Growing Peaches

Few things can beat the taste of a truly ripe peach, fresh from the tree and juicy as can be. Learn how to grow the best peaches you’ll ever taste, including site location, protecting your trees, proper harvesting techniques, and more.

| July/August 2018

  • peaches in bowl
    Peaches are an easy and delicious sweet snack.
    Photo by Getty Images/loooby
  • peach tree
    For a real treat, visit a local orchard that will allow its visitors to peruse the peach trees and pick their own fruit.
    Photo by Chuck Place
  • peaches in baskets
    Ripe peaches fresh from the tree are delicious for snacking
    Photo by Andrew Weidman
  • canned peaches
    Break out the canner to preserve peaches for incorporating into midwinter meals and desserts.
    Photo by Getty Images/belchonock
  • peach tree
    Spend an evening strolling through a peach orchard.
    Photo by Getty Images/alexeys
  • peach pie
    Peach pie is the quintessential summertime cookout dessert.
    Photo by Getty Images/bhofack2

  • peaches in bowl
  • peach tree
  • peaches in baskets
  • canned peaches
  • peach tree
  • peach pie

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who swoon over the aroma and flavor of a ripe peach and those who have never tasted one. A lot of people don't even realize they've never actually tasted a ripe peach. The peaches you buy in the supermarket have often been picked green, shipped, and are lacking in taste. But a truly fresh peach is one you won't soon forget.

Peaches should be a symbol for eating local, as a peach at its prime is too delicate to ship. A peach, tree-ripened until it practically picks itself, is soft with fuzzy skin and heavy with juice, its skin streaked and dappled in shades of gold, orange, red, and maroon. The warm fragrance alone is a showstopper, intoxicatingly sweet, and that first bite always delivers. Then you get into the desserts: Sliced peaches with yogurt or over ice cream, doused with heavy cream, or maybe a bowlful sprinkled with just a little sugar. Peach pie is a subject all its own, including no-bake glaze-coated fresh peach pie with whipped cream, baked peach pie with a flaky crust, and baked dried-peach pie. Throw in peach cobbler for good measure. And let's not forget home-canned peaches, whole, halved, or sliced, and spiced if you like. Or peach butter, jelly, and jam. Peaches can be pressed for cider, and even distilled into brandy.

For most Americans, finding a local source for peaches isn't too difficult. There are peach varieties that will grow from Zone 4 to Zone 8. Most orchards devote large stretches of acreage to peach trees, and many offer pick-your-own programs. Peach season runs from mid-July through August. In season, most orchard stands offer fresh peaches in batches ranging from pints to half-bushels. There will probably also be a basket or two of "seconds." These are the ripest peaches you can get, and the ones you want to take home with you. Sure, some of them may have a few bruises, and you'll need to use them before the week is out, but I guarantee you will not find a better tasting peach.

A home for your peach tree

Should you choose to try your hand at peach culture, you'll need to consider variety, location, pruning form, insect and disease pressures, spray schedules, and orchard cleanup. There are more than 300 varieties of peaches available in the United States, some better suited for Southern orchards, and others for Northern climates. Talk to your local state extension office for advice tailored to your climate and conditions.



Once you've selected your variety, take some time to find the best place to plant it. Select a spot in full sun, on the south side of a slope, about midway between the crest and the valley. This placement allows cold air to drain away from your tree on frosty spring nights, while sheltering it from drying winter winds. More peach crops are lost to winterkill and late frosts than to any other problem. It also helps provide better soil drainage, as peaches cannot tolerate "wet feet." They do best in sandy loam rich in organic matter.

After your tree has grown a year, it's time to think about pruning methods. Peaches respond best to an open-center form of four or five main (scaffold) branches arranged like a vase or wine goblet on a 3-foot trunk. This allows sunlight and air to reach all parts of the tree. Your peach tree will need to be pruned heavily each year, just before or during bud break. Remove all dead, damaged, or broken branches, followed by any criss-crossing branches, and those growing straight up. Old-timers like to say you should be able to "pitch a cat through a properly pruned tree, never hitting a branch." (It goes without saying that method of testing should not be employed.) While unpruned trees can reach 15 to 20 feet in height, proper pruning can keep them at a manageable 8 to 10 feet.

Andrew
7/8/2018 8:58:35 AM

Natalie, squirrels are a tough problem to have. You could try spraying your peaches down with hot sauce to keep squirrels away. Just be certain to only spray on calm days, wear a face mask and goggles, and wash the fruit well before eating it. Also, you will need to reapply after a rainfall.


Natalie
6/23/2018 9:40:23 AM

How do I keep squirrels from decimating my small dwarf peach tree of any fruit it may have. They tear off branches trying to get to the unripe fruit. When I first brought it home in a huge plastic pot, it had maybe a dozen small golf ball sized peaches, which the squirrels went after immediately, tearing off branches & I fear this may continue. How can I stop them?







mother earth news fair 2018 schedule

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Next: October 13-14, 2018
Topeka, KS

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on modern homesteading, animal husbandry, gardening, real food and more!

LEARN MORE