If you’re just planting fruit trees for the first time, also look at the Learn to Grow Fruit Trees page.
Site Selection and Planting
- Choose a site that is in full sun with well-drained soil. If the soil is heavy or poorly drained, build a raised mound 3′-4′ in diameter, 8″-10″ high.
- Peaches are best grown where there is a low chance of late frosts. If your site regularly gets hard frost in late April and early May, you may have trouble growing peaches. Late frost can mean blossoms are killed by low temperatures (28°F and lower) rather than setting fruit, and late frost can also increase the chances of bacterial canker by creating tissue damage that opens the trees up to infection.
- Keep grass and weeds away from the tree to reduce competition. A very thin mulch (less than 3″) can be used to keep weeds down.
- Irrigate thoroughly during the summer months, watering infrequently but deeply. It is especially important to water adequately while the fruit is approaching ripeness. You can check to see if you are watering adequately by digging a hole, 6″-8″ deep, near the tree 24 hours after watering. The soil should be moist to this depth. If it is not, water longer.
Remember the goal in the home orchard is to keep the trees healthy and productive.
Visit our Disease and Pest Management in the Home Orchard page for a general overview of proactive disease and pest management for all your fruit trees.
- Because peaches are subject to some diseases, it is important to apply preventative sprays before problems exist. The two main diseases that cause problems in our climate are Peach Leaf Curl and Bacterial Canker (the link is to bacterial canker on cherries, which also are subject to the disease). Both are controlled by timed sprays that have copper or sulfur as an ingredient.
- At bud swell (usually mid-January), spray sulfur, copper sulfate, fixed copper, or Bordeaux with a spreader sticker such as NuFilm or Bonide Turbo Sticker. Spray again 3 weeks later, and a third spray should be applied 3 weeks after that. This spray will control leaf infection of Peach Leaf Curl. Resistant varieties including Frost, Betty, Avalon Pride, and Salish Summer may need spraying when young, but develop resistance as they become established. In a bad year, even established trees of these varieties can get some Peach Leaf Curl, but will outgrow it and not suffer the branch loss seen in non-resistant varieties.
- Another problem that can affect peaches and other stone fruit such as cherries and plums is brown rot. This fungal disease can cause blossom blight, affect twigs and branches causing dieback, and cause rotting of the fruit on the tree as it nears ripeness. Most common infections occur during bloom. Sulfur is more effective at controlling blossom blight than copper products. Trees should be sprayed at pink bud (stage 4) and again at petal fall (stage 6).
- As the trees lose their leaves in fall, apply a spray of copper with a sticker-spreader. This spray helps prevent bacterial canker infections.
- The most common insect pest people will experience in peaches are various aphids. They feed on the new growth, often causing distortion and stunting the new growth. Delayed dormant sprays containing horticultural oil can help reduce overwintering populations.
- Leafroller can cause damage both to the foliage and to the young fruit on peach trees. A delayed dormant spray containing horticultural oil can smother overwintering egg cases. Adding Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to bloomtime and petal fall sprays can also help control damage.
- Another annoying pest in peaches is earwigs. They usually don’t cause much damage to the trees themselves, but can chew holes in ripe fruit, and will hide inside split pits. There are other insect pests that can attach to peach trees, but they are less common for the home grower.
Peaches are pruned differently than all other fruit trees. The goal of pruning peaches is to create lots of young “brush” or branches. These trees bear mainly on new wood; without annual hard pruning, they will not produce well. Pruning should be done during dry weather (48 hours of no rain after cuts are made) at or just after bloom in spring. Why is no rain important? The bacteria that causes bacterial canker is often spread by rain and can enter fresh pruning cuts and cause infection. On a tree that is coming out of dormancy, the pruning cuts will callus over in about 36-48 hours, preventing infection. What should you do if rain falls less than 48 hours after pruning? If possible, before the rain starts falling, paint the cuts with grafting paint. Water-based latex paint will do in a pinch. Or spray with a copper-based spray as a preventative.
- At planting, choose 3 evenly spaced branches to form the main trunks, or leaders. Remove all other branches, and cut the leaders back to 12″-18″
- Each year, these leaders will be headed back to stimulate branching. Heading back refers to cutting into the branch part way to where it originates.
- The branches that grow from the leaders should be pruned each year to promote fruit quality.
- Branches that have mostly pointed buds (leaf buds) should be pruned back to 2-4 buds to produce branches for next year.
- The branches that have round buds (flower/fruit buds) on the lower section of the branch should be pruned back to 4″-6″. Thin the branch stubs that have fruit bud so the developing fruit will not be crowded.
- Thin out weak shoots and branches that did not push vigorous shoots when headed back last year. Thinning cuts remove the whole branch or shoot back to where it originates.
Peaches should be pruned to an open center form. The pruning done on peaches is for:
- Developing the leaders/main upright branches;
- Heading cuts reduce excessive crop, which requires less thinning and increases the fruit size and sweetness;
- Heading cuts create young wood for next year (on peaches all fruit is produced on one-year-old wood). We are trying to create suckers, which is the fruitwood for peach trees.
In a good year, an established peach tree can set too many peaches. Some thinning of the fruit will be done by pruning, but further reducing the number of peaches on the tree will give you larger and higher quality fruit. It is especially important to thin fruit that is crowding – fruit that is touching other fruit is more subject to brown rot and earwig damage. Always remove fruit at the end of branches to keep the branch from distorting.
- Keep the trees irrigated. Lack of water will stress the tree and can also lead to small fruit. Keeping the ground free of grass and weeds below the tree can help conserve moisture.
- Harvest the fruit when it has changed color (background color no longer green), is fragrant, but still firm. Allowing the fruit to soften on the tree can lead to mealy or stringy texture. Allow the fruit to ripen off the tree at room temperature, or store in the refrigerator.