Peaches could easily be the best thing about late summer. Sure, there are rivals for this honor—things like cooler days, state fairs, fresh tomatoes, and the start of the Christmas shopping season—but you’d be hard-pressed to argue against a ripe golden-red peach that drips sweet juice all over your shirt and shoes. Dwarf and semidwarf varieties of Prunus persica put the possibility of a homegrown peach in the hands of gardeners with even the smallest of yards, and recent introductions of cold-hardy cultivars give peach-loving northerners the chance to grow their own. Fragrant pink flowers open the growing season with a dazzling display in early spring.
Common name: Peach
Botanical name: Prunus persica
Plant type: Tree
Zones: 4 to 8
Height: Depends on cultivar
· Sun: Full sun
· Soil: Average
· Moisture: Medium wet
· Mulch: Mulch about 4 inches deep in a 2-foot circle around the tree, but leave a few inches of space around the trunk.
· Pruning: Prune when trees blossom in spring. Thin interior shoots to allow light into the crown, so that branches in the interior will bear fruit.
· Fertilizer: Not needed unless the soil is poor or the tree isn’t growing normally.
· By seed or, for a dwarf or semidwarf, by root graft.
Pests and diseases
· Vulnerable to many diseases, including leaf spot, canker, brown rot, and black knot.
· Common pests include mites, aphids, peach tree borer, plum curculio, and birds.
· Peach trees may need regular chemical treatments to keep diseases and pests at bay.
· If you have limited space, or need to give your peach tree the most light and heat possible, train it against a south-facing wall.
· Peach trees are self-pollinating, so you only need to plant one.
· ‘Contender’ and ‘Reliance’ are cold-weather favorites. Both are hardy in Zones 4 to 8.
· ‘Elberta’ ripens in mid to late September and is excellent for canning.
· ‘Champion White’ has white flesh, rather than yellow.
· ‘Red Haven’ has almost no fuzz.
All in the family
· The genus Prunus also contains almond, cherry, apricot, and plum trees, as well as ornamental trees grown mainly for their stunning spring blossoms.
· Peach trees are native to China, where they’ve been cultivated for at least 4,000 years. They were introduced to Persia (now Iran) via the Silk Road, and when they arrived in Greece and other European countries, they were assumed to have come from Persia, hence the botanical name, Prunus persica. Our common name, peach, comes from a similar source: Romans called the fruits persicum malum, or Persian apples. That became peche in Middle English, and then peach.
· Peaches are one of the most widely cultivated fruits, second only to apples.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of peaches by Tracy Poser)