The time of year for fresh peaches is a wonderful time. At that special moment, at their peak of pleasure-inducing flavor, peaches can stand bite-to-bite with any other fruit. At that moment, they are that good. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long enough, and canned peaches, while they may have their place and fans, just aren’t the same.
The best way to have an abundance of fresh peaches is to have a peach tree. Peach trees will grow in areas as frosty as USDA Zone 5 (Burlington, Vermont) and as warm as Zone 8 (Dallas, Texas), but they thrive in Zones 6 and 7, which is most of the continental US. In other words, if you live in one of these places, a peach tree might well be in your future.
So, to further get the excitement up, let’s look at exactly what planting a peach tree entails.
Peach trees like a lot of sun, so putting them on the south side of the house or a south-facing slope is probably not a bad idea, if available. They really require well-draining soil and prefer to be out of low areas where water might congregate and frost might settle. They also like a soil that’s a little acidic, around 6.5 on the pH scale, so if necessary, it might be a good idea to adjust the pH level to suit the tree.
The Good News
Peach trees come in many varieties and are available as dwarf (8-10 feet tall), semi-dwarf (12-20 feet tall) and full-sized trees (up to 30-plus feet tall). In other words, there is an option for even small spots. In fact, some varieties can even work as potted plants.
It must also be said that smaller trees are easier to care for, produce the same size fruit, and can be harvested from much more readily. The downside to dwarf trees is that they only live about half as long (15-20 years).
Another great thing about peach trees is that they can self-pollinate. While many trees need partners to produce fruit, one peach tree in the yard is all that’s needed for fresh peaches. Of course, with two, that might double the peach pies.
Planting from Seed
Most fruit trees aren’t planted by seed because the variety won’t stay true to the mother plant. In other words, apples from an apple tree grown from an apple seed won’t produce the same kind of apples as its mother tree did. However, peach trees (and stone fruits) can be cultivated from seed and still produce tasty fruit.
To do this, save the pit from a delicious fruit and let it dry out for a few days. Once dried, the pit can be popped open to reveal the seeds, resembling almonds. The seed has to go through a stratification process, freezing before it can germinate. This can be done in the fridge over a couple of months or by saving the seed through the winter. Fall is the time to plant them.
Some pits work really well, others not so much. There’s no real way to tell other than trying. Once the seed has germinated, it will likely be three years or more before the tree produces any fruit.
Planting a Sapling
Rather than planting by seed, most people simply go to a nursery and buy a young tree. Ideally, the tree will be one-year-old, which means it’ll be producing fruit a little sooner. The other nice thing about doing this is that it allows growers to choose the size and variety to suit specific needs. Regardless, it’s best to buy trees when they are dormant and plant them out in early spring. (Active trees are less likely to survive the transplant.)
When planting a sapling, it’s a good idea to soak the roots for a few hours before planting it. The hole should be wide enough for the roots to spread out in it, typically about twice the circumference of the pot or the root ball but only deep enough to get the tree up to ground level. Once in the hole, the area should be mulched to prevent weed and grass competition and soaked.
Many gardeners like to prune the newly-planted trees, removing side branches and cutting the trunk down to no more than three feet high.
Caring for Peach Trees
Peach trees should be pruned each year to promote new growth and better fruit production, as well as to prevent diseases. The best time to do this pruning is early spring, before the tree becomes active again. However, wintertime pruning is not a good idea as it affects the plants’ cold-hardiness. Just under half the tree should be pruned away each year, working to leave two-foot red shoots in place for fruit production.
Generally, peach trees (and other fruit trees) are pruned to have a vase shape, keeping three or five branches to grow out and get large, leaving the middle open to air and sunshine. Do that, and the peaches ought to be great.
Lead Image Source: Pixabay