Peach trees originated in northern China, earning mention in Chinese writings dating as far back as 1000 BCE. Standard trees will grow to about 20 feet tall, while dwarf cultivars will stay closer to 6 feet in height. Although Georgia may be the “Peach State,” the top US producer of this juicy fruit is California. Most types will self-pollinate, meaning you only need one tree to get a bountiful fruit harvest. Deciduous in nature, they’ll drop their leaves in winter and can tolerate cold temperatures quite well. Blossoms emerge in spring before the leaves, and peach trees will try to produce more fruit than is good for them, so thin the flowers to keep these trees from exhausting themselves or making a whole bunch of sub-par fruit. Peaches will be ready between 3 and 5 months after flowering occurs, with fuzzy skin and white to yellow-orange sweet flesh.
One of the hardiest peaches, the Reliance cultivar will do best in climates with very cold winters and springs. Blooms are attractive, and fruits sport dark red to yellow skin with yellow flesh. A freestone type, it’s great to eat these small to medium sized fruits straight off the tree in late summer. This is a self-fruitful type, meaning you only need one tree for pollination to occur.
Seed: Peach trees are not commonly grown from seeds. However, if you want to try, it’s necessary to stratify them for 2 months at 35–40°F before planting.
Seed Depth: 4″
Space Between Plants: Dwarf: 8–10′, Standard: 15–20′.
Space Between Rows: Dwarf: 10′, Standard: 20′
Germination Soil Temperature: 35–50°F
Days for Germination: 98–105
Sow Indoors: Anytime after 2 months of cold stratification. Transplant outside in the spring or in fall if your winters are mild.
Sow Outdoors: In fall or early winter where winters are cold to allow the stratification to occur naturally. Stratified seeds should be planted in the spring. If winters are not cold in your area, you can start these prepared seeds in the fall as well.
Vegetative: Commonly propagated by grafting. Different rootstocks will be more adapted to different climates. You can also root hardwood cuttings.
Varieties of Peach have been developed that are adapted to a broad range of temperate climates. Reliance Peaches will not do well in most subtropical to tropical climates due to a need for a chilling period of 1000 hours of temperatures around or below 45°F during the winter. However, they do like summertime warmth as well, and temperatures above 70°F are needed to ripen fruit. Even the most cold-hardy trees will not survive a frost below about −20°F. Flower buds will begin to die at around -10–5°F, and opened blossoms will be damaged below 25°F, so a late spring frost can cause a loss of the year’s harvest. USDA Zones 6 and 7 are ideal for this tree, although this cultivar can be grown in Zones 4–9. Winter rain can also be problematic, so most trees are grown in a fairly dry climate.
Natural: Full sun. Tolerates partial shade with a reduction in yield.
Artificial: Grows well under LED or fluorescent lighting during vegetative growth phases. Switch to a metal halide HID lamp to promote flowering and fruiting.
Soil: Prefers a well-drained sandy or loamy soil with moderate levels of organic matter. A pH of between 6.0 and 7.0 will keep trees healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Trees growing in containers will do well in a mix of equal parts of well-rotted manure, coco coir, bark, perlite, and vermiculite.
Hydroponics: Thrives in hydroponic systems.
Aeroponics: Cuttings will root well in an aeroponic system.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Younger trees in their first year need to be watered deeply at least weekly. Established trees will need less watering. The best fruit will come from trees where soil is kept moist but not overly wet. The most critical time for water is during the final swelling of the fruit in the 6 weeks leading up to harvest.
Nutrients: Requires moderate to high levels of nutrients, particularly nitrogen. Use applications of compost or aged manure to provide nitrogen for young trees when they are becoming established. Early spring is the best time to fertilize, particularly if growth was slow over the previous year (less than 24″ of new growth for non-fruiting trees or less than 18″ for fruiting trees). You can provide a second feeding in late spring or early summer. Do not fertilize for the last 2 months of growth leading up to the average first frost date in order to ensure plants will be hardy through the winter.
Foliar: Will benefit from a foliar spray of liquid kelp one or two times per month during the growing period.
Pruning: Cut back the top of the tree after its first year of growth to promote branching. Once trees have developed well-spaced new branches around 2 feet above ground level, choose 3 or 4 of them to be the main or scaffold branches and remove any other side branches that have formed. In the second year, cut back any new branches that have begun to form in the center of the tree and remove suckers and any shoots that develop on the trunk below the scaffold branches. Continue to keep the center of the tree open, without crossed branches or dead limbs. Always prune to just above a node or flush with the trunk. Each year, prune lightly in the late winter or early spring to encourage new growth. Mature standard trees should be kept to 15–20 feet in height, while dwarf types will be about 8–10′.
To get larger and sweeter fruits, you can thin developing fruit to one per 4–8″ of branch.
Mulching: Use mulch to keep soil moist and suppress weeds. Keep mulch at least 2 feet away from the trunk.
Deficiency(s): A nitrogen deficiency will cause pale green leaf coloration and redness in stems and leaf midribs. A phosphorus deficiency will result in purplish leaves. Leaf rolling and pale-colored leaves can be a sign of potassium deficiency. A calcium deficiency will cause dead spots on smaller leaves, with leaves eventually dropping.
Rotation: Do not plant peach trees in areas where a peach tree was planted recently. A 3-year gap is recommended before planting in any area where stone fruits or forests (particularly post oak) were growing. Trees can grow for up to 20 years (although most produce for around 12 years), so annual rotation will not be necessary.
Companions: Grows well when planted with tansy, cilantro, clover, strawberries, nettles, nasturtiums, yarrow, garlic, grape, onions, asparagus, or basil.
Harvest: Pick peaches when they are totally ripe with no green coloration left on the fruit. Ripe fruit will be slightly soft to the touch, yellow to red in color, and will come off the tree easily with a gentle twist. Begin your harvest at the outer branches of the tree, where fruit will start to ripen earliest.
Storage: Fruits picked slightly early will store for longer, but taste may be compromised. For best results, keep ripe peaches in the refrigerator for 5 days or firmer ones for up to 20 days. The less-ripe fruits will need to be ripened at room temperature for several days before eating.
History: The Reliance cultivar is originally from New Hampshire, where it was first grown in 1964.
Preserve: Can be preserved by canning peeled and halved or sliced peaches in syrup. You can also make peach jam or freeze peach slices for later use. Pickling is a useful preservation technique that can be done with either ripe or green peaches. Try drying sliced peaches or making a fruit leather from the pulp using a dehydrator or oven set to low.
Prepare: Freestone types are mostly eaten fresh, though they can also be used for canning. Bite into a whole peach or add slices to salads or fruit salads. Also a common ingredient in dessert recipes like cobblers, pie, cakes, or as an ice cream topping. Add frozen peach slices to smoothies for a sweet kick.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin(s) A, B-3, and C. Also a good source of antioxidants, potassium, and dietary fiber.
Medicinal: Compounds found in peaches may inhibit the growth of some types of cancer cells. Regular consumption may help to control cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, and help to reduce risk of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases.
Warnings: Don’t eat the peach pits or leaves, since they contain a type of cyanide!
Peach allergies are possible, so take particular care if you know you have an almond allergy.
Make a delicious, easy, grain-free peach crisp for a healthy summertime snack.