Which came firstthe peach or the nectarine? At first glance, the nectarine (Prunus persica nucipersica) looks like a peach (P. persica) that has lost its fuzz. Recent evidence suggests, however, that the nectarine evolved first. No matterpeaches and nectarines, while native to Asia, do just fine throughout the South. In most areas, crops ripen between May and September, depending on the selection. A standard-size fruiting peach or nectarine grows rapidly to 15 ft. high and wide, though properly pruned trees are usually kept to a height of 1012 ft. They start bearing at three to four years old and reach peak production at six to eight years of age. Genetic dwarf trees, most of which grow to 56 ft. tall and produce medium-size fruit, are good for containers and small gardens. With a few exceptions (see comments in chart), most peaches and nectarines are self-pollinating. For ornamental peaches grown for their flowers, see Prunus.
If you're considering planting a peach or nectarine, keep several things in mind. First, these are not low-maintenance plants. They require good drainage, heavier pruning than other fruit trees, and regular spraying if you expect to get fruit. Second, it is essential to consider the chill hours a particular selection needs in order to bloom and set fruit (see chart). Once a tree's chill requirement has been satisfied, the onset of mild weather will bring it into bloom within several weeks. A subsequent sudden freeze may doom the crop. Therefore, growers in the Upper, Middle, and Lower South are safer planting selections that require at least 750 chill hours and bloom later in spring. On the other hand, growers in Florida and along the Gulf and South Atlantic Coasts, where winters are mild, need to plant low-chill selections that require less than 650 hours of winter chill. Third, remember that cold air is heavier than warm air, so it collects in low spots. Air temperatures of 28F and lower can kill peach and nectarine flowers. Plant these trees on slopes and hilltops to avoid frost pockets. A mere 10 ft. of elevation can mean the difference between saving and losing a crop.