Peaches and Nectarines both have very similar growing requirements with peaches being just a fraction more cold tolerant. Both are worth growing - if you have space and the right conditions - for their delicious, sweet and juicy summer harvest. The good news is that they are both self-fertile so you only one tree to guarantee a good crop. Peaches and nectarines are a good source of vitamin C they are undoubtedly best eaten warm from the tree but they also preserve well and are good in jams, pickles, chutneys and puddings. Both grow into smallish trees that can be highly productive and require comparatively little effort as long as conditions are right. Peaches can nectarines can grow in most parts of the country and will do best where they get a cold spell in winter that helps to stimulate production of flower buds. They are frost hardy, although blossom can be damaged by late spring frosts. Dwarf varieties make them suitable for growing pots and containers so they are good for small gardens too.
Companions Borage, chives, comfrey, strawberries, marigold, calendula
Quantity 1 tree per family.
there are good varieties of both fruits. Clingstone fruits have flesh connected to stone in centre. Freestone fruits have stone and flesh conveniently separated in centre.You can also get trees with two or even three varieties grafted onto them (Some even come with nectarines and peaches on the same tree). This means flowers of the two varieties pollinate each other and often you’ll get fruit for longer than if growing a single variety. These are usually quite small trees.
Black Boy (Peach) a very popular peach with dark red skin and golden flesh. Great flavour, very juicy. Freestone.
Bonanza Dwarf (Peach) produces fragrant, yellow and red, juicy fruit in January. A dwarf variety that is perfect for containers. Freestone.
Golden Haze (Peach) produces large golden-skinned peach that is good for bottling. Delicious fresh too when they ripen in January. Clingstone.
May Flower (Peach) a heritage variety producing a sweet tasting, white-skinned fruit in December. Clingstone.
Snowbrite(Peach) produces dark-red skiinned fruit in December and January. Flesh is white and very juicy.
Fantasia (Nectarine) produces large red fruits with great flavour. Yellow flesh, very juicy. Harvest in February. Freestone.
Firebrite(Nectarine) produces red and yellow skiinned fruits with juicy flesh. Harvest in January. Semi freestone.
Garden Delight Dwarf (Nectarine) produces large red and yellow skinned fruits with great flavour. Harvest in March and April. Freestone. Great for containers.
Snowqueen(Nectarine) produces large, white-fleshed fruit that are very juicy. One of the best. Harvest in January. Freestone.
Trees are generally planted when dormant in winter or early spring.
Trees like a sunny open position with good air circulation but shelter from strong prevailing winds. Put them where you’ll be able to enjoy easily walking around them and ensure access is good. Trees planted in lawns or grassy orchards will grow better if grass is removed from a circle around their stem – take a stride away from the stem and make this the radius of your circle, remove grass and add a finger-deep layer of mulch.
Peaches and nectarines like a deep, rich fertile soil that is well drained.
Space trees about five strides from trunk to trunk.
Before planting dig a hole about 20% larger than the size of the container the plant comes in. Half-fill with well-rotted compost, rotted manure and some coarse sand or fine pumice to help with drainage. Mix together with garden soil at the bottom of the hole. Soak the container-grown tree before gently lifting it from its pot. Check the roots on the root ball and loosen any that appear to have grown around the inside of the pot – this should help them to get away and grow into the garden soil. Stand the root ball in the hole and adjust soil beneath it so that soil level is the same as ground level around it. Back fill with the soil/compost mix and firm with downward hand-pressure as you go. Drive three stakes in at even spacings around the outside of the root ball. Using a suitable tie – rope, cloth, plastic tree tie (but definitely no wire that will damage bark and stems) – secure the stem of the tree at about knee-height above ground. Water well.
Bare root tree: Soak your bare root tree in a bucket of water. Dig a hole - about a full arm length wide and deep - in your pre-prepared planting spot. Half-fill the hole with compost and mix with soil at the bottom - if you want to you can add a couple of spades-full of coarse sand or fine pumice to help with drainage. Make a shallow mound in the centre of your hole and sit the bare root tree on the mound with the upward-pointing stem in the middle and the roots radiating around it. The union (scar at bottom of main stem just above roots) should be about a thumb’s length above the soil when the hole is backfilled (you can judge where this will be by placing a bamboo cane across the hole from one side to the other and noticing where this comes against the stem of the tree). To back fill, gently work the mixture of soil and compost around the roots, firming the soil as you go until you have all but filled the hole to ground level. Fill the low depression that is left with water and allow soil to settle around the roots. Then finish filling the hole up to finished ground level. Drive three stakes in at even spacings around the outside of the spread roots. Using a suitable tie – rope, cloth, plastic tree tie (but definitely no wire that will damage bark and stems) – secure the stem of the tree at about knee-height above ground.
If planting in a container ensure it is large enough. Half barrels or large terracotta pots look good and they are the right size too. Use a rich, fertile compost with a layer of drainage material – scoria or broken pot fragments – at the bottom. Add slow release granules or sheep pellets before planting. When grapefruits are grown in containers it pays to put them where you’ll easily monitor them to ensure soil is moist – particularly in dry weather.
Water around the base of your young trees in dry periods, making sure that soil gets enough water for roots to be fully soaked.
Mulch around base of newly-planted trees, especially if you have sandy soil or trees are planted in lawns or grassy orchards. Cover a circle as wide as the spread of the branches with a finger-deep layer of compost, rotted manure or old straw and replenish mulch when necessary. Make sure the mulching layer doesn’t touch the stem of your tree as this can cause it to rot. This should be done for the first three years after planting, Thereafter roots should have spread wide enough to draw sufficient moisture and nutrients without help. You can plant borage, comfrey, chives and strawberries beneath your trees to draw nutrients from deep in the soil and to attract beneficial pollinating and predatory insects.
Feed: Trees can be fed with a sprinkling of blood and bone meal around the outer edge of their drip line in spring, however if you keep the ground beneath your trees weed-free and well-mulched when its dry this should help to reduce the amount of feeding that is required.
Container grown plants may need more regular feeding with a constant layer of mulch maintained at all times and a sprinkling of blood and bone meal every spring and autumn.
Pollination: Trees are self fertile and are pollinated by bees and other insects.
Thinning: To ensure a good crop, trees are thinned when fruit are young, green and hard. The thin fruiting stems can be bowed down under the weight of fruit so take off enough for stems to still have two or three fruit that will ripen to full size.
Depending on variety and weather you can be picking peaches and nectarines from early summer to early autumn. Taste is a good enough indicator of ripeness but generally fruit are ripe when fully-coloured and they give slightly when squeezed. If you are in any doubt keep an eye on birds that will descend onto trees in numbers as soon as fruit are ready. Handle fruit carefully when harvesting to prevent bruising. Line your bucket or basket with soft material such as cloth or newspaper.
Storage: Fresh peaches and nectarines don’t last all that long and are best enjoyed warm from the tree. Both will continue ripening once picked and sweetness and texture can both improve after a day or so at room temperature. Keep them in the fridge and they should be good for a week. Both fruits can be bottled in syrup – this is the best way to store them long-term.
Always prune in summer and autumn – avoid doing so in winter as this increases the chance of trees succumbing to fungal infections.
When first planted check over your young trees and if they have more than 5 upward growing stems off the main stem remove the surplus by cutting them back to main stem. This sets up a good framework for the tree to then grow into a balanced open shape. In general, when removing stems follow them down to the point where they are growing off a main stem. Cut the stem you are removing just above the point where it joins the next stem so that this leaves a small protruding collar that will heal over.
Once established trees are routinely pruned to keep the centre of trees open by removing any vigorous stems that are growing inwards or that shoot upwards above the general framework. After harvest stems that have borne fruit are trimmed back by half to an outward facing bud. New shoots are cut back by a third. Regular maintenance involves cutting out dead, diseased and crossing stems.
Peaches and nectarines can be pruned to grow as fans of carefully spaced stems against a wall or fence. Stems are pruned to maintain a strong framework and to stimulate new shoots that will produce flowers and then fruit.
Birds are a common arrival just as plums start to ripen. Where practical trees are covered with mesh to protect the fruit. Other pests include aphids and leaf roller caterpillars. The best method is prevention and planting to attract beneficial predators as controlling an outbreak on a tree can be hard without resorting to sprays.
To reduce the likelihood of your trees falling victim to and suffering from pests and diseases look after them and maintain a diverse planting in your growing area.
Sweep and compost fallen leaves.
Mulch and feed, ensure constant moisture during dry weather.
Spray fresh spring foliage with Neem oil spray to kill aphids, scale insects and mites.
For best advice on how to deal with fruit tree related problems in your area seek out local organic growers and talk to them. A half hour chat can save on years of trial and error.