Step-by-step guide to growing Peaches
The most delectable of stone fruit, peaches are well worth the extra care needed to grow them successfully. The juicy, yellow- or white-fleshed fruit has soft, felted skin, often with a crimson tinge. In cool temperate climates peaches are harvested outdoors from mid-summer onwards. Peaches grown in a greenhouse will be ready for picking earlier, and by planting late-fruiting varieties, the season can be extended into autumn. Besides the fruit, peach trees are in themselves a valuable addition to any garden, however small. The white, pale or rosy pink flowers are a welcome sight in late winter or early spring, and the dark green shiny leaves are very attractive through spring and summer. The home grower can produce higher quality peaches than those available in the. Shops. This is because peaches are easily bruised, and ripe peaches do not travel well; commercially, peaches are harvested while still hard and unripe. In the shops, the fruit may soften a bit, but they will never ripen properly under these conditions, and the full flavour is not developed. If you have a peach tree in your garden, however, you can leave the fruit on the tree until the last possible moment, and pick it when it is at its best.
Nectarines are a sport (naturally occurring variant) of peaches. Because they are so closely related, nectarine trees are occasionally grown from peach stones, and vice versa. Unlike the peach, which has felted skin, the red or yellow nectarine skin is smooth and shiny. Nectarines tend to be smaller and more brightly coloured than peaches, with more highly flavoured flesh. Like peaches, nectarines eventually make small trees. Unfortunately, they never really do well outdoors as free standing trees; they should either be grown in a greenhouse, or fan-trained against a warm, sheltered wall outside. Except for the fact that they are less hardy than peaches, cultivation of nectarines is exactly the same as for peaches.
Originally natives of China, peaches are widely grown in the Mediterranean area, where the climate is warm and dry. To do well, peaches need plenty of sunshine and protection from wind in early spring. This is because they flower very early in the year, and sheltered conditions are necessary for the blossom to be successfully pollinated. In summer, they need even more sun, for the fruit to ripen fully, and in autumn warm, dry weather for the new wood to ripen. A period of cold weather in the winter allows the trees to rest, as well as killing off various.
Water requirements can be tricky. If there is not enough water available, the fruit will not set or swell properly. Too much water, on the other hand, will kill the tree, and in areas of high rainfall, it is a common practice to cover over the roots of a peach tree with brick or paving stones to cut down the moisture content of the. Planting a peach tree against a wall with overhanging eaves also cuts the amount of water reaching the roots. Do not be put off by these seemingly stringent requirements; peaches do very well in the southern half of England, and there are commercial peach orchards in East Anglia. In these favourable areas, peaches can be grown as bushes in the open. In cooler climates, they do best when fan-trained against a wall facing south or southwest. The wall creates a warmer microclimate by retaining the heat of the sun; it also keeps excess rain off and gives wind protection. Peaches grown in this way flower and fruit earlier than those grown in the open.
You can grow peach trees from stones, but this will invariably take much longer than buying a tree from your nurseryman or garden centre. Furthermore, a peach tree raised from seed will not necessarily have the good qualities of the parent tree. It may be a weak grower or shy cropper, and years will be wasted before this is known. It is a safer bet to buy a named variety from a reputable nurseryman.
Suitable site and soil
Because peaches flower early in the season, especially wall-grown trees, they are particularly vulnerable to spring frosts. Peaches will not crop successfully when grown in frost pockets, or windswept, exposed sites. Peaches are eminently suitable, though, for training against south- or southwest-facing walls, where they are sheltered from wind but exposed to as much sunlight as possible. Do not attempt to grow them against north-facing walls; these are best used for Morello cherries or red currants. Peaches cannot tolerate badly drained soil; a peach tree planted in waterlogged soil will not survive. If your soil is a really bad, heavy clay, you can correct the situation by digging out the existing unsatisfactory soil and replacing it with suitable loam. A land drain should be put at the bottom of the pit to drain away-surplus water to lower ground.
The ideal soil for peaches is a medium, well-drained, limey loam, not less than 60 cm (2’) deep, though they are moderately tolerant of a wider range of soils. Thin soils over chalk are not suitable, though, and in these conditions peaches will develop chlorosis (leaf yellowing). The root system must not be allowed to dry out or be exposed to frost, and remember that the roots should always be spread out to their fullest extent. No tree or bush fruit will ever be successful if planted with the roots cramped together. A fan should be planted 23 cm (9”) away from the wall and inclined towards it. A bush is planted like other fruit trees.
Care of the Fruit
Overcropping, or premature cropping, will result in small fruit and may reduce the following year’s crop. If a peach tree is overcropped year after year, it will be permanently weakened and probably short-lived. Remove all the flowers from a young tree the first season after it has been planted, so the tree will channel its resources into the production of strong healthy wood. The first year it carries crops, thin the fruitlets so that no more than five or six peaches develop fully.
Once a tree is mature and cropping normally, thinning will be essential for wall, fan-trained trees, and is often needed on bush trees. It is usually done in two stages over a period of a few weeks, so that the tree is not shocked. Start thinning when the peaches are about the size of, but wait until the natural fruit fall is over before completing the task. The first thinning consists of reducing all pairs of fruit to singles, removing all undersized and badly placed fruit. Do not thin drastically at this stage, because a natural fruit fall halfway through early summer will reduce the number of fruitlets. At about this time the fruit will apparently stop growing; it will be ‘stoning’ and when this has finished the fruit will start to grow again. Unstoned fruits will drop. The second thinning, which is done about a month after the first and after the natural fruit-fall, consists of spacing the fruit to a final distance apart of 30 cm
Drape a 2.5 cm (1”) nylon mesh net over the ripening fruit to protect them from birds. If wasps are troublesome, each fruit can be enclosed in a paper bag or old nylon stocking. If you use plastic bags, they should be perforated, so the air can circulate around the fruit.
Early varieties start to ripen in mid-summer and cropping can continue, according to variety, through early autumn. Fruit is ripe when the flesh feels soft to finger pressure at the stalk end; a ripe peach should come away from the tree easily, without any pulling being necessary.
Exhibition tips for growing peaches
For exhibition work, peaches and nectarines are classified together; top class exhibition of these fruit can be worth twenty points, the maximum number given to fruit. Begin preparations well before the show date, while the fruit is still on the tree. Although six is the usual number shown, you should have double that amount to take with you to the show bench, in case you need them.
As the selected peaches start ripening, tie back more and more of the overhanging leaves, so the peaches are gradually exposed to the maximum amount of sunlight. You can tilt the peaches slightly towards the light by propping them up from behind with small squares of wood or cardboard. If you have trouble with birds damaging the fruit, either net the tree or protect the selected peaches in individual perforated plastic bags.
Pick the peaches as near to the show time as possible, and handle them gently and carefully, so the bloom is not damaged. Peaches are shown without branch wood, although for convenience and ease in handling they can be picked with a bit of branch wood attached. Stage them on a plate, with the stalk end at the bottom and the eye uppermost. Place one fruit in the middle of the plate and arrange the other five around it. If you raise the central peach slightly by propping it up from underneath with white tissue paper, the display will look nicer and more generous.
Varieties of peaches and nectarines to grow at home
Duke of York: large, rich crimson fruit with pale, greenish-yellow flesh; good flavour; hardy as a bush as well as against walls; one of earliest peaches to ripen; excellent for forcing; ripens midsummer.
Amsden June: medium-sized fruit; excellent flavour; skin dark crimson; good for outdoor and greenhouse growing; ripens mid-summer; must be thinned to get good-sized fruit.
Waterloo: small to medium-sized fruit; skin yellow, flushed red; flesh greenish white and excellent flavour; growth generally weak; can be grown in greenhouse or outdoors; crops midsummer but can be forced.
Early Alexander: small to medium-sized fruit; skin pale yellow with red flush and mottling; flesh creamy white, only fair flavour; good for outdoors.
Hale’s Early: medium-sized fruit with yellow-orange skin flushed crimson; flesh very pale yellow, good flavour; self-sterile variety; used for commercial growing; crops late summer but forces well; good as a bush. Early Rivers: pale yellow skin, slightly flushed red; flesh very pale yellow; ripens mid-summer.
Peregrine: brilliant red skin; flesh yellowish-white, firm and juicy; excellent flavour; very fertile and reliable cropper; ripens late summer; used commercially, and best all round out-door variety; not subject to mildew.
Red Haven: fruit large; skin yellow, flushed crimson; flesh yellow; ripens late summer.
Rochester: medium to large fruit; skin yellow, flushed crimson; flesh deep yellow and juicy, but only moderate flavour; very reliable cropper, even as free-growing bush; crops late summer.
Royal George: large fruit; excellent flavour; skin yellow, mottled red on exposed side; reliable for greenhouse and outdoor use; ripens early autumn but forces well; susceptible to mildew.
Bellegarde: large blackish-crimson fruit; flesh yellow, red next to the stone; rich and firm; flavour excellent; reliable cropper; ripens early autumn; good as a bush.
Dymond: large, pale greenish-yellow fruit with red flush; flesh pale yellow, red next to stone; first-class flavour; hardy and prolific cropper; ripens early autumn.
Early Rivers: earliest of all; fruit bright red; rich flavour; ripens mid-summer; one of the best for home growing.
John Rivers: second early; fruits golden, striped crimson; best grown under glass; ripens mid-summer.
Humboldt: late flowering variety, so less vulnerable to frost; fruit large, orange with red flush; very fertile; ripens late summer.
Lord Napier: large greenish-yellow fruit with crimson skin; thin skin and easily damaged; ripens late summer.
Pineapple: large fruit, orange and crimson ‘flushed skin, flesh yellow; ripens early autumn.
Piunaston Orange: similar to Pineapple, but with darker skin and sweeter flesh; ripens early autumn.