What if you eat a fantastic peach and want to grow a tree from the pit? You can do it, but it won’t necessarily produce fruit just like its parent. Even so, a peach grown from its seed has a better chance of being tasty then many other fruits. Getting a twenty-foot peach tree from a hard peach pit only takes four to five years. In gardener years, that’s a very short time.
Peach trees are not the same the country over. If you want to try growing your own tree from a delicious peach you ate for lunch, be sure it came from a local tree. If it was shipped in, it might not be hardy in your area.
Successful sprouting is more likely from pits collected from mid season or late season peaches. Early varieties do not have a good germination success rate.
Another consideration for peach growing is the low temperatures your area receives in the wintertime. Most peaches need a sustained temperature lower than 45 degrees in order to set fruit. Early springs with late frosts will also harm a peach harvest, since the flowers and fruit are very susceptible to late cold blasts.
Prepare the peach seeds by scrubbing all of the peach off the pit with a soft brush in clear water. If the peach was so ripe that the pit has split open, it will reveal the actual seed inside. You can remove the outer hard coat and just plant the seed kernel. Handle these seeds with care. They contain cyanide and are highly poisonous.
If you can successfully remove the seed without damaging it or yourself, the germination process will speed up after planting. This is not necessary, though. Tiny trees will grow from many of the hard pits.
Chill peach seeds for at least 8 weeks or from fall to spring. Otherwise, they might not germinate. The peach pits need to be moist but not wet for their chilling (stratification) period. There are several ways to accomplish the cold and moist conditions needed for the stones to sprout.
If you live in an area where winters are long and cold, you can plant the peach pits directly into the garden soil. Dry the peach pits and store them until the heat of summer has passed. In the fall, plant the whole pits or the kernels four inches deep in good garden soil. Cover the planted area with mulch, and water them well.
If you have chipmunks or squirrels, you might be ahead to plant your peach pits inside a cage made of hardware cloth and sunk into the ground. Top it off with more wire caging after you have the pits planted. This will help keep hungry critters from digging up and eating your crop.
Next spring several of the peach pits should have sprouted into tiny trees. Pot them up and move them to an Eastern or Northern exposure until the trunks have stiffened and the trees are over a foot tall. Choose the strongest tree and plant it directly into the garden. Give the rest away if you don’t have room for an orchard.
Always plant several pits, as some won’t germinate and not all those that do will survive their first birthday.
In warmer areas of the peach tree range, you will need to stratify the seeds artificially in a refrigerator.
In the fall, put the dry cleaned pits into a plastic bag and cover them with water. Put them in the refrigerator. On the second day, pour out the water and put them back into the refrigerator for the winter. Alternatively, wrap the pits in damp paper towels and seal them in a jar or plastic bag before you store them in the refrigerator.
The trick is to keep the pits moist without mold or mildew growing on them.
When the stratification time is up, pot each little tree separately in soil based potting mix. Fill gallon pots to within four inches of the top with soil. Take the pits/seeds out of cold storage. Carefully lay the sprouted seeds on the soil and then filter more soil on top to fill the pot. (If there is only one sprout on the seed, it will be the root, which emerges first.) Water in the soil around the seeds.
Keep the soil moist (not wet or rot will set in) and in a frost-free place until springtime weather is settled and there is no more danger of frost. Always try to grow more trees than you want for your garden. Some will not germinate and some will be weak. Harden the seedlings off by increasing their time outdoors in the sun, starting with just a few minutes the first day, and increasing time each successive day.
When your trees have grown strong in the outdoor air and sunshine, find a spot in your garden that gets sun, drains well, has a near neutral pH, and will accommodate a tree that will reach 20 feet high. Transplant at least two of your favorite trees into this peach-idyllic spot and wait for that first ripe peach you really grew yourself.
By Ron Harrison, Ph.D., Entomologist and Orkin Technical Services Director
Photographs courtesy of Orkin
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