How To Grow And Care For A Peach Tree

Peach trees will reward a faithful gardener with abundant fruit if they are given the right growing conditions, fertilizer, and maintenance pruning.

Peach trees are prized for their juicy summer fruit that make into wonderful pies. The height and texture that these trees add to the garden is a plus. While peach trees need little care for decorative purpose, they do need more attention to maximize fruit production.

Selecting the Right Tree

Peaches have been bred for thousands of years for different climates, tastes and color. You will want to pick a tree that is right for your climate, so check with a local nursery or university extension office to see what cultivars they recommend. Most peach trees do not need another tree to pollinate its fruit, but be sure to check before you buy the tree.

Once you have decided on a cultivar, look over the tree before you take it home. The ideal peach tree is 1 year old and about 3 feet tall with several branches, since older trees tend not to transplant as well and have fewer buds and branches. Look over your tree to make sure there are no signs of disease or damage.

Picking the Right Site

Peach trees can survive in most areas, but they need full sun and good air circulation to produce bountiful fruit. Frost damage during the early spring months is the most common cause of failure for a peach tree to develop its fruit. A site with full sun during the day will keep the tree and immature fruit a couple of degrees warmer during the chilly nights. An added bonus with a full sun site is sweeter tasting peaches. Air circulation is also important to keep cold area from pocketing around the tree and freezing the immature fruit.

To avoid root damage, a peach tree also needs well-draining soil. If a peach tree stands in water, the tree's roots will die back and effect the tree's overall growth. The best soil for peach trees is sandy loam with plenty of organic material. If your soil retains too much water, make a raised bed over the spot with some topsoil from a nursery.

Preparing the Site

Your peach tree will be growing in the same spot for years, so prepare the soil for long term growth. Begin by testing the ph level of the soil to determine if it is acidic or alkaline. Peach trees do best with a ph level of 6.5. However, most soils tend to be more acidic than this level, so sweeten the soil by adding lime. Lime takes years to leach down into the layers of soil, so you will need to work it into the ground a couple of feet deep in a 10 foot by 10 foot area. Over the years, your peach tree's roots will grow this far and will benefit from the sweetened soil.

Organic material also encourages the development of fruit by retaining moisture and releasing micronutrients. You can add manure, peat moss or compost up to a year before planting your trees. If you are adding lime, work the organic material in the ground at the same time to eliminate some extra work.

Planting Your Tree

The best time to plant your peach tree is when it is completely dormant during winter and early spring. It is easier to handle the tree at this stage, and the roots can develop before new foliage appears in the spring. Once you have picked a spot to plant your tree, dig a hole 3 feet wide and at least 2 feet deep so it is big enough for the tree's roots to spread out. You do not want to add fertilizer at this time, but you can add organic material.

Whether you have purchased a bare root or potted tree, you will want to inspect the tree's roots for damage or disease and remove them with a clean knife or pruning shears. Next, stand the tree upright in the hole and spread the roots out. The roots should be covered by at least 2 inches of soil. Then, fill the hole halfway and tap the soil down to ensure there are no air pockets. Fill in the rest of the hole and again tap the ground down with your foot until the soil is settled and leveled. Finally, water the tree thoroughly to ensure the roots are in contact with the soil.



Yearly Maintenance

To produce the maximum amount of fruit, peach trees need fertilizer twice a year. During early spring when the buds are just emerging, work one cup of 10-10-10 water soluble fertilizer around the drip line of the tree. Water soluble fertilizer is easily absorbed by the tree's roots. Then, when the last of the fruit has been harvested, apply another cup of the same 10-10-10 fertilizer.

Peach trees do not like to compete for water or nutrients, so keep weeds and other plants 3 feet away from the base of the tree. Also, apply a layer of mulch to the soil to keep weeds down and retain moisture in the soil.

If you have a healthy peach tree, it will produce enough peaches that it will break its own branches. To prevent this and encourage large fruit, you will need to thin the immature fruit four weeks after your tree stops blooming. Thin the fruit so that there is only one peach every 6 inches on a branch. To remove immature fruit, with one hand hold the branch and with the other hand, pluck of the extra fruit. Be careful not to tear the branch's skin, leaving it vulnerable to disease.

Pruning

You can prune your peach tree during the early spring and throughout the growing season. Major pruning should be done during early spring after extremely cold weather has past but before foliage has appeared. However, when branches become diseased, damaged or shoot off a sucker branch, they should be removed immediately.

The most productive shape for peach trees is a V-shape with growth that is 3 to 5 years old. By allowing light to reach the inner branches of the tree, fruit can develop in the inner part of the tree. Fruit buds only develop on mature branches, but will stop once the wood is several years old.

Begin your pruning process by removing any dead, damaged or diseased branches. Next, remove any waterspouts or vertical growing branches since they rarely produce fruit. Once those branches are removed, prune your tree so branches angle off each other and have plenty of room. Old branches can also be removed since they produce less fruit after three years.

Preventing Damage from Insects and Disease

Peach trees are prone to many types of insects and diseases. Planting your trees in a sunny location with good air circulation is one step to preventing problems with disease. Another step is to apply a dormant spray in the winter and following up with a combination insecticide and fungicide spray throughout the growing season.

While peach trees need a good site to encourage fruit production, they also need seasonal fertilizing, pruning and pest control. Once you have managed these tasks, you should have years of fresh peach pies to enjoy.

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