(Genus: Prunus sp. = Persica sp - Family: Rosaceae)
Peach and nectarine trees and their origin
The peach tree is a deciduous tree which originated in China, where it can also be found growing in the wild. Despite the fact that it was first cultivated by the Chinese, its name stems from its links to Persia. A favoured fruit of Chinese emperors, the peach was first mentioned in ancient Chinese manuscripts over 3000 years ago.
Following his invasion of Persia, Alexander the Great introduced the fruit to Ancient Greece and it was later spread throughout Europe by the Romans in the 1st century.
Belonging to the genus Prunus, there are a large number of varieties including the edible cultivated trees in addition to beautiful ornamental species. Peaches are distinguished by the short, fuzzy hairs on its outer skin, other cultivars, such as the nectarine have a very smooth, hairless appearance.
How to plant peach and nectarine trees
Both the peach and nectarine trees thrive in warm hot summers but also enjoy cooler winters. For best results, plant grafted saplings that are 1-2 years old, in the autumn. Using a graft offers a higher success rate, as the strong rootstock helps to prevent disease.
Space the saplings at least 5-6ft apart. Some varieties do not require quite as much space and can be planted a little closer together.
As infant trees, peaches produce toxins as they grow which can be lethal to fish, therefore, cannot be planted in the vicinity of fish for at least 2 years.
A hardy perennial, it can withstand extremes of temperature. It is suitable for mild climates and loves warmth in summer but can withstand temperatures as low as -15oC in winter. In fact, to ensure an excellent bloom, the plant needs a period of growth in temperatures below 7oC during the winter. However, late frosts near flowering can cause problems, as can strong winds before the fruits ripen which can cause the fruits to detach early.
Peach trees are not very demanding when it comes to soil conditions but thrive in a loose, deep soil. They will struggle to grow in water-logged or heavy soil. However, in the month leading up to harvesting, they will require regular watering, at least every 10 days to keep the soil moist.
The tree also benefits from fertile soil, so each year apply a xxg/m dose of xxx just before flowering, beginning in late summer and winter. In spring, it is also a good idea to add a nitrogen fertiliser. Once the saplings have been planted, apply a xxxg dose of xxxxx per plant. Repeat this dose in the second year, mixing it in well with the soil surrounding the planting hole.
Pruning is essential during the growth cycle to help improve the quality of the harvest. Peaches and nectarines both benefit from thinning out up to 50% of the fruiting branches. However, care must be taken when choosing the branches as fruit only grows on old branches from the previous year. When pruning peach trees, select branches that have fruited previously. Over time, increase the amount of branches removed until you reach 50%.
Pruning begins in April by removing the shoots and then in August, post-harvest, branches are removed that have borne peaches or nectarines.
When to harvest peaches and nectarines
A small to medium sized tree, the peach tree typically grows to 4-5m high, however, can reach 8m. It is defined by a dark coloured bark on its trunk and a sparse branch structure. Roots are green at first and then have a red coloured surface.
Leaves are lanceolate, narrow, serrated, and with a short stalk. The blooms of hermaphrodite flowers are pink, with five petals, gathered in groups of 3 or 4. The bloom, which precedes the appearance of the leaves, begins in late March. Most are self-fertile flowers.
Peaches and nectarines are harvested from June to September, when they are ripe. The fruit is prone to bruising so extra care should be taken to avoid damage when harvesting.
The first white fleshed peach crop can only be stored for a few days while later crops will keep in a fridge for up to 1 month, if harvested when slightly under-ripe and a little firm.
Propagation of Peach and nectarine trees
Both the peach and the nectarine tree can be grown from seed but this is not advised as it can produce weak crops and is prone to disease. It is also possible to propagate by cuttings; however most trees are grown from a graft. The success of a crop depends on the correct choice of peach rootstock for your soil type. One of the most common hybrids unites peaches and almonds.
Diseases and insect affecting peaches and nectarines:
- Scale insects
- Fruit fly
- Red spider mite
- Bull of peach
- Powdery mildew
- Dead leaf: a bacterial disease causing brown spots on the leaves which can destroy the tree.
Did you know: Use of peaches and nectarines and Interesting facts
Peaches and nectarines are nutritious and are abundant in vitamins and minerals. A great digestive aid, the peach is also used widely for cosmetic purposes; the juice is a great tonic for the skin, while the pulp and kernels can be used in face masks, moisturisers and skin exfoliation products.
Widely used in cooking, they can be baked, dried, or used in jams, chutneys and sauces.Peaches contain one large single seed with an almond-like appearance. It has a high amygdalin content which is a cyanogenic glucoside. The peach stone tastes bitter and can be poisonous if eaten in small quantities.