peach, dripping juice down your chin and hands all the way to your elbows. Although you are unlikely to find this perfect peach at the grocery store – peaches do not continue to ripen more once picked — you can enjoy this treat if you grow your own. Growing top quality peaches is not without its challenges. If you are prepared, however, you can conquer them with a little bit of knowledge and regular attention.

How to Grow Peach Trees by Stella Otto

Provide the Right Planting Site

Your first challenge will be where to plant your peach tree. They are a little fussy about site conditions. Peaches grow best in a well-drained soil. If your soil is heavy and not adequately drained, consider planting your peach tree in a raised bed or on a berm you have created with properly draining soil. Seek out six or more hours of sunlight daily. An elevated and open site that does not hold cold air is less prone to late spring frosts that can damage blossoms.

Consider Your Space

Although there are a few genetic dwarf peaches that are mainly used for container growing, peaches as a group are not available in the range of dwarf sizes that are common with apples. The good news is that if you are limited on space, you can grow a single peach tree. They are selffruitful and do not require a second variety for cross-pollination, as many other fruits do. Peach tree size can be kept contained by regular annual pruning. Indeed they require a yearly pruning to encourage the new wood that will bear future fruit.

Keep Pests and Plagues in Check

Curculio, stink bugs and several borers — both of the twig tips and the trunks — will try to wreak havoc with your peach fruit and trees. Well timed sprays are your best defense. Starting early in the growing season is the best proactive route to keeping pests from reaching insurmountable numbers. There are a number of biological spray materials available. Your local cooperative extension service can advise you which ones are labeled for use in your area.

Curculio will lay their eggs in developing fruit, leaving a tell-tale half moon scar on the surface and later a small larvae inside. Stink bugs of numerous species will chew on and deface developing fruit. In small numbers these pests and the damage they do are tolerable when the fruit is going to be used for jam, baking, and preserving. Just cut away and toss the damaged area. If the pests multiply to larger numbers or you want prize winning fruit, efforts will need to be made to control these pests throughout the season.

Peach twig borers will cause damage, where else, in the twig tips. As first generation, overwintering larvae bore down the twig tissue, the tips will wilt, flag, and die. Later generation larvae often feed on and disfigure the fruit.

Peachtree, plum, and dogwood borers do their damage mainly in the lower region of the trunk, near the graft union. A well-timed trunk spray can keep them in check so they don’t debilitate and kill the tree.

Peaches are susceptible to several fungal diseases, most notably brown rot and peach leaf curl. Brown rot is nearly ubiquitous in warm, humid climates; particularly in the southeastern United States and the Mid-Atlantic region. Infection can occur as early as bloom. Control is most successful when started early in the growing season.

Peach Fungal Disease Brown Rot
Peach brown rot commonly develops on peaches during warm, humid weather or on ripe fruit close to harvest, when the skin has been damaged by birds or other pests.

Peach leaf curl is somewhat of a stealth plague. It begins unnoticed, just as green tissue starts to emerge. Once you notice the symptomatic thickened, red leaf edges that curl and contort there is nothing you can do to control it for the current growing season. A single fungicide spray will control peach leaf curl, but application must be done when the tissue is dormant, either after leaf drop in the fall or early in the spring before green tissue begins to develop.

Thin Fruit

Everyone loves that big, juicy peach! To achieve size on peaches, fruit thinning goes hand-inhand with proper watering. Eight hundred fruit has been shown to be about the maximum capacity of the tree to mature well-sized fruit of 2 ½ inches. This means at about 45 days after bloom, when the tree has begun it’s own natural thinning process, and fruitlets are about the size of the tip of your thumb, you may need to assist mother nature. Remove fruit so that there is just a single fruit every 6 to 8 inches on the branch. Keep the largest fruit in a cluster. This is also a good time to remove any damaged or insect infested fruitlets. Your crop may appear a bit sparse for a few weeks, but you will be well rewarded at harvest.

Fruitlets of a Peach Tree
Peach Tree Fruitlets

Water with Purpose

Water management can be more important with peaches than most other fruit. At harvest time, some gardeners might notice a percentage of their fruit appears to have split open along the suture line. The pit may be cracked and there may be insects feeding inside. Some varieties are more prone than others. This condition, know as split pits, is believed to partially be caused by too rapid growth and expansion of the fruit flesh during early development. This is mainly brought on by excess fertilizer and a sudden supply of abundant water. One route to prevention is a steady, moderate supply of water. You can supply this by regular consistent watering or by trickle irrigation.

Water is also critical in fruit size expansion close to harvest. Trickle irrigation throughout the growing season or adequate water in the final 30 days before harvest will help the existing fruit cells expand to form big, juicy peaches.

One Final Detail for Snowy Climates

In areas with winter snowfall, it is common for peach trees to suffer southwest injury or sunscald. This occurs when the southwest side of the tree trunk is warmed by sunlight reflecting off of snow. The other side of the trunk remains cold and the temperature differential causes the trunk to split. One method to prevent this is to paint the tree trunk, up thru the first layer of scaffold branches, with white latex paint. This will deflect the sunlight reflection and keep the trunk temperature more uniform.

Sweet Victory

Although growing peaches can present numerous challenges, they are not insurmountable. With attention and problem prevention, peach trees will easily live and produce for 20 to 30 years in regions with moderate climates

By Stella Otto