How to Grow a Peach Tree

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A healthy, nursery-started 1- to 2-year-old peach tree (Prunus persica) produces its first harvest in two to four years. Without the right growing conditions during those years, however, its potential yield of sweet, juicy summer fruit goes from bonanza to bust. For peak performance, every peach tree variety grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 or 5 through 8 needs the same things: Rich, moist soil, plenty of sun, appropriate fertilizing and occasional watering.

Warning

    • Peach pits, stems and leaves -- especially wilting ones -- contain cyanide compounds toxic to dogs, cats and horses.
    • Fruit-stealing wildlife dropping peach pits to sprout where they aren't welcome mean peach trees have become invasive in limited areas of their growing range.  If you're in one of them, harvesting the fruit as soon as it ripens should solve the problem.

Where to Grow

Sun and Soil

The best peach-growing site receives at least six hours of daily sun; eight hours are even better. It also has fertile, well-drained soil. If a location qualifies on sunlight but drains slowly, amend it with sphagnum peat moss:

Things You'll Need

  • Rotary tiller or spade
  • Sphagnum peat moss
  • Rake

Step 1

Loosen the soil's top 6 inches with the rotary tiller or spade. removing stones and debris.

Step 2

Rake a 2-inch layer of sphagnum peat moss as evenly as possible over the area.

Step 3

Blend the loose soil and peat moss thoroughly with the spade or tiller.

Spacing Peach Trees

Space multiple peach trees according to their expected mature heights. Allow 4 to 6 feet between miniature trees, 8 to 10 feet between dwarf varieties and 12 to 15 feet between full-sized ones. Grow columnar peach varieties -- only 4 feet wide at maturity -- just 2 to 3 feet apart.

Tip

  • Nearly all peach trees fruit without nearby trees to pollinate them. A notable exception is 'J.H. Hale,' (Prunus persica 'J.H. Hale'), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8. Unless grown within 100 feet of a compatible, cross-cultivating variety. 'J.H. Hale' flowers, but doesn't produce peaches.

How to Fertilize

Measuring Growth

A established peach tree needs fertilizing only if its yearly growth measures less than 1 foot. Determine how well it's doing just after its new growth emerges in early spring by searching a few branches for bud scale scars. They indicate where the previous year's growth ended and the new growth began.

Look for a change in bark texture and color, and measure and record the distance from the scars to the tips of the new growth. Add the measurements and divide the total by the number of measured branches to calculate the average growth.

Determining Fertilizer Amount

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Measuring cup
  • Granulated, high-nitrogen 21-0-0 fertilizer

Step 1

Measure the trunk's diameter 1 foot above the soil line.

Step 2

Multiply the measurement by 2, for 2 ounces of nitrogen for every inch of diameter. An 8-inch diameter tree, for example, the tree needs 16 ounces, or 1 pound, of actual nitrogen.

Step 3

These calculations apply only to 21-0-0 fertilizer. Divide the 1 pound -- in the example of an 8-inch diameter tree -- by .21, for the 21-0-0 fertilizer's 21-percent nitrogen content. The result is 4.76, meaning it takes about 4 3/4 pounds of 21-0-0 fertilizer to supply the tree with 1 pound of actual nitrogen.

Warning

  • Fertilizers come in different strengths; apply them at their labels' recommended rates. Too much nitrogen fertilizer stimulates leaf growth at the expense of flowers and fruit

Applying the Fertilizer

Sprinkle the fertilizer granules evenly from the drip line -- the ground below the outermost branches' tips -- to 2 or 3 inches from the trunk. Keep them off the tree, or they might burn it. Rake the soil lightly and water it well.

When to Water

Overwatering an established peach tree could drown its roots. During the growing season, water whenever the tree has gone 10 days with less than 1 inch of rain. One inch of rain equates to about six gallons of water per 10 square feet of soil.

Water slowly and deeply, wetting the root zone from the base of the tree out to the drip line: the edge of the canopy where rain falls from the outer branches to the soil. Stop, if necessary, to let the water penetrate to the roots.

Tip

  • Place a rain gauge near the tree where it won't capsize and check it every 10 days. If it registers less than 1 inch of rain, water enough to make up the difference. If the gauge reads 1/2 inch, for instance, the tree needs an additional 3 gallons of water for each 10 square feet of soil.

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