by National Gardening Association Editors
Never plant peaches in low areas that can become frost pockets. To delay bloom in an area with frequent spring frosts, plant on the north side of a one- or two-story building. This will shade the tree in late winter, retarding the bloom, but allowing the tree to receive needed sun in the summer. Peaches do best in well-drained, sandy soils. Plant in the spring so the tree will be well established by winter. Space trees 15 to 20 feet apart.
Peach Tree Fertilizing
Fertilize the young tree with a nitrogen containing fertilizer such as 1 pound of 10-10-10 or its equivalent about 6 weeks after planting. In the second year, add 3/4 pound of the fertilizer in the spring and another 3/4 pound in early summer. Seeding the lawn around the tree with white clover as well as grass, or with bird's-foot trefoil or crimson clover, will provide extra nitrogen. (Clover and trefoil are nitrogen-fixing legumes.) Once the tree starts bearing, it shouldn't grow quite as vigorously and won't need as much nitrogen. From the third year on, mature trees need about 1 pound of actual nitrogen per year, applied in the spring when growth is starting. Slowing the tree's growth is a good way to make it stronger, more winter hardy, and longer lived. Don't apply fertilizer within 2 months of the average first fall frost, and let the lawn grow up around the tree in late summer and early fall. Don't apply any more water than necessary at this time and never prune in the fall.
Peach Tree Care
To prevent winter sunscald, you can paint the trunk white. Remove any mulch from around the base of the tree to avoid attracting rodents and place a mouse guard around the trunk if necessary. In late winter or early spring, after the ground has thawed, put a heavy layer of organic mulch around the trees to keep the soil cool - this will delay blooming.
Train peaches to an open center and prune annually. Remove dead or diseased wood first, then any branches growing straight up or droop down. Peaches and nectarines bear fruit only from lateral buds on 1-year-old branches. They need more dormant-season pruning than other fruit trees to stimulate growth of new fruiting wood each year and to keep the fruiting wood closer to the trunk. When bloom is heavy, lightly head back the longer fruiting branches to reduce the fruit load and prevent branch breakage. Summer pinching helps control tree size, encourages formation of next year's buds, and improves fruit quality. When the tree is 5 or 6 years old, remove all the wood produced in the previous 2 years. This will keep the tree from growing too tall and will restore vigor to the older wood.
About 4 to 6 weeks after bloom, thin some of the excess fruit if you have an abundant crop. Remove and destroy any fruit with signs of insect puncture. Thin so the fruits are spaced 6 to 8 inches apart on the branch. The remaining fruits will be larger and sweeter than they would have been without thinning.
Harvesting and Storing
Never shortchange yourself by picking your peaches too early. The reward for your labor is the special, home-grown flavor of a tree-ripened peach; one that has to sit for a while on the kitchen windowsill just isn't reward enough. If there's still some green on the peach, chances are it's not ready to be picked. A peach should come off the branch with one slight twist - nothing more vigorous than that. Be careful while harvesting because most varieties, especially the soft-fleshed 'Reliance' and 'Champion', bruise easily when ripe. To store peaches, keep them in a cool place to prevent further ripening.
Photo by the National Gardening Association
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