What’s the Difference Between Freestone and Clingstone Peaches?

If you’re in the market for a peach tree, there are some important factors to consider. One of the main distinctions among peaches is whether they are freestone or chingstone. But what does that mean? In this article, peach-loving gardener Melissa Strauss answers that question to help you choose the perfect peach tree for your landscape.

Freestone clingstone peach difference. A close-up of ripe peaches in a large wicker basket, among which lies half a peach with juicy yellow flesh and a pinkish-brown pit in the center.

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Is there anything sweeter than a perfectly ripe, juicy peach picked straight off the tree? I don’t know about you, but when the peaches are ripe, I just can’t get enough of them. That is, if I can beat the squirrels to the chase. 

Peaches are such a delicious and versatile fruit. From cobblers to chutneys and everything in between, peaches make everything taste better. On top of being among the tastiest fruits, they are also easy, unfussy trees to grow. Once mature, they are drought tolerant, and in the spring and in bloom, they are positively breathtaking.

If you’re thinking about adding peach trees to your garden, you may be looking into which type is best for your needs. There are a range of trees that have different needs, such as chill hours. Some peaches are great for eating right off the tree, while others are well suited for baking. 

When you choose a peach variety, an important distinction to make is whether it is a freestone or a clingstone variety. For me, this makes a big difference in how I use a peach. So, what is a peach stone, and what is the difference between freestone and clingstone? I’m glad you asked! The answer is surprisingly simple. 

The Short Answer

The word stone in peach varieties refers to the seed or pit in the fruit. A freestone peach is one where the seed comes away from the flesh easily. A clingstone, likewise, has a seed that clings or is more securely attached to the flesh of the fruit.

‘Contender’ Peach Tree

The Prunus persica 'Contender' is characterized by glossy, lance-shaped leaves and produces medium-sized, round, fuzzless fruits with a vibrant red blush over a yellow background.

‘Contender’ peach trees:

  • are freestone, making them easy to eat or prepare for jams and canning
  • are self-pollinating
  • produce large crops every summer
  • are cold-hardy to zone 5

 

 

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The Long Answer

As any peach-lover knows, when it comes to pits, not all peaches are the same. Some peaches are sweet, some are milder, some are very juicy, while others may be less so. They all have their uses, and they are all delicious when ripe. So what does it mean for a peach to be clingstone or freestone, and what does that mean in terms of the fruit’s use? Let’s dig in.

Freestone

A close-up of a fresh, halved peach that displays a rounded silhouette, featuring a downy, pinkish-orange skin, tender, honey-colored flesh, and a prominent, smooth stone at its core.
Enjoy the convenience and versatility of freestone peaches in cooking.

When we talk about stones, we are talking about the seed, also known as the pit of the peach. A freestone peach is exactly what it sounds like. A peach where the flesh easily seems to fall off the pit. These varieties tend to be larger and firmer, with a milder flavor. They are less juicy than their clingstone counterparts, but they are still very tasty. 

The benefit of freestone peaches is pretty clear. They are easier to work with because you can slice them around the middle and pull them apart cleanly. There is no waste, so many people prefer to cook with them. Because they have a lower sugar content, many folks prefer them when making desserts. They can balance out other sweet flavors nicely. But that is a matter of personal preference. 

Freestone peaches have firmer flesh that retain their shape nicely after they’re cooked. That can be a bonus for pies and cobblers. They are also good for canning for the same reason. You get nice, clean slices that retain their shape and look pretty in the jar and on the plate.

When it comes to eating freestone peaches raw, there are pros and cons. As I mentioned, freestone peaches tend to have a milder flavor and are not quite as juicy as their clingstone cousins. They are, however, easier to eat. You get to eat every last bit of sweet peach flesh without any juice dribbling down your chin. 

Contender

The Prunus persica 'Contender' is characterized by glossy, lance-shaped leaves and produces medium-sized, round, fuzzless fruits with a vibrant red blush over a yellow background.
Savor the succulent sweetness of this vibrant freestone peach variety.
Botanical Name: Prunus persica ‘Contender’
  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: 12’-15’
  • Zones: 4-9
  • Chill Hours: 1050

‘Contender’ is a delicious freestone peach with large, sweet, firm, yellow flesh. Let this peach ripen all the way for the juiciest fruit. In spring, it puts on a spectacular floral display, with a bounty of bright pink blossoms that pollinators will flock to. It has excellent disease resistance and cold hardiness. This tree has a bonus in the fall as its leaves change to a deep gold for extra color in the garden. 

Elberta

The Prunus persica 'Elberta' showcases broad, glossy green leaves and yields large, yellow-skinned, red-blushed fruits renowned for their juicy, sweet flesh.
Delight in ‘Elberta’, prized for its luscious, versatile fruits.
Botanical Name: Prunus persica ‘Elberta’
  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: 10-14’
  • Zones: 5-9
  • Chill Hours: 850

‘Elberta’ is an early producer known for its beautiful fruit. These peaches aren’t just pretty. Their yellow flesh is juicy and great for eating right off the tree. They also work well in the kitchen as they hold up well to cooking. This variety is world-renowned for its excellent disease resistance. It’s also a fast grower that will fruit in its first year!

August Pride

Prunus persica ‘August Pride’ features narrow, glossy green leaves and produces medium to large-sized, yellow-skinned fruits with a red blush.
Savor a delightful peach perfect for warmer climates.
Botanical Name: Prunus persica ‘August Pride’
  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: 12’
  • Zones: 8-10
  • Chill Hours: 300

‘August Pride’ is the perfect peach for warm climate growers. It only needs 300 chill hours, so it grows well all the way south to Zone 10. Most consider this tree to be semi-dwarf, so it won’t take up too much space in the garden.

The fruits have a wonderful aroma and take on a beautiful blush when ripe. In terms of spring color, this is a stunner. It produces plenty of fragrant pink blooms with striking red anthers.

Clingstone

Ripe peaches on the table, among which there is half a peach, unveiling a spherical contour, adorned with a velvety, peach-hued skin, juicy, creamy white flesh, and a sizable, textured pit nestled at its center.
Indulge in the unparalleled sweetness of clingstone peaches, perfect for preserving.

You’ve probably guessed what clingstone peaches are like. These are peaches with very sweet and juicy flesh that clings to the pit. If you are looking to make peach preserves or jam, this is absolutely the type of peach to choose. Their soft flesh cooks to a wonderfully creamy and soft texture, and they are oh-so-sweet! 

When it comes to eating them raw, there simply is no better-tasting fruit. Soft, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth flesh is worth every dribble of juice. Yes, they can be difficult to slice, but you won’t get those lovely, even crescent-shaped slices with clingstones. They also tend to go mushy when cooked, so a peach cobbler made from these won’t have much texture. 

Clingstone peaches are perfect for making peach ice cream. They are so sweet that you can leave out the sugar altogether. They also work wonderfully in smoothies or any dish where you want the flavor of peach but don’t care for solid chunks of fruit. Peach daiquiris, anyone? Yum!

Florida King

Prunus persica ‘Florida King’ displays lance-shaped, glossy green leaves and bears medium to large-sized, round fruits with a velvety deep pinkish skin.
Indulge in the perfect peach for Southern baking enthusiasts.
Botanical Name: Prunus persica ‘Florida King’
  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: 12’-15’
  • Zones: 8-10
  • Chill Hours: 450

For southern gardeners who also love to bake, ‘Florida King’ is an amazing peach to try. With large fruit that has firm, smooth flesh, this peach is great for baking, preserving, and eating off the branch. This one will produce lots of peaches in late spring to early summer. Its low number of chill hours makes it perfect for warmer climates. Give this tree room to spread out because it does!

Dixon

Prunus persica ‘Dixon’ showcases dark green, lance-shaped leaves and yields large, round fruits with yellow skin covered in a red blush.
Savor heirloom sweetness, perfect for classic homemade pies.
Botanical Name: Prunus persica ‘Dixon’
  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: 12’-16’
  • Zones: 6-9
  • Chill Hours: 800

When it comes to flavor, ‘Dixon’ is hard to beat. This clingstone variety matures early and has some of the sweetest fruit you will find. This is an heirloom, so it’s been trusted and true for generations. While the flesh of this peach is very tender and flavorful, it’s slightly less juicy, which makes it perfect for pies. You’ll get a nice texture every time you make cobbler with this peach. And did I mention the flavor? Yum!

Halford

Prunus persica ‘Halford’ presents elongated, dark green leaves and produces large-sized, round fruits with a yellow-orange skin and red blush.
Opt for a top choice for canning with reliable ‘Halford.’
Botanical Name: Prunus persica ‘Halford’
  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: 25’
  • Zones: 6-9
  • Chill Hours: 500-600

‘Halford’ has a strong reputation as a canning peach. It’s a large tree that produces lots of firm and tasty fruit. This is the leading variety used in commercial canning. You can rely on the fruit to be dependably high quality. The firm flesh holds up well and won’t fall apart in the jar. If you like canning, this is a great peach. 

Semi-Clingstone

Once halved, the peach exhibits a plump, oval shape, boasting a velvety, blush-toned skin, succulent, yellow-orange flesh, and a central, almond-shaped pit ensconced within.
Enjoy the best of both worlds with semi-clingstone peaches.

There is a third type of peach, which blends some characteristics of both clingstone and freestone. Semi-clingstone peaches are hybrid varieties that are cultivated to possess characteristics of both types. They are sweet and juicy, like a clingstone peach. However, the pit is easier to remove, similar to a freestone, with maybe just a bit more cling. 

Semi-clingstone peaches are good for any purpose and recipe. They are great for baking, canning, cooking, making preserves, and eating raw. They are nice and juicy, so I can’t promise there won’t be any juicy mess. But they are a bit easier to snack on because the flesh comes away without a fight. 

Garnet Beauty

Prunus persica ‘Garnet Beauty’ exhibits glossy, lance-shaped leaves and yields medium-sized, round fruits with an orange skin and deep red blush.
Experience the versatile beauty and flavor of golden-red peaches.
Botanical Name: Prunus persica ‘Garnet Beauty’
  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: 8’-15’
  • Zones: 5-9
  • Chill Hours: 850

You can tell by the name that this tree produces gorgeous fruit. Golden peaches ripen to a rich, deep red in mid-summer. As a semi-cling, this peach does it all. You can eat it right off the tree, bake it into a pie, can it, or make sweet and delicious preserves with this fruit. It’s a compact tree that needs a substantial number of chill hours, so south of Zone 9, this is not the best choice.

Red Haven

Close-up of a box of ripe Prunus Persica ‘Red Haven’ peaches that showcase medium-sized, round fruits with bright red skin.
Indecisive yet abundant, yielding creamy, sweet, fuzz-free treasures.
Botanical Name: Prunus Persica ‘Red Haven’
  • Sun Needs: Full sun
  • Height: 12’-15’
  • Zones: 5-8
  • Chill Hours: 800

‘Red Haven’ can’t decide if it’s a freestone or clingstone, so we place it in the semi-cling category. This moderately sized tree produces tons of medium-sized, yellow-fleshed peaches. The fruit is very sweet, creamy, and almost fuzz-free. The branches have a spreading habit, which makes it easy to train this tree and harvest the bushels of fruit it produces. 

Other Factors to Consider

There are a couple of other factors that should influence your choice of peach trees. Before I wrap up, I’d love to share these things to help you make the best decision when selecting a tree or two. 

Flesh Color

A close-up of a sliced peach reveals creamy white flesh with a subtly reddish center where the pit was once nestled, showcasing the fruit's succulent texture.
Delight in the sweetness of fresh, soft white peaches.

Peach flesh comes in two colors: yellow and white. When you think of biting into a sweet, juicy peach, you’re most likely thinking of a yellow fruit. Yellow peaches are sweet but also slightly acidic. This gives them a tangy, balanced flavor. When a yellow peach is ripe, you’ll know by the sniff test. A ripe yellow peach will have a strong, sweet, peachy aroma. 

White peaches, which mostly occur in Asian species, are similar but have some unique characteristics. White peaches are less acidic than yellow ones, so the flavor is milder, more sweet, and less tangy. They tend to have softer flesh which doesn’t lend well to cooking. White peaches are best eaten fresh. 

Chill Hours

In the winter garden, leafless Peach trees stand against the backdrop of a vibrant green lawn, their bare branches creating intricate silhouettes against the clear sky.
Selecting the perfect peach tree hinges on chill hour harmony.

Finally, the question of chill hours is one of utmost importance when choosing a peach tree. This factor varies widely and will determine which tree is compatible with your particular climate. The amount of cold weather that a peach tree needs to produce fruit is referred to as chill hours. These are hours when the temperature is between 32-45°F (0-7°C). 

Here in North Florida, we get about 500-700 chill hours, so any tree that needs more than that is a no-go. Travel north a bit to North Carolina, and you get a minimum of 750 chill hours, with an average closer to 900. The farther north you go, the more chill hours.

Planting a tree with the appropriate number of chill hours is important in warm climates as well as cold ones. A tree won’t bear fruit if it doesn’t get enough chill hours. The issue with cooler climates is different. A tree with fewer chill hours will flower earlier in the season. In colder climates, an early blooming tree can fall prey to frost, and there again, no flowers, no fruit. 

Final Thoughts

Any way you slice them, peaches are delicious. The choice between cling or freestone comes down to what you plan to do with your peaches. Canned, puréed, or tossed in a pie, peaches are a summertime staple. Personally, I think there’s no better way to eat a peach than straight off the tree, still warm from the summer sunshine. 

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