Name: peach, Prunus persica.
Height: small to medium tree approximately 4m tall and wide; grafted dwarf forms 1.5m x 1.5m.
Plant type: deciduous tree.
Climate: mostly temperate regions as the tree needs to be exposed to cold temperatures for a certain amount of time (“chill hours”) to develop fruit. It’s possible to grow in warmer climates, just look for low-chill peach varieties.
Soil: well-drained, enriched with plenty of organic matter.
Position: full sun, with protection from strong winds.
Flowering and fruiting: a prolific display of white, pink or deep red flowers appear on bare branches from early spring. The blooms are highly decorative and may be single, semi-double or double petalled. Fruits are round and fleshy with a light fuzzy coating on the skin. The skin is ‘peach’ coloured, a blend of blush red and pale yellow, but can also be found in a pure yellow. The flesh is white or yellow and ripens from November.
Feeding: regularly feed with a complete fertiliser balanced for fruiting trees. To give plants an added boost, top up with a liquid fertiliser when fruiting.
Watering: water young plants regularly until well established. Once established, seasonal rainfall should be sufficient, but additional irrigation is required during flower and fruit production.
A gorgeous fruit tree with a compact, dense habit. It grows faster than most stone fruit trees, but it is not as long lived, with a lifespan of about 10–12 years (as opposed to 40+ years). They’re heavy croppers, so will reward you with an abundance of sweet, juicy fruit in just three to four years (or shorter, if you’re lucky).
When not fruiting, the tree is densely covered in long, narrow, glossy-green foliage. These turn yellow and fall in autumn. From late winter or early spring, hundreds or even thousands of white, pink or deep red flowers appear and eventually develop into the rounded fruit.
Peach trees can be grown as a shade tree or attractive specimen planting. The fruit can be enjoyed straight from the tree, or transformed into delicious desserts, drinks, chutneys, glazes or preserves.
The best time to plant a peach tree is in winter, when it’s sold in stores as a bare-rooted tree. When you get the tree home, remove the plastic bag and soak the roots in a bucket of diluted seaweed solution while you prepare the planting site.
Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Enrich with compost and organic matter, then dig a hole twice as wide and to the same depth as the existing root ball. Create a small mound of soil in the centre of the planting hole. Remove the tree from the bucket and spread its roots evenly over the mound. Backfill with soil, making sure the tree is sitting at the same level it was in the bag, ensuring the bud or graft union near the base of the trunk is above the soil level. Tamp down firmly and water in well.
Use an organic mulch, like pine bark or sugar cane, to create a mulch ring around the plant. This will help direct the water to the root zone and help keep the soil moist too.
Prune back one-third of all the branches. While this may seem drastic, this will encourage better, stronger growth come spring.
Peach trees experience vigorous growth, fruiting in as little as three or four years after planting. There are several cultivars, and they can vary in flavour and maturing times. The traditional ‘Anzac’ peach matures early in the fruit-picking season and can be harvested from November, whereas ‘OkeeDokee’ is ready for picking later in the season.
Early flowering and fruiting varieties are susceptible to frost; a heavy frost can damage flowers and lead to less fruit. Protect with horticultural fleece if frost is expected.
Fruit is best harvested when ripe. Pick when the colour changes to the vibrant red-orange-yellow tones, and when the fruit is firm. Birds will also find the colour change attractive, so cover trees with bird netting to help exclude them.
As peaches are developing, feed with an organic-based fertiliser suitable for fruiting trees in spring and autumn. Once they start producing fruit, fertilise in winter, spring and summer. Always water in well after application.
Water regularly to keep the soil moist but reduce watering in autumn and winter.
Winter pruning: In the early years, formative pruning should be undertaken to help establish an open framework. To do this, remove branches to help open up the canopy, creating a V- or an open vase shape. These main branches or ‘leaders’, can be cut back each winter to encourage branching. Once established, it’s a good idea to prune to maintain the open shape and keep your tree at a manageable size.
Summer pruning: A peach tree often produces more flowers and fruit than the tree can support. If left on the tree, this can cause the branches to snap with the weight of the developing fruit. Thin excess fruit in late spring – look for clusters growing too close together and gently twist the excess fruit to remove.
Peach leaf curl is a serious problem for peach trees. The fungal disease causes leaves to become distorted or curled, with affected parts turning bright red before maturing to a dark purple. It can cause shoots to die back, weaken the overall health of the tree and result in poor fruit formation and premature fruit drop.
Unfortunately, once the symptoms appear it’s too late to treat. The best time to treat is in late winter, when the buds are swelling but before they have opened. Apply a copper-based fungicide thoroughly over the tree. If leaf curl has been a problem in the past, you will need to treat at leaf fall, at budswell and again after buds have opened.
Peaches can be propagated by seed, but fruiting is not guaranteed. However, it will grow into a lovely feature tree. It’s best to buy a grafted peach if you want your tree to bear fruit.
If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
Nectarine: just like a peach, but without the fuzz.
Apricot: a hardy fruit tree that’s easy to grow in temperate climates.
Mango: a large self-fertile fruit tree ideal for gardens in warm climates.
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