Peach Growing Tips, Pests and Diseases

Peaches are considered one of the hardest fruit to grow, particularly for growers who don't use chemical sprays, because of multiple pests and an early bloom period that makes it extremely susceptible to frost damage. Spraying white paint on the trees, buds and all, in mid-January can help delay blooming by up to 5 days; this is often enough to make a big difference in flower survival and fruit set, according to Rutgers University. Use flat-white, interior latex paint to avoid damaging the trees. Plant at about the same depth that it was grown in the nursery; its upper roots should be only a few inches below the soil surface. Thinning is crucial to a good harvest. After the June drop, when the fruit is 1 1/4 inch in diameter, thin to: (a) 1 fruit per 30-40 leaves; (b) 1 fruit per 10 inches on early-ripening varieties, or (c) 6-8 inches on late-ripening varieties. "Cling" varieties are firm, best for canning, but rarely available for homegrowers. "Freestone" varieites don't can well; the flesh separates from the pit when ripe and is soft. Peach trees live a mere 8 years in the South and 18 years in the North; poor drainage renders even shorter life cycle.

Harvesting Peaches

Pick when the fruit is firm, almost ready to eat, and easily slides off the stem by tipping or twisting. Never pull it directly off or you'll bruise the peach and hasten spoilage. If fruit has a mild case of brown rot, harvest only those peaches that are infected and dip them in hot water for 7 minutes at 120°F (alternatives: 3 minutes at 130°F; 2 minutes at 140°F). This kills the fungi without harming the fruit, and prepares it to be stored for further ripening.

Storage Requirements

To freeze the fruit: peel, pit, and cut in halves or slices. Pack it with some honey mixed with lemon or pectin pack. Peaches don't store well in a root cellar. Fresh peaches can be stored in dry place at 50°-70°F for 3-14 days.

Height - Dwarf: 4-10 ft. Standard: 15-20 ft.

Spacing - Dwarf: 12-15 ft. Standard: 15-25 ft.

Root Depth - Shallow, over 90% in top 18 inches. Roots won't branch out if planted too deeply.

pH - 6.0-6.5

Bearing Age - 2-3 years

Pollination - Most self-pollinate, but yields will be higher with cross-pollination.

Chilling Requirements - Most need 600-900 hours below 45°F

Site - Full south or south-east exposure. Will not survive on heavy clay soils. Do not plant on former apricot, cherry, or peach tree sites; when waterlogged, their roots release hydrogen cyanide that may linger in the soil and hinder growth.

Fertilizer - Low N for trees under 3 years. Appropriate new growth is 12-15 in. when young, and 8-18 in. when bearing.

Training - Free-standing tree: open center. Wire-trained: fan, against a south-facing wall.

Pruning - Unlike apple, peach bears fruit on 1-year-old wood only and should be pruned to encourage new growth. Cut out branches that shade or cross each other, intrude on the center, or winter-damaged. Remove at least one-third of the previous year's growth, or too much fruit will be set. Every few years, cut out some older wood. Cut upright-growing shoots back to the outward-pointing buds.

Peach Pests & Diseases

Aphid, birds, cherry fruit sawfly, codling moth, gopher, gypsy moth caterpillar, Japanese beetle, oriental fruit moth, peach tree borers, peach twig borer, plum curculio, root lesion nematodes, tarnished plant bug, tent caterpillar, weevil, whitefly.

Bacterial canker, bacterial spot, brown rot, crown gall, cytospora canker, peach leaf curl, scab, verticillium wilt.

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