Fuzzy peaches and their smoother cousins, nectarines, are delicious, but
can be a challenge to grow in cooler climates. However, success comes with a bit
of effort and the right conditions—few summer fruit crops are as
How to Grow
Peaches and nectarines are fully hardy, but their early spring flowers
are easily damaged by frost, which prevents fruiting; the young
fruitlets are vulnerable too. To provide adequate protection, train them
as fans, and grow them against warm, sunny, south- or southwest-facing
walls or fences.
Dwarf trees can also be grown freestanding in containers filled with soil-based compost, such as John Innes No. 3. Bare root trees are planted in the winter; container-raised trees can be planted any time if kept well watered afterward. All varieties prefer rich, well-drained, slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.5–7.0. Prepare the ground before planting by digging in plenty of organic matter, such as garden compost. To prevent silver leaf infecting wounds, prune only when the trees are in active growth during spring and summer.
Protection and Pollination
During late winter the trees need protection from rainfall to help
prevent peach leaf curl, and in the spring, protection from frost.
Container-grown trees can be brought under cover. Outdoor, fan-trained
trees should be covered with bubble insulation or plastic sheeting and
garden fabric. When the flowers start to open, remove the covers on
bright, dry days to allow insects to pollinate them, which is needed for
fruiting. If the weather remains wet, you’ll need to pollinate the
flowers by hand, using a soft brush.
Varieties to Try
Some peach varieties show good disease resistance (DR) to peach leaf curl. Nectarines are a more reliable crop. Peach varieties to try include: ’Avalon Pride’ (DR), ‘Garden Lady’ (dwarf), ‘Peregrine’, ‘Rochester’ and ‘Red Haven’. If you are seeking to try nectarines, then look for these varieties: ‘Early Rivers’, ‘Fantasia’, ‘Lord Napier’, ‘Nectarella’ and ’Pineapple’.
Pruning and Training
To provide a sheltered spot, peaches and nectarines are usually trained
against walls on lateral wires. They are pruned twice a year in the
spring and summer.
The first spring after planting a one- or two-year-old tree, cut the
main stem, leaving one branch each side, 10 inches (25 cm) above the soil. Cut
the branches to 14 inches (35 cm) and tie them horizontally on canes.
As sideshoots grow during the first summer, select three each side, one below the branches, two above, and train them on canes. Cut other shoots to one leaf. In the spring, cut back the ribs by a quarter. Prune established fans in the spring to remove dead or damaged growth and wayward stems. On each rib, choose two sideshoots to grow on and remove the others. After harvesting, cut back fruited stems to make way for those left to grow on.
Prune established, freestanding trees by removing one-quarter of the
stems that fruited last year, cutting back to healthy, pointed buds.
Remove any dead or damaged wood, and thin out old branches that have
stopped bearing fruit.
Developing peach and nectarine fruitlets need thinning in the early
summer to allow the remaining fruits to ripen fully and reach their
optimum size. This process also helps to prevent laden branches from
snapping and damaging the tree. Thin to one per cluster, at a spacing of
4 inches (10 cm) apart, when the fruit is the size of hazelnuts, then to 8 inches
(20 cm) when they are walnut-sized.
Watch out for These Pests and Diseases
Peach leaf curl causes red blisters on the leaves, which drop, weakening the tree. Spores enter the buds in late winter, carried by rainfall. Cover the tree with plastic sheeting in the winter, remove infected leaves, and pick up all fallen leaves in the fall.
Red spider mite can also be a problem for peaches, nectarines and apricots, causing fine mottling on the foliage and early leaf fall,
especially on trees in sheltered spots. Introduce a predatory mite,
Phytoseiulus, to control the pest.
Apricots are closely related to peaches and are grown in the same way,
most commonly as fans on south-facing walls. Dwarf varieties can also be
grown in containers. They are less susceptible to peach leaf curl than
peaches and nectarines, and modern varieties, like ‘Flavorcot’ and
‘Tomcot’, flower later so are less prone to frost damage.
Protect the developing fruit from birds. Apricots are ready for picking when they start to soften in the summer and pull easily from the tree.
Apricots to try include: ‘Alfred’, ‘Flavorcot’, ‘Gold Cott’, ‘Moorpark’, ‘New Large Early’, ‘Petite Muscat’ and ‘Tomcot’.