Tips for Growing Peaches and Nectarines
PEACHES AND NECTARINES
When one considers growingor at home, some authorities will tell you that there is the choice between growing them as bush trees in the open and as against a wall.
It is perfectly true that peaches have been grown outdoors as bush trees successfully; a friend of mine grew them commercially as bush trees for some years. For most of us, though, it is far too risky a past-time and they need the shelter and warmth of being trained against a sunny wall or fence.
The main problem is the peaches’ natural habit of flowering in what could, in some years, be the depths of winter; sometimes as early as February in a mild year. Couple this with the fact that they are difficult to ripen in the average British summer and you will see why they need that protection.
Stick to growing them trained against a sunny wall and you will make a success of them. The way to train them is akin to that described for , but there are certain important differences. For a start, you must make sure that it is a wall that receives plenty of sunshine; this means one facing south or west. With an of that sort, not only will the shoots and fruits receive ample sunshine to ripen them properly, but the wall will itself retain heat during the day and release it at night.
The best method of training is undoubtedly as a fan. This is best for all stone fruits (plums,, peaches etc.) whereas, as we have already seen, apples and are normally grown as espaliers.
A two to three-year-old tree that has already been started as a fan is the best buy. It will cost a bit more than buying a maiden tree, but it saves a couple of years of training and also means that you’ll get fruit that much sooner.
However, for the sake of completeness, let us start from scratch with a maiden. After planting, the main central stem is cut back to a side-shoot growing from a point about 2ft (60cm) from the ground.
During the following summer, more growths will appear from the main stem. Choose and retain two of these, one on each side, that are about 9in (23cm) from the ground and pinch off all the others. These two will be permanent branches and should be tied to canes set at forty-five degrees.
When they are about 18in (45cm) long, the central stem and its side-shoots are cut away and the two are left to grow on. Both these are cut back to 18in (45cm) in the late winter
When new shoots growing from these the following summer are about 4in (10cm) long, three or four from each that are growing in the same plane as the wall (not growing at it or away from it) are retained and tied in.
This process of selecting and tying in during the summer and shortening to encourage branching in the winter is carried on until the allotted space is filled.
We can, though, allow some fruits to form during this building process without overtaxing the tree. The important thing about peaches is that, unlike apples and pears, the fruit is produced on the previous year’s growth. Once the first foundation branches have been retained and tied in, start to think about fruit production. This really consists of retaining temporary fruiting shoots on the permanent branch system.
During the spring, many new shoots grow from the tied-in branches and shoots; these will bear the next year’s crop. Of these, only the ones growing from the top or bottom surface of the branch/shoot are retained. Even all these cannot be allowed to stay without causing overcrowding, so they are thinned to about 6in (15cm) apart along both surfaces.
They are tied in towards the end of the summer and, should any exceed 18in (45cm) long, the tips are nipped out. This pinching out and tying in continues each spring and summer.
Once the tree is fruiting, the fruited shoots need attention. This is quite simple because, if there is room for a fruited shoot to be kept as a branch, then it is tied in. If not, then it is cut back to the little cluster of buds at the base.
The list of available varieties suitable for growing outdoors is small. The three main criteria by which any fruit is judged are reliability, crop weight and flavour and one variety is seldom good in all three respects. However on balance, here are the best varieties in order of excellence.
Peregrine (Early August)
Duke of York (Mid July)
Lord Napier (Early August) is the best.
A nectarine is simply a smooth skinned; botanically, they are the same. Even so, nectarines do seem to be less hardy and are not grown in the UK nearly as much as peaches are.
Incidentally, peaches and nectarines are seldom cross-pollinated as most people have a single tree. However, like nearly all fruits, they crop better if there is another variety nearby to pollinate them.
A point which often crops up in discussing fruit growing is the ease with which peaches can be grown from stones. The only problem is that, as with other kinds of fruit, there is no telling what quality of peach the resulting tree will produce. This is because, when grown from seeds, most fruits don’t come true to type. However; it’s great fun and perfectly easy to do and the new variety is often close to the parent in quality.
Opinions differ as to whether or not the seed should be removed from the stone, but on the whole, this is recommended because it can take years for the hard shell to break down sufficiently for the seed to germinate. It is better to saw the stone open carefully with a small hacksaw rather than trying to smash it open with a vice, which usually ends with the seed getting crushed as well.
Open the stone and sow the seed in the spring so that it has the whole growing season to germinate and grow. It can be sown either in a pot of seed compost in theor window sill or in in the open; both ways are perfectly successful.
Seedling trees take longer to come to fruiting than budded or grafted ones so it may be five to six years before you see your first fruit. Have patience, though, it may well be worth it.
The most damaging disease attacks both peach and nectarine and alsotrees. It is peach leaf curl, a fungus disease that leads to characteristic red and distorted leaves. Spray with a copper fungicide in spring when the new shoots have just started to grow and again in the autumn when most of the leaves have fallen. Keeping the foliage dry by draping polythene over the trees during the spring and summer helps enormously in reducing the disease.
There is, in fact, a new peach variety called Avalon which is said to be resistant to peach leaf curl. If this proves to be correct and is long-lasting, it’s a boon. An interesting point here is the difference between immunity and resistance. If Avalon has immunity from peach leaf curl, it means that it will not get it. If it has resistance to it, it can get it but is much less likely to.