How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Peach Trees
Are you thinking of adding some peach trees to your garden this season? These popular fruit trees can grow across a wide variety of different climates. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen takes you through everything you need to know about growing peach trees, including their maintenance and care.
Fresh peaches taste like … summer! Peaches have been grown and cultivated for an incredibly long time, and it’s not surprising that people have loved this fruit for so long. Peaches are sweet, juicy, and perfectly delicious. A peach tree takes a bit of work to maintain, but if you have a sunny location and are willing to put in some time and effort, you can also have a peach tree of your own.
Peach trees bloom in the spring, and many produce colorful and fragrant flowers. Flowers are ½ to 1 inch wide and quite showy, in beautiful shades of pink. Flowers can be quite abundant, and even if your tree didn’t produce any fruits, the flowers themselves would be worth growing a peach tree. The flowers also attract bees and other pollinators.
If you want to try growing a peach tree in your own yard, read on to learn more about peach-growing basics. It’s also a good idea to check with your local cooperative extension office for region-specific information about growing peaches in your area. The more you know, the more successfully you can grow.
Peach Tree Overview
Plant Type Fruit Tree
Scientific Name Prunus persica
Native Area China
Plant Height (standard) 20 to 25 feet
Plant Height (dwarf) 4 to 6 feet
Season Mid summer to Early fall
Bloom Time Spring
Hardiness Zones 4 to 9
Exposure Full Sun
Watering Requirements Moderate
Plant Spacing 18 to 24 feet
Tree Maturity 3 to 4 years
Growth Rate Moderate
Soil Type Loamy, well-drained, fertile
Diseases Bacterial spot, Peach leaf curl
Attracts Bees, Butterflies
Peach fruits are sweet, juicy, and colorful. The skin color varies from bright yellow to deep red-orange, usually within a single fruit. The inner flesh is very juicy, very sweet, and light orange in color, containing a single large pit in the center. Peaches are slightly fuzzy fruits, and nectarines are a non-fuzzy, smooth variety of peach.
Peach trees are deciduous fruit-bearing trees that are native to China. The Chinese consider the peach to be a symbol of longevity and immortality. Peaches certainly do have a long history of use and cultivation. Based on historical evidence, it appears that peaches have been cultivated since prehistoric times on the Asian continent.
Peaches were likely brought from Asia to Europe, where they were further cultivated. Evidence of ancient peaches has been found in China, Japan, India, and Greece.
They were then brought to the Americas in the 1600s. It’s no wonder peaches have been around so long; they are a sweet and delicious fruit that’s both healthy and easy to eat.
Peach trees told today in nurseries are typically grafted. They use a hearty and vigorous rootstock and graft it to a known variety of peaches. The known variety is the type of peach you actually harvest. This way, both the seller and the buyer know exactly what variety of peach they are working with. Peaches grown from seed are less certain due to cross-pollination and genetic variation.
Peaches can be grown as individual trees or as an entire orchard. A single mature peach tree can produce up to 150 pounds of fruit per year! All those peaches make tasty and nutritious snacks.
There are 20 states where peaches are grown commercially. Even though Georgia is known as “The Peach State,” California is actually the leading US producer of peaches, followed by South Carolina, with Georgia coming in third.
Not all peach varieties are suitable for just any location. The first thing to consider is which USDA hardiness zone you live in. That will limit your choices when selecting a peach variety to grow. You will need to select a variety that will grow well in your area.
These climate zones also help determine how many chill hours your tree will receive. Peaches won’t bloom or fruit without the proper number of chill hours or the amount of time with temperatures below a certain threshold.
Once you know your climate zone, you can look at the tree varieties available to you. Some of the things you will need to consider are:
How much space do you have? Do you have room for a full-size 25-foot tree or a mid-sized tree of 15 feet, or would you prefer a dwarf fruiting tree that will stay less than 6 feet tall?
Do you have a preference between “clingstone” peaches that have the stone (pit) attached to the fruit or “freestone” peaches where the pit separates easily from the fruit?
Do you want a standard fuzzy orange peach or something fancier? There are, for example, yellow peaches, white peaches, flat peaches, and nectarines.
Some fruiting trees require at least two varieties planted in close proximity to cross-pollinate and set fruit. Most peach trees are self-fertile and can, therefore, produce fruit without another peach tree nearby.
If you do happen to have space for two varieties, cross-pollination may still be a way to increase yield, as well as allow you to try multiple varieties of peach.
Varieties of Peach
- Bonfire Patio Peach: This is an example of a dwarf variety of peach. This plant grows just 4 to 6 feet tall and produces fruit in late summer. It grows in USDA zones 5 through 9 and requires only 400 chill hours to set fruit.
- Crimson Princess Peach: This is a mid-sized peach tree that grows from 12 to 15 feet tall and produces fruit in early summer. It grows in USDA zones 5 through 9 and requires 650 chill hours to set fruit.
- Early Elberta Peach: This is a full-size peach tree that grows from 15 to 25 feet tall and produces fruits in late summer. It grows in USDA zones 5 through 9 and requires 600 chill hours to set fruit.
You will need to select a healthy and vigorous plant that will grow well where you live. Buying plants in person will allow you the chance to inspect them yourself. If you plan to buy peach trees through mail-order, a bare-root stock will likely be sent to you. Just be sure to order from a reputable company!
Plant your new peach tree in the winter months while it is dormant; this could be anywhere from November through April. Setting your plant in the ground as early as possible gives the roots a chance to grow before the buds and new leaves emerge.
Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the entire root mass. Carefully set the tree in the hole to the depth it has been growing as a nursery plant.
Do not bury any extra length of trunk or underplant, leaving roots exposed. Push the soil up to the root mass at the proper depth and press the soil firmly into place to secure the tree in an upright position.
If you are planting more than one peach tree, give them each adequate space. Give standard-size varieties 18 to 20 feet and dwarf varieties 5 feet. This gives each tree enough sunlight and airflow, preventing fungal diseases.
Thoroughly water the tree and keep the soil moist, but not soggy, for the first few months. Keep an eye on your new tree so that if you catch any problems, you can correct them early.
Finally, you will need to prune the tree back to about 3 feet tall and remove the side branches. This will ultimately help your tree grow into a sturdy compact form and produce a healthy crop of peaches.
How to Grow
Proper care of your new peach tree is pretty straightforward. Learn about the appropriate placement, preparation, and care of your tree before you plant it, so you will be prepared to offer your tree the best environment and the best care possible.
Peach trees need full sun to grow, flower, and produce fruits. A tree grown in a shaded area will not be as healthy or as vigorous. If you don’t have a large enough location that’s full sun, it may be best not to try planting a peach.
Young trees should get approximately 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. Rainfall may be enough if you live in an area with regular rain. If not, you will need to water or irrigate your peach tree. Ensure the water is soaking into the soil and not just running off the surface.
Also, make sure to water enough to make the soil moist without being saturated or squishy. A general rule of thumb is to try to keep the soil moist without allowing it to dry completely. Peach trees are pretty sensitive to drying out and will not produce fruits if they are too dry.
Soil and Mulch
One of the most important things you can do to ensure a successful peach tree planting is to prepare the soil well in advance. Take the time to do this, and your newly planted tree will be off to the best start possible.
Peach trees require well-drained soil in order to grow. Any waterlogged or saturated soil will cause the plant to die. The best soil for peach trees is one where the topsoil (to approximately the top 24 inches) is sandy or loamy and very well-drained. The topsoil and the subsoil should both be rich in organic matter and relatively fertile.
Soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.0. Peach trees will not do well in acidic soils. If your soil pH is below 6.0, you will need to add lime to help increase soil pH. Mix it well and continue soil testing until the proper pH is reached.
After planting your peach tree, add a layer of mulch in a circle surrounding the tree but not covering the base of the tree. Avoid making a mounded pile of mulch that touches the trunk of the tree.
For mulch materials, you can use straw or hay, pine needles, leaves, grass clippings, or even compost. The mulch will help protect the newly planted tree from drying out and also help prevent weed growth around the base of the tree.
Climate and Temperature
You can grow a peach tree in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 8. Just check that the variety of peaches you select is hardy in your particular climate zone. There are peach varieties that are more cold-tolerant to zone 4 and more heat tolerant to zone 9, but these are less common.
Peaches also need a certain number of chilling hours to successfully flower and produce fruits. Depending on the variety, peaches will most commonly require anywhere from 400 to 600 chill hours.
The best thing you can do to ensure you select the best tree for your area is to make sure you know your hardiness zone and buy a tree that grows well in that particular zone.
You probably don’t need to fertilize your peach tree in the first year after planting or before the tree starts to produce fruit. After the first year, you should apply fertilizer each spring shortly before new leaf growth begins. Fertilize again in early summer.
Use a slow-release fertilizer formulated for fruit trees and be sure to follow the directions carefully. A peach tree in need of fertilizer will not grow well and may have discolored leaves, and ultimately won’t grow many peaches.
Weeding around the tree is essential to reduce competition, especially in the first couple of years. Vigorous weed growth around young trees can inhibit their ability to grow well and weeds can actually outcompete a young tree. Pull weeds by hand, use a string trimmer (but be careful not to damage the trunk of the tree!), or use a mulch barrier to prevent weeds.
Regular pruning is another way to improve tree health and performance. Pruning should be done in winter during the dormant period and before any buds have formed.
Fruits will develop on old wood. Prune any dead or diseased branches, as well as those that are long or tangled, branches that cross over other branches, and suckers and sprouts growing from the base of the tree.
Another method of pruning is to thin the fruits when they are starting to develop. A peach tree may produce more fruits than it can successfully grow. When the fruits are just starting to develop, at approximately ¾-inch to 1-inch diameter, pluck off excess fruits.
Thin them to a single fruit every 5 to 6 inches. Why? Your tree will be able to channel more energy to fewer larger fruits rather than producing more fruits that are likely to be smaller and less healthy.
Always clean your tools after pruning trees. This not only keeps your tools clean and sharp but helps prevent the spread of disease between plants. Use appropriate tools for the job and keep your tools sharp. This will help make pruning easier and helps make smooth, clean cuts.
A peach tree grown from seed can typically bear fruit in their third or fourth year after planting. A nursery-grown tree will produce fruit more quickly because it’s already a year or two old. Don’t worry if your tree loses some of its fruits before they ripen; this is a natural process that allows the tree to self-thin some of the fruits that it may not be able to support.
After watching your peaches grow for several months, you may start to feel impatient to pick them. How will you know when your peaches are ready to harvest?
- There is no more green coloration
- They are bright yellow-orange
- They can be picked easily with just a slight twist at the stem
Be very careful when harvesting peaches. The fruits are delicate and bruise easily. Do not grab and pull on the peaches, as this can damage both the fruits and the branches. Gently twisting where the stem meets the branch should be enough to release the fruit.
Pests and Diseases
Unfortunately, peach trees are susceptible to several pests and diseases. Carefully examine your tree on a regular basis to catch any potential problems early. Identify the situation as best you can and treat it promptly for the best results.
A simple method to help reduce pests and diseases is to clear out fallen fruits and leaves at the end of each season, reducing areas for pests and diseases to overwinter. Giving your plant ideal growing conditions will also help keep it healthy and robust.
There are several pests that can damage peach trees that range from tiny worms to birds or small animals. Prevention is the best way to keep your peaches safe.
A wire fence can keep larger pests from wandering in. A deterrent spray can keep the smaller bugs from getting too close. Predatory insects are also a good idea to incorporate into the garden.
Birds and Small Mammals
These are the most apparent pests that will nibble on peaches as they ripen. Other pests are smaller and less noticeable but can cause severe damage.
Using a fence, chicken wire, or another barrier can keep these unwanted creatures from eating the fruit you were reserving for yourself. Be sure to harvest fruit as soon as it is ripe, before these little guys can get to it!
Peach Tree Borers
These are the larvae of a moth. They burrow into the lower trunk and larger branches. Sap will ooze from these holes and weaken the trees. Peach tree borers can be controlled with insecticides, but only if treated preventatively.
Insecticides will work to prevent eggs from hatching, but once larvae have burrowed into the trunk, there isn’t much to be done to prevent their damage.
Oriental Fruit Moths
Larvae are tiny caterpillars that burrow into fruits. These can be somewhat controlled with insecticides. A more effective control method is a pheromone trap that attracts mating adults and prevents them from laying eggs on the fruits.
Tent Caterpillars and Webworms
Pesky tent caterpillars build silky nests that incorporate leaves and branches of peach trees. The caterpillars eat the leaves. Physically removing the nests is the best control. They are most active in the late spring and into early summer.
Thankfully, if the population is controlled early enough, the tree can be saved. Introducing predatory wasps can help reduce the number of caterpillars in the garden.
Peaches are susceptible to various damaging diseases including bacterial spot, powdery mildew, and peach leaf curl. Manage diseases by planting disease-resistant peach varieties and practicing good hygiene in the garden, such as pruning and cleaning up garden debris.
Bacterial spot is a fungal disease. It can develop on both young seedlings and on fully grown trees. It thrives in warm, humid environments.
When infected, leaves become covered with small brown spots. These spots will eventually turn yellow, causing the leaf to die. This disease can be treated with fungicides.
Peach Leaf Curl
This is a fungal disease caused by Taphrina deformans. It affects the flowers, leaves, and fruit. Peach leaf curl is one of the most common diseases for home gardeners growing peach trees.
Leaves appear curled and deformed, with reddish areas developing on new leaves. Planting disease-resistant varieties is the best way to avoid this disease. This is one of the few issues that impact peach trees more than other fruiting trees, like apple trees.
This is a fairly common disease that is caused by too much moisture, or improper watering methods. It is identified as grayish-white spots or coating on leaves and fruits.
It can be treated with fungicide, but it is also best to remove infected leaves and fruit from the tree. Water plants from underneath, preferably with an irrigation system or soaker hose.
When you think of peach trees, the first thing you may think of is peaches. Growing fruits is probably the most common reason someone would want to plant a peach tree. But there are more reasons than that.
Peach trees produce beautiful flowers in the spring, giving them value as ornamental trees. Peach trees also provide a bit of shade and are impressive trees to add to the landscape.
The flowers attract pollinators, and the fruits and branches of the tree attract wildlife, providing food and shelter.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you grow peach trees in containers?
Yes, you can grow the smaller dwarf peach varieties in a large container. Follow the same guidelines for where and how to plant your tree. You will need to be sure the container has excellent drainage and that the soil stays moist.
How long do peach trees live?
Depending on the variety of peach and the region in which it’s grown, the lifespan of a peach tree is typically between 7 and 15 years. Towards the end of the lifespan of a peach tree, it will start to look very ragged, and productivity will decline.
Can you grow a peach tree from seed?
The short answer is yes; you can grow a peach tree from seed. However, the resulting tree may not be the same as the peach it came from. Many peaches are cross-pollinated, and therefore you won’t know precisely what kind of peach you will be growing or how good, hardy, or productive it will be.
If you have a lot of patience, you can wait several years to find out. If you don’t have that much patience, it’s best to grow a known variety purchased from a nursery.
Peach trees may not be the most low-maintenance fruit tree to grow, but if you like the idea of fresh, local, home-grown peaches, you can certainly grow your own. With some advance planning and careful selection of your growing site and tree variety, you will be on your way to a successful harvest.
Remember to choose a variety that will grow well in your area, give it plenty of sun, water it regularly, and keep watch for pests and diseases. When it comes time to pick your peaches, you can enjoy many creative ways to eat your bountiful harvest!