Growing Peaches in the Home Garden
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.
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.
Purchasing & Planting Peach Trees
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.
Site & Soil
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.
Fertilizing Peach Trees
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.
Pruning & Thinning Peach Trees
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.
Peach trees must also 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 & 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.