Biting into a ripe peach is an experience. The bright sweetness of the flesh and the tangy skin are unbeatable, especially if you can find one fresh off the tree. That's why growing peaches is so rewarding. It's one of those fruits that the grocery store version can't replicate.
Unfortunately, if you live in a cold climate like me, it’s tough to find perfect peaches, even in season. If you think that you’re stuck with cardboard-tasting peaches forever because you live in a cold climate, though, think again. Peachtrees aren’t only suited for growing in warm southern climates. It’s, in fact, possible to grow this delicious stone fruit in zones as cold as 4 and 5.
It’s true that peaches are typically grown in warm areas. There’s a reason the state of Georgia is associated with this orange-colored fruit. Peaches thrive in warm weather and full sunlight. They’re also usually sensitive to cold snaps. Our growing guide explores how to grow and care for peach trees in addition to a section that covers the different fruit tree varieties and which types are best for cold climates.
As with any fruit tree, it’s crucial to pick a variety that suits your zone and climate. With peaches, choosing a peach for your area depends on the number of chill hours it requires (explained in the section ‘Growing Peaches’).
Picking a hardy tree variety is critical if you’re planning to plant a peach tree in a location with harsh winters, but keeping your tree alive also involves selecting the right area for planting and preventing exposure to rapidly changing temperatures. Keeping a peach tree alive is more difficult in colder zones, but it's possible. If you choose to experiment, procure hardy stock from a reputable nursery and inquire whether they have any growing tips.
Peaches come in several different stone categories: clingstone, freestone, or semi-freestone. This designation refers to the relationship between the flesh and the fruit's stone.
Clingstone: It’s tougher to separate the flesh from the pit from these types of peaches. You should eat clingstone peaches fresh.
Freestone: With these types of peaches, you can easily remove the pit from the flesh. These are ideal in cooking.
Semi-freestone: This type of peach is a versatile hybrid with a pit that’s easy to remove. It's excellent eaten fresh and used in recipes.
Cold Hardy Varieties
Peach varieties suitable for zone 5 (and in some cases zone 4) include:
- Canadian Harmony – This variety produces large, yellow fruits with freestone flesh. The fruit, which is perfect for freezing, ripens mid-to-late August.
- Glohaven – Glohaven produces yellow and blush, fuzz-free fruit with freestone flesh. The fruits ripen in early-to-mid August.
- Reliance – This type produces golden, medium-sized fruits on a small tree. The fruits are ready by mid-July.
- Contender – Contender is a hardy tree that produces medium-to-large fruit. It's disease-resistant and ripens in mid-August.
- Madison – This variety has deep yellow flesh and bright red skin. It's hardy, a vigorous producer, and ready to pluck in late August.
- Redhaven – The fruit of the Redhaven peach is almost fuzz-free and incredibly delicious. It's disease-resistant and heavy-bearing.
If you spot the word ‘compact’ in front of a fruit tree name, it’s a good bet that it’s a dwarf-type.
- El Dorado – This variety is compact, with medium-sized fruits that ripen in early summer.
- Redwing – Redwing produces fruits with a luscious white flesh and yellow-red skin.
- Orange Cling – As the name implies, this is a clingstone peach with blush-red skin and golden flesh. It's ready to harvest mid-to-late summer.
- Halloween – As the name indicates, this dwarf variety is ready to harvest in the fall.
- Redhaven – Like its bigger sibling, Redhaven is hardy in colder climates in addition to being compact.
Disease Resistant Varieties
If you've struggled with diseases in your garden, you may want to consider a hardy, disease-resistant peach.
- Clayton – Clayton is resistant to both peach leaf curl and bacterial spot.
- Champion – Champion is a white-fleshed variety that is intensely sweet. It's resistant to bacterial leaf spot.
- Contender – Beyond growing in cold climates, this variety is also incredibly hardy and disease resistant.
- Elberta – Elberta is an incredibly popular variety that comes in both standard and dwarf varieties. It's insect and disease resistant.
Ornamental Peach Varieties
Peach trees don't only produce tasty fruits – they're beautiful when they are blossoming as well. Some peach varieties are cultivated for their ornamental value. These are trees that are grown primarily for their attractive blossoms, and the fruit is edible but isn’t that tasty.
Varieties include the Double Red Flowering peach, Icicle peach, and Peppermint peach.
Ripening occurs when temperatures are at least 75°F. Peach trees prefer warm temperatures throughout the growing season and do not fare well in places with cool, wet summers. Most peaches grow in zones 5-9, but you can find some varieties that will thrive in zone 4.
One thing to note about peaches is that unlike other types of fruit trees — like pears — they’re not long-lived plants. Even if planted in an ideal location under ideal circumstances, a peach tree won’t be around forever. Most trees will stick around for a little over a decade or two before they stop producing.
You can grow peach trees in partial shade, but they won’t produce as much fruit as they would in full sun. If you want a full harvest, plant in full sun, with at least 6 hours of direct light a day. If you can't use up all those peaches, part shade might be the answer.
Keep your peach tree away from puddled areas to prevent root rot. The location where you plant a peach tree should have well-drained soil with a pH of around 6.0-7.0. Peaches need well-drained, fertile soil with lots of well-rotted organic matter added.
When to plant your new peach tree? Get your plant in the ground during the early spring or late winter, as soon as it’s possible to work the soil. Don’t forget to water immediately after planting. Hold off on fertilizing your young peach tree to prevent stressing the plant, though.
In the first year of growth, remove blossoms to reroute energy use to the production of a healthy root system. Do the same in the following year. A peach tree will be ready for picking in its third year.
You don’t need multiple peach trees to enjoy the fruit. Most varieties are self-fertile, though check your variety to be sure.
Are you wondering if you may grow peaches in containers? Absolutely! In fact, if you’re cursed with harsh winters, you may prefer to grow container peaches and bring your plants inside to keep them from being exposed to a prolonged freeze, which can kill your peach trees.
Pick dwarf varieties suitable for containers, so that they won’t outgrow your living space. You'll need a large pot to accommodate this type of fruit tree — at least 36 inches in diameter. Once winter arrives, your heat-loving trees still need a period of hibernation in order to set fruit the following year, so keep them relegated to a cool spot like a garage.
Trees grow up to 25-feet tall, though dwarf peaches are much smaller and won’t surpass 10-feet in height.
If you plan on planting a few peach trees, you’ll need to space out trees accordingly. Dwarf trees can be planted closer together, but regular-sized varieties should be planted at least 18-inches apart.
A hibernation period is required to produce fruit. Different peach varieties require different ‘chill hours.’ The number of chilling hours required by peachtree varieties varies considerably. Some require less than 100 hours at temps below 45°F, while others need well over 800 chilling hours.
It’s critical to pick a peach tree type with chill hours that are compatible with your climate. Too few chill hours will ruin your chances of getting fruit.
Caring for Your Peach Tree
How should you care for your peach tree as it grows throughout its lifetime? Read on to find out.
Water frequently and evenly, especially while your tree is still young. Avoid overwatering, which can lead to disease. Plan to water every 10 to 14 days during warm, dry periods.
Feed an established tree with a balanced fertilizer during the growing season. Give a young tree 3/4 of a pound of nitrogen once in the spring and again in the summer. After the third year, give trees 1 pound of nitrogen each year. Avoid fertilizing when fruits are growing or a month before the first frost.
It’s essential to prune peach trees each year to prevent overgrowth and to encourage fruiting and yield. It’s fine to prune your peach tree anytime, but if you have a lot to pick off, save that job until the fall. Always get rid of broken and dead branches first and then remove suckers at the base of the tree.
Get rid of weak branches incapable of holding heavy fruit set, too. Prune off branches that are too close together to promote air circulation and prevent knicks that may leave room for disease and pest infiltration.
Proper regular pruning will promote healthy growth, fruit set, and will make it easier to maintain your tree’s health from year to year. When fruit sets, it’s also essential to thin fruits early in the season. Removing some of the young peaches will allow other fruit to grow bigger.
Peach Problems and Solutions
The heat-loving peach tree requires lots of love and care and is susceptible to a multitude of pests. The key is keeping a close eye on your trees to spot problems as soon as they appear.
Pests that invade branches may be controlled by promptly removing infected branches. Beetles and mites are easily dislodged by shaking the tree and cleaning up the debris. Avoid being too rough with young trees. Diseases are often a problem for peach trees grown in cooler, moist climates. Pests also transmit disease that infects peach trees.
Bacterial Leaf Spot
This disease is caused by a bacteria that infects fruits and leaves, causing lesions on the fruit and shot holes on the leaves. To prevent, pick a resistant variety and make sure your tree is healthy so that it can resist this disease.
Crown gall is caused by a bacteria, causing galls on roots and the lower part of the tree stem. The galls prevent the tree from getting the nutrients it needs. Avoid damaging your tree while pruning or mowing and destroy any tree that becomes infected.
Peach scab is caused by a fungus that attacks small fruits with freckle-like dark spots. To prevent it, keep peach trees well pruned and apply fungicides every two weeks during the bloom season.
Brown rot is one of the worst diseases that can impact your growing peaches because it's common and devastating. It causes flowers and fruits to rot and spreads easily.
To control brown rot, collect and destroy diseased fruits and spray plants with a fungicide every two weeks during the flowering period.
Peach rust is caused by a fungus and is typically found in warmer climates, where it spreads through the air via spores. Keep trees well pruned and avoid overhead watering. You can also use a fungicide to help control this disease.
This fungus attacks fruit, blossoms and leaves, causing infected leaves to turn yellow and drop from the tree. If this disease gets bad enough, it can dramatically reduce your yield. Apply a good fungicide before bud break to control it.
Root rot is a fungal disease that attacks peaches. It causes cankers at the root of the tree and can kill off your plant. You can't get rid of it, so prevent it by planting in a well-drained area and don't overwater. Sterilize tools in between use. If your tree is infected, remove soil from the base of the tree to stop the disease from progressing and spray the trunk with a copper fungicide.
Leaf rollers are small caterpillars that, as the name implies, roll the leaves of your peach tree to create a little shelter. You can pick the pests off of your tree or use a pesticide to control
Oriental Fruit Moth
Oriental fruit moth larvae tunnel through the stem of the plant and exit near the pit. Use pheromone traps to capture the moths before they can lay eggs.
Aphids attack practically every plant in the garden, and peaches are no exception. You'll know you have them if your peach tree leaves thicken, turn yellow and fall. You'll also see the honeydew left behind by the pests, which can attract diseases.
Use a neem oil-based spray to control aphids.
Why is my peach tree not sprouting now that the weather has warmed?
This either means that your tree is dead or it’s still dormant. If it didn’t receive enough chill hours throughout the winter or the winter was unseasonably warm, your tree may not come out of dormancy. Root rot is another potential culprit for your tree’s lackluster appearance.
Companions for Peaches
Peach trees make great companions for a range of plants, including:
Don't plant peaches with:
- Sweet Potato
Peach trees are ready to produce 3-4 years after planting. Harvest time is mid-summer and late-summer. Fruit typically appears between 3 and 5 months after flowers start to bloom and become pollinated. It’s best to let the fruit ripen on the tree instead of picking it early. The taste will remain superior this way. Peaches are ready for picking when they’re slightly soft to the touch and easily twist off the branch.
Eat peaches quickly after picking. They taste best when they’re fresh picked. Store in a cool place for about a week. Use freestone type peaches for baking or preserving.
If you’ve never tried growing peaches before, do you plan on adding them to the mix for the next growing season? Which kind of peach tree variety do you have in mind? Let us know in the comments.