Growing Peaches in the Home Garden.
Summary by Bill Shane, Michigan State University Extension.
The peach tree is relatively susceptible to damage by cold temperatures. Temperatures of -13°F or lower will generally destroy most peach flower buds and temperatures lower than about -17°F will cause damage to limbs, trunks, and leaf buds. Trees can be damaged by rapid temperature drops following a period of mild weather in early fall or early spring.
Peaches in sites on higher elevation usually have fewer problems due to cold compared to low areas where cold air tends to settle.
Purchase trees from a reputable garden dealer or nursery. Dormant medium-sized trees (1/3 – 3/4 inches in diameter) usually perform best. Most peach varieties are self-fruitful. Trees for the Michigan climate should have one of the following rootstocks: Bailey, Lovell, Halford, Chui Lum Tao, or Tennessee Natural. Avoid Nemaguard, Siberian C, and Citation. Guardian rootstock, developed in the SE United States, has performed well so far, but we have only limited experience in Michigan to date. Pumiselect is a dwarfing rootstock that can result in a very small tree in sandy conditions.
There are many yellow flesh peach varieties suited to the Michigan climate. Varieties such as Madison and Reliance have a reputation for hardiness but are of medium quality. Reliance has been overrated for winter hardiness. Peach varieties with decent hardiness and good to excellent quality include Harrow Diamond (early), Starfire and Red Haven (midseason), Redskin (late August), and Harcrest (early September). Canadian Harmony and Loring are favorites for fresh and canning but tend to less tolerant to cold temperatures.
White peach varieties grown in Michigan are White Lady, Blushingstar, Carolina Belle, and China Pearl. Non-melting yellow fleshed canning peaches for the Michigan climate are Babygold 5, Vulcan, Vinegold, Virgil, and Venture.
Nectarine varieties suited for Michigan are: Mericrest, Hardired, Redgold, Fantasia, and Harflame. Nectarines are more prone to bacterial spot and brown rot diseases than are peaches.
Soil and Site
Peach trees prefer sandy loam to loamy soils and will do reasonably well in other soils provided they are well drained. Planting peach trees on mounds or ridges (5’ or more wide, approximately 6” high after soil settling) helps if the soil is heavier or is generally wetter than optimum. Ideally, peach trees need full sunlight all day. The ideal soil pH is 6.5 to 7.0 and should be adjusted based on soil tests before planting.
Plant fruit trees in early spring as soon as the trees arrive and the soil is dry enough to work (early April to May). If necessary, trees can be temporarily planted in a cool, shady spot for a few days before transplanting in the permanent site. The roots should not be allowed to dry out. However, try to get the trees in their permanent site promptly. Space peach and nectarine trees 10 to 18 feet from other plants.
Planting the Tree
1) Trim off any excessively long root tips or tips that are half-broken off. Remove tags and wires.
2) Spend the time to dig a hole wide and deep enough to allow the roots to be spread out completely. Do not wind the roots to fit in the hole.
3) Refill the hole, tamping the soil gently as you go to help avoid air holes. Keep sod out of the hole.
4) Firmly pack the soil around the roots but do not strip roots off by excessive stamping. Watering after planting helps to settle the soil around the roots. The soil around the base of the tree should be slightly higher than the surrounding area so that excess water does not collect there following rains.
5) Trees can be fertilized after rain has thoroughly settled the soil around the roots, about 3 weeks after planting. Apply up to 1/2 pound of 10-10-10 or other general fertilizer by spreading it lightly in a wide diffuse band 16 to 20 inches from the tree trunk. Soils high in natural fertility may not need fertilizer in the first year.
Peach and nectarine trees are pruned and trained each year to develop and maintain tree size and shape. They are generally trained into an open-center system with 2 to 4 major (scaffold) limbs forming an open Y or open center (vase) shape. Peach and nectarine trees are usually pruned in mid to late April
Pruning at Planting
Head the central stem (leader) of a peach tree back to 30 to 36 inches from the ground at planting. Limbs arising from the central leader are scaffold limbs. Remove all scaffold limbs closer than 2 feet to the ground. Remove any upright scaffold limbs. Save no more than 4 scaffolds. Shorten scaffold limbs by 1/3.
Pruning Young, Non-Bearing Trees
In spring the year after planting, select 2 to 3 well-developed, wide-angled scaffold limbs and cut off all other limbs nearly flush (leave a 1/3 inch stub) with the trunk. Head remaining scaffolds back slightly where growth has exceeded 30 inches.
From the second to the fourth years, remove any branches that grow straight up or straight down. Prune lightly to eliminate overlapping and damaged limbs.
Pruning Bearing Trees
Peach trees bear fruit on shoots that grew the previous year. These 1-year shoots (fruiting wood) have one to three buds at each node. The smaller, center bud is a leaf bud accompanied by up to two larger, outer flower buds. Moderately intensive pruning is needed each year to force the tree to grow new limbs.
Maintain tree height at 9 to 10 feet by heading back scaffold branches to an outward growing lateral. Remove weak and diseased branches and excessive branches. Trees with excessive growth have poorly colored fruit and leaves in the inside of the canopy due to poor sunlight penetration.
Manage peach trees to ensure production of 10 to 18 inches of new growth each season. This is accomplished through pruning and fertilization as needed. Fertilizer should be applied in the spring before growth starts. The most important nutrients for most Michigan soils are the nitrogen and potassium—the first and third number on a fertilizer bag. A fertilizer with the formulation 10-10-10 contains 10% by weight of nitrogen. A typical application per year to a young tree is 1/10 lb of actual nitrogen which translates to 1 lb of 10-10-10 fertilizer. Adjust rates according to tree vigor. Phosphorus (the middle number) is generally not needed in Michigan soils.
Peach trees must be thinned in years when they bear a heavy crop to avoid limb breakage and to attain good fruit size and quality. Hand-thin peaches in mid to late June to an average spacing of one peach to every 6 to 8 inches of fruiting wood.
Pest and disease control
Peach leaf curl is an intermittent disease that is easy to control with one spray, but timing is important. Apply a material labeled for the disease (Carbamate (ferbam), Bordeaux mixture, fixed copper (various products) at 75% or more leaf drop in the fall or before 1st bud swell (no later).
For brown rot, remove old fruit from the tree before growth starts in the spring, spray once or twice during bloom with an effective fungicide (Captan or Immunox or others labeled for brown rot) and several times as the fruit starts to color.
For insect control (oriental fruit moth, tarnished plant bug) use an insecticide labeled for tree fruit starting at the end of petal fall and at 1 ½ week intervals.
There are combination disease and insect control spray materials available. Read and follow the label carefully.