Peach Planting Guide
How to Grow a Peach Tree
Peaches (Prunus persica) are among the longest cultivated fruits known. Originating in China, peach trees have been cultivated there for at least 4000 years. There are many varieties of peaches: Cling-stone and free-stone types, based on how strongly the peach pit sticks to the flesh; types with red, yellow or almost white skin; types with yellow, greenish, or white flesh; and types with round or flattened fruits. (The nectarine is merely a type of peach with smooth, not fuzzy, skin.)
Second to apple trees, peaches are the most widely grown tree fruit in the U.S. Use this planting guide to lead the way in teaching you on growing peach trees and have fresh peaches for years to come.
Peach Variety Selection
Peach trees are deciduous, dropping their leaves in autumn and becoming dormant. Before they can break dormancy and begin growing in spring they must have been exposed to a minimal period of chilling temperatures, called the chill hour requirement. If the chill requirement is not met, peach trees will bloom erratically if at all, and produce few fruits or none at all.
Once the chill requirement has been met, any warm period during the remainder of the winter will cause the trees to bloom prematurely, and the blossoms will likely be killed by the inevitable next freeze. You must select peach varieties that have the correct chill requirement for you specific location. Peach trees are perfect fruit trees for the midwest because of their adaptability to many climates, zones, and planting sites.
The total number of hours in winter that the temperature is between 32°F and 45°F is called the chilling period. Different peach varieties have different chilling period requirements, and this information is invariably included in variety descriptions. To get the average chilling period for your particular location, use this source: http://agroclimate.org/tools/chill-hours-calculator/
In general, peach trees are self-fertile and do not need another tree for cross pollination, although some growers report greater yields when several peach varieties are present in the same grove.
Perfect Plants offers three different peach varieties:
The Flordacrest variety is adapted to USDA Zones 7-9A, and needs around 350 chill hours. The standard size is up to 12-15 feet tall. The Florida Peach tree is perfect for growing in the southern United States.
The Gulf Crimson peach requires around 400 hours of winter chill hours. It gets 12 to 20 feet tall and is adapted to USDA growing zones 7-8.
The Bonfire Peach gets just 4-6 feet tall and is usually grown as an ornamental for its fragrant springtime blossoms, its small but colorful summertime peaches, and its beautiful scarlet autumn foliage. This dwarf peach tree variety is excellent in a container on the patio, and is hardy in USDA zones 5-8.
Like other fruit trees, flowering peach trees need to receive full sun and you should plant yours in the sunniest location possible. Do not plant them where they will be shaded or get root competition from other trees. Peach trees should get a minimum of eight hours of full sunlight a day in summer.
The best soil is a fertile, humus-rich, sandy loam that is well drained and has a neutral or slightly acidic pH of 6.0 – 7.0. Avoid low spots where drainage can be slow. Even a short period of soggy soil can kill a peach tree. If your soil is dense or clayey and poorly drained, consider planting your peach tree in a raised bed or even a container. For a standard peach tree, a raised bed should be about three feet deep and six feet by six feet square. Fill the bed (or container) with a sandy loam top soil or a commercial soilless potting mix such as Perfect Plants Fruit Tree Planting Mix.
If possible, choose hilltops or slopes which provide what commercial growers call “air drainage”, or simply “drainage.” Well draining soils occurs when cooler, heavier air runs downhill. Moving air can protect tender blossoms from late spring freezes and frosts.
Have your soil tested for pH level before planting and make adjustments with lime or sulfur as recommended in the test results. If you have to adjust the pH, do so 6-12 months before planting.
Locate your peach trees near a dependable source of water because you probably will have to supplement the rainfall from time to time. A treegator pro works wonders for this.
Standard peach trees should be spaced around 8-14 feet apart; closer for dwarf varieties. The growing conditions for peach tree are essential to grow the healthiest fruit tree you can and still provide optimal peach fruit.
How to Plant A Peach Tree
Containerized trees, such as those from Perfect Plants, can be planted any time of the year, but we recommend early spring so they will have a whole growing season to toughen up before winter. (Bare-root trees – not treated here – should be planted when dormant, during the winter.)
Thoroughly wet the soil in the pot before starting. Place the pot on its side and slide the root ball out. If the plant is stuck, you can slip a long-bladed knife around the inside edge to loosen it. Gently loosen some of the roots along the sides and bottom, and pull them outward so they are not encircling the root mass. It might be necessary to prune some of the roots if they are growing in a circle around the inside of the pot.
Dig a hole a little deeper and 2-3 times wider than the tree was in the nursery pot. Do not add fertilizer or soil amendments to the planting hole. Build up a rounded small mound of soil in the middle of the planting hole. Place the root crown on top of the mounded soil and spread the side roots out over the mound. Roots that are too long should be shortened rather than allowed to encircle the hole. The top of the crown should be at or even slightly above ground level, and the graft union between the scion and the rootstock should be 2-6” above the ground surface.
Work the soil in and around the roots. When the hole is half filled, give it a good soaking of water. When the water has drained, readjust the depth of the stem if necessary and finish filling the hole. Gently tamp the soil down.
Build up a 3-6 inch high dike of soil on the ground around the outside of the root zone. This will help impound water over the roots while it sinks into the soil. Water thoroughly around the root system.
Spread a layer of organic mulch 3-6 inches deep over the root zone and beyond for a foot or two to help hold in soil moisture. You can use hay, straw, leaves, pine needles, grass clippings or compost. Do not use mushroom compost as this contains lime and will raise the pH. Do not fertilize at planting time.
Begin training your young peach tree now. Unless it already has a well developed branching system, cut the new tree back to just 24-30 inches tall. This will encourage many branches to form from which we will select just 3-5 to form the framework of scaffold limbs.
Peach Tree Care in the First Year
Newly planted peach trees should get about an inch of water (roughly two gallons) per week, except in the driest, sandiest soils where 2-3 inches (6-8 gallons) a week might be necessary. If rainfall is insufficient, water enough to soak several inches into the soil once a week for the young tree.
Prune your peach tree during its first winter dormant season when it is leafless with pruning shears. The goal will be to create an open center with 3-5 strong scaffold branches – a vase shaped tree. Select 3-5 evenly spaced branches that are angled outward around 45° to 70° from the trunk to become the scaffold branches. Remove all other branches. Cut the new scaffold branches back to about three feet long.
Fertilize your new peach tree in early spring (typically March). Apply a slow release complete fertilizer that is low in nitrogen (which stimulates leaf growth) and high in phosphorus (which stimulates root development). We want the roots to get well established before the rest of the tree takes off. Spread the fertilizer on the ground around the tree out to the farthest reaching branches (the drip line). Follow label directions, but you will probably apply about a half cup of 5-10-5 the first year.
Pull competing weeds as they appear, maintaining a weed-free zone of about three feet around the tree. You may have to protect the little tree from deer and rabbit damage, and you may need to support it with wires and stakes for a year or two if it is weak and leggy.
Peach Care in Subsequent Years
A mature peach tree with peaches developing in summer requires 30-40 gallons of water each day. If rainfall isn’t enough, you will need to water the tree yourself. Check the soil under the tree, and watch for wilting leaves.
Beginning in the second year, fertilize peach trees in spring and again in early summer with a complete formula that includes the minor elements. As always, follow label directions. For a 10-10-10 fertilizer, you will apply about a cupful (8 ounces) each application in the second year, and about two cups (about a pound) for every inch of trunk diameter thereafter. Never fertilize in late summer or fall as this can encourage new growth that could be damaged by an early frost.
Mature trees should be pruned every year. They bear peaches on the previous year’s fruiting wood, and pruning stimulates new growth for the following year’s crop. Always prune in winter when the tree is dormant but before buds have formed.
We’ve already created the scaffold branches framework for a vase shaped, open center tree. Every year from now on we will cut out all other large branches coming off on the main trunk, as well as crossed branches, suckers that sprout from the base of the tree, and water sprouts that shoot up from branches.
We save most branches that grow from the scaffolds, except those that grow inward, blocking sun from the bowl-shaped center. The goal is to keep the center opened up to allow sunlight in. Branches growing off the scaffolds can be shortened if necessary, but peaches are produced only on wood that is one year old, so doing so will reduce the next crop. Shorten branches that grow upright so that the tree is no more than 8-12 feet tall.
Peach Tree Pest and Disease Control
Several kinds of diseases and pests attack peach trees and fruits. Some can be treated as needed, others are better controlled with a proactive peach tree spraying program. Some peach trees exhibit good disease resistance and it also determined by geographical location. Do you research!
Bacterial spot is a fungus disease that shows up as purple or brown spots between the veins on leaves, and depressed circular spots on the fruits. It can be controlled with copper fungicides applied in late winter through petal fall. Don’t use copper containing fungicides after fruits have begun developing.
Peach leaf curl presents as puckered and curled leaves that turn yellow. Peach trees with brown rot have twigs that bleed a gummy ooze. Powdery mildew shows up as a grayish powder on leaves and can cause misshaped peaches. All of these are treated with specifically labeled fungicides.
Peach tree borers make gum-oozing holes on the lower trunk and larger branches, and oriental fruit moths show up as little pink worms in the fruits. Both can be controlled with insecticides registered specifically for the insect as directed on the label.
For tent caterpillars and fall webworms, physically remove the nests.
Peach Tree Spraying Program
All fruit trees (and especially peach trees) benefit from a proactive spraying program. A well planned spraying program can make the difference between a nice crop of peaches and a failed season.
- In late winter before new leaves emerge, spray stems and twigs with a horticultural dormant oil to control scale insects, mites, and aphids. This is the most important proactive spray you can do. It works by smothering overwintering insects and their eggs.
- Spray peach trees with a lime sulfur spray right after leaf drop in October or November, and again in early spring before buds begin to swell to control peach leaf curl.
- When the flower buds first begin to turn pink in early spring, spray an insecticide labeled for peaches to control many insect pests, and a properly labeled fungicide to control brown rot and other fungal diseases. You may also need to do this one more time (only) when about three-quarters of the flower petals have fallen.
Peach trees are notorious over-producers, sometimes breaking limbs from the weight of too many fruits. If you want to get large, beautiful peaches, you should thin the fruits to about 6-8 inches apart along the stems while they are still small and save all remaining fruits to ripen on the tree. We recommend removing all, or nearly all, fruits that develop in the first and second years while the tree is still maturing.
Peach trees begin bearing fruit in their second or third year and the useful life of a peach tree is around 10-15 years. Fruit production will last the entire growing time and you will get literal tons of peaches!
We hope you enjoyed reading this step by step guide on how to grow peaches. Happy planting and growing! May you have hundreds of peach fruit over the next while! Growing fruit trees is easy, fun, and rewarding. Contact us with any questions you may have about how to grow peach trees.