In many parts of the South, peaches have already begun hitting the farmers’ markets, and from now through September these sweet and juicy fruits will be the toast of the town, turning up in ice creams, cobblers, and pound cakes. A lot of work goes into producing what some consider to be the South’s favorite fruit—you simply can’t stick a tree or a peach seed in the ground and ignore it, expecting it to grow and yield baskets of perfect produce. Peach trees are extremely finicky, requiring good drainage, fertilization, and ideal climate conditions. And while you can’t do anything about Mother Nature, there are additional things to do that will help your trees produce good fruit. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it, right? Whether your favorite peaches hail from Georgia, South Carolina, or your own backyard, we all agree that nothing tastes better on a hot summer day than a sweet dessert made from farm-fresh peaches.
They Like it Cold
For a good harvest, peach trees need some winter chilling; most selections require 600 to 900 hours of 45°F or lower temps during the dormant season. Only selections with a low winter chill, such as TropicSweet and La Feliciana, do well in the Coastal and Tropical South. An insufficient number of winter-chill hours means delayed leaf-out, a scanty crop, and eventual death of the tree. Early-blooming selections are also at risk if there is a late frost.
Then They Like it Hot
Peach trees require clear, hot weather during the growing season. If spring has been cool and rainy, peach trees will set few flowers, pollinate poorly, and get peach leaf curl.
They Require Heavy Pruning
Peach trees require heavier pruning than most other fruit trees. In each dormant season (that time of year when there are no outward signs of growth) cut off at least two-thirds of the previous year’s growth by removing two of every three branches formed that year. Even with heavy pruning, peach trees still have a habit of setting too much fruit. When fruits are about 1 inch wide, thin out some of the excess, leaving the remaining fruits 8 to 10 inches apart. If growth becomes weak and leaves turn yellowish, feed with nitrogen fertilizer.
They Are Plagued By Disease
Peach trees are pestered by numerous insects and diseases, so if you are truly opposed to spraying, you may want to reconsider growing this kind of fruit tree. During the dormant season farmers will typically administer a spray to prevent leaf curling. Later, as the weather slowly warms and the buds begin to open to reveal the pink flowers, it is time to apply fungicide to prevent brown rot. Later, as the fruit begins to grow and over half the pink petals have dropped from the tree, it is time for another application of fungicide to prevent brown rot at this stage. And later still, while the peaches grow they are susceptible to the plum curculio beetle. At this time, the tree will be sprayed with an insecticide for protection. Some insects attack a tree stressed by poor growing conditions or wounds. Always get rid of diseased plant parts and keep the ground free of rotten fruit.
The South is known for her delicious peaches. If you have specific problems with your peach trees, be sure and check with your local County Extension Agent for advice that is specific to your region.