Most selections need 600 to 900 hours of winter chill (45°F or lower). Low-chill selections are the best bet for mild-winter regions. The peach and nectarine selections listed in the chart are the most widely available and recommended. Nematodes are a problem for peaches and nectarines. In Florida, trees must be budded onto nematode-resistant rootstocks such as ‘Flordaguard’, ‘Nemaguard’, and ‘Okinawa’. For information on those likely to perform best in your area, check with your Cooperative Extension Service or a local nursery.
Although you can buy peach and nectarine trees in containers, most people purchase and plant them as dormant bare-root plants in late winter. Soak the roots in water for 24 hours before planting.
If you buy a bare-root tree that is an unbranched “whip,” cut it back to 24–28 in. high. New branches will form below the cut. Select three of these branches to become main limbs, making sure they are evenly spaced and between 18 and 32 in. above the ground. Remove all other branches. During the first winter, cut back these main branches by a third, to an outward-facing lateral branch or bud; this encourages a spreading growth habit. Repeat this procedure during the second and third winters.
More pruning is needed than for other fruit trees, because they produce fruit on 1-year-old branches. Prune in winter to remove overcrowded branches, suckers from the base, and watersprouts (unbranched shoots that grow straight up from main branches). Prune to open up the center of the tree so that sunlight can reach all of the leaves. Genetic dwarfs need much less pruning than standard trees. Severe annual pruning not only renews fruiting wood—it encourages fruiting throughout the tree rather than at the ends of sagging branches that can easily break.
Even with good pruning, peaches and nectarines form too much fruit. When fruit is 1 in. wide, thin it out so remaining fruit is at least 6 in. apart.
Peaches and nectarines are plagued by a host of diseases and insects. If you’re philosophically opposed to spraying, you may want to reconsider growing them. Among the most serious ailments these trees suffer are peach leaf curl, brown rot, and peach scab. Peach leaf curl causes emerging leaves to thicken, pucker, and fall by midsummer. Brown rot causes fruit to rot on the tree. Peach scab covers the fruit with small, circular, greenish to black spots. To control these diseases, practice good sanitation, getting rid of diseased parts to avoid reinfection the next year. Also give two dormant-season sprayings of fixed copper or lime sulfur; spray once after autumn leaf drop, then again in spring just before leaf-out. Spraying with Bacillus subtilis, a biological fungicide, during the growing season can control many diseases as well.
Peach tree borer is the most serious insect pest, causing defoliation, dieback, and even death. It tends to attack trees stressed by wounds or poor growing conditions. Jellylike material exuding from holes near the base of the trunk is the first indication of the insect’s presence. To control borers, insert a wire into the holes to kill the wormlike larvae or spray the trunk with an appropriate pesticide (consult your Cooperative Extension Service for advice).
Get the recipe for our best-ever Peach Cobbler here.