Imagine the taste of a juicy peach, picked straight off the tree that you have nurtured through the seasons. One peach tree can produce more fruit than a family can eat so it is well worth the investment.
Common name: Peach
Botanical name: PRUNUS persica
Peach trees can be grown successfully from seed and usually take four to five years to bear fruit. Clean several stones (peach pips) and leave them to dry in the sun for a few days. The stones need cold weather to germinate so it is best to sow them in late winter. Plant them in pots filled with richly composted soil and place the pots in an area that is sheltered but receives sun – the temperature during the day should be between 15 and 20°C. As the little trees grow, tie them to stakes and make sure they are protected from frost. The next winter, plant out the best seedlings into permanent positions in the garden. The peach trees that are sold in garden centres have been propagated by means of budding; this ensures that the correct cultivar is produced and that the trees bear fruit sooner than they would if grown from stones.
Peach trees generally grow into medium sized trees – the dimensions depend on the particular cultivar. They can grow to at least 4.5 metres in diameter and should thus be planted at least 6 metres apart.
Most peach varieties are adapted to growing in colder regions – in order for these ‘high-chill’ varieties to bear fruit it is essential that they experience a cold winter, including a certain number of hours below 7°C. There are ‘low-chill’ varieties that have been bred specifically for warmer areas.
Good drainage is essential if you are to grow healthy peach trees. Standing water can result in disease and rot and is totally unsuitable for fruit trees. For the benefit
of fruit production, sunlight is the next important factor. A position that it sunny most of the day is ideal and a position that gets early morning sunshine is particularly important as it means the dew will dry quickly. Peach trees will grow in a range of soils, but prefer slightly acidic (pH 6.5) soil and like to be planted at least 45 cm deep. Flowering time is late winter and early spring; unfortunately this does make the flowers susceptible to frost damage (which will mean less fruit will be produced). Water is essential for healthy trees and large fruit. In normal circumstances a peach tree needs water at least every three weeks, but in the heat of summer one should water once a week (but avoid ‘drowning’ the trees).
Young trees need to be pruned so that they develop a strong framework. Light pruning can be done any time of the year; with the main pruning taking place in winter when the tree is dormant. Most of the fruit will be carried on wood that grew the previous year and this wood is regrown year after year. The open centre pruning method is recommended. This means that instead of having a central leader branch, the tree is shaped so that three to five major limbs (scaffolds) extend from the trunk. This system allows adequate light penetration throughout the branches. Where light is inadequate the fruit production tends to be limited to the outer perimeter of the tree.
Peaches are self-fertile so it is possible to obtain a fruit crop from just one tree. The flowers are pollinated by insects, but if you are in any doubt as to the number of insects visiting the blossoms then you can resort to hand pollination using a soft paintbrush. Cultivars and varieties Peaches are divided into two groups: clingstone and freestone. These terms refer to the flesh either clinging to the stone or easily coming free. There are too many cultivars to mention here, but your local nursery should carry the cultivars that are best for your area. As a guideline, early ripening cultivars are better for the warmer regions of the country, while later-ripening cultivars, and this includes most of the clingstone varieties, are recommended for the colder regions.
Using the fruit
Peaches are a versatile fruit that can be eaten fresh, included in a fruit salad, baked with a touch of brandy and enjoyed with ice cream, bottled for an out of season treat, or added to batter for a tasty peach cobbler. The early ripening cultivars are generally used as dessert peaches, while the later-ripening cultivars are good for drying, bottling and canning due to their denser flesh.
Divining rods were traditionally made from a Y-shaped branch of a tree. Although many dowsers today use simple L-shaped metal rods some still prefer using branches cut from, amongst others, peach trees.