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HOW TO GROW PEACHES

Anne K Moore
photographs by Anne K. Moore

Ornamental flowering trees will give you flowers and shade.  Most dwarf peach trees will give you the same things, and a bonus of fruit.  Before dwarf trees were developed, fruit trees could only be grown on acreage because they required about twenty feet between trees.  Now, with dwarf trees, you can put in a couple of peaches and space them only five to ten feet apart.  You don’t even need that much room with the new patio peach trees.  You can grow one in a pot on a sunny porch, deck, or patio.

Plant peach trees in twos for cross-pollination.  Be sure that the cultivars you put together bloom at the same time.  It is best to plant peach trees when they are fully dormant during late fall, winter, or early spring.  Plant them as early as you can work the ground so that the roots have a chance to establish before top growth begins. 

Prepare your soil by getting a soil test and then adding lime and phosphorus, if needed, before you dig up the area.  The pH should be 6.5.  Lime and phosphorus do not travel through the soil quickly, but can take years to move down through the soil if they are not dug in.  By adding it on top and then digging it in, you speed up the process, helping it to work within a matter of months. 

If your trees arrive bare root, then soak the roots in a bucket of water for up to 12 hours.  Trim off any broken or dead roots, but be careful not to root-prune too heavily.  If you have a containerized tree, keep it well watered until you are ready to put it in the ground.

When you plant the tree, be sure to dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and only as deep as the tree is growing in its container.  For container trees, remove the container and loosen the soil by rubbing your hands up and down and around the roots.  If they are compacted into a root bound mass, then slice through them, about a quarter inch deep, from the top of the root mass to the bottom, on four sides.  Then rough up the roots so that they will branch out into the soil.

Backfill the hole with native soil.  You should not add fertilizer or compost to the soil in the hole.  If the soil is extremely poor, then dig up and amend the whole area, at least five feet around the planting hole.  If you only amend the soil in the planting hole, the roots will stay in that richer area, grow in a circle, and become root bound just as though they were growing in a too small pot.  The tree will weaken and can die in a few years if improperly planted.

After the trees are in the ground, be sure to water them well to remove all air pockets from around the roots.  If the soil settles too low, then add more soil to bring it to the proper depth.  The top of the root ball should not be more than 1 to 2 inches below ground.  Planting too deep is worse than planting too shallow.

Drainage is another reason for a tree to do poorly or to just decline and die.  Make sure the site you select drains well.  Fruit tree roots are very susceptible to rot if they are in soggy or constantly wet soil.

Once your planting is complete, make the area weed free and put down a pre-emergence weed inhibitor.  Then cover the area with mulch.  Hitting your trees with a lawnmower or a weed trimmer will damage the bark and can girdle the tree, another reason for a tree to just up and die.  To keep this from happening, create a wide boundary so that these power tools won't come close to your tree.

If pruning is a mystery, just remember to attempt to create a vase shape.  Consult your local University Extension Service for proper pruning techniques throughout the life of your tree.  Prune in late winter, just before the buds would break (start growing) in your area.

Fertilize in early spring and again in late summer.  Consult an extension service advisor or master gardener for the proper fertilizer and amount.  Be sure to keep it away from the trunk of the tree.  Do spread it out in the adjoining soil.

Peach trees need chilling temperatures of 45° or lower in order to set fruit.  A happy problem often is that peach trees will set more fruit than they can mature.  The fruit should be at least 6 inches apart on each limb, 8 inches if the fruit is an early maturing variety.  Thin them out by pulling off the smallest fruits.  If you leave too many peaches on the tree, the fruit will not mature properly and the taste will be inferior.

You may need to stake your tree.  Be sure to do so loosely so that it will sway in the wind.  Do not leave stakes on trees longer than 6 months.  Remove them sooner if the roots support the weight of the overhead tree.  Tree trunks need to move in order to become strong; much like doing calisthenics helps us improve our muscles.

Ornamental flowering trees are beautiful in the landscape.  Fruit trees can be just as beautiful and optimize our garden spaces.  They can supply us with fruit we can eat fresh or, we can put some by, for those fruitless days of winter.

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