When you think of summer fruits, you might think of the sweet taste of a fresh, juicy peach, and if you have a sunny yard, you can grow your own peach tree. But first, you must understand a peach tree’s size, needs, and growth stages.
There are dwarf varieties that can be grown in a large container and standard-size trees that make attractive landscape plants. Peach trees require regular attention and maintenance, but if you love peaches, it may be worth the effort.
Throughout this article, we will introduce peach-tree basics, explain how to find the right tree, and let you know what you can expect as your peach tree reaches each growth stage.
The Short Answer
If you love peaches, try growing your own! Start with a healthy young tree and provide it with adequate sunlight, water, and good soil. You can then enjoy watching your tree grow to maturity and ultimately harvesting your own fruits.
A young peach tree focuses its energy toward getting established and developing healthy roots and branches. Peaches start producing flowers and fruits at around 3 years of age. Trees will continue to grow and mature each year and require regular care and maintenance throughout their lifetime. Depending on the variety you plant and your local growing conditions, you can expect your peach tree to live for up to 15 years.
The Long Answer
As you contemplate growing peaches, there are several parts of the process to learn, from choosing the perfect tree to picking your fruits. What can you expect from each peach tree growth stage? How long does the process take? And what can you do to help your peach tree be productive and healthy?
History & Cultivation
Peach trees originated in China and have been cultivated for their delicious fruits for thousands of years. Today there are hundreds of cultivars of peaches and nectarines, and it’s quite possible that you could grow one of these in your own yard.
However, before you enjoy your first homegrown peach, you should familiarize yourself with some peach-growing basics. Learn about the ideal location to grow a peach tree, how to care for a peach tree, and what stages to expect between planting and harvesting.
Peaches and nectarines are both the same species, Prunus persica. The only difference is that peaches have fuzzy skin, and nectarines have smooth skin. The other major peach category defines how the fruit separates from the pit:
- Freestone peaches have fruit that separates very easily from the pit.
- In clingstone peaches, the fruit and pit are difficult to separate from each other.
Depending on how you want to eat your peaches, you may prefer one variety over another, but they are all delicious!
Preparing to Grow a Peach Tree
Growing fruit trees requires awareness of high-maintenance care and proactive pest treatment.
The first phase of growing a peach tree is the information phase. If you have never grown peaches before, you should know these are high-maintenance trees. They require annual pruning to help the trees stay healthy and productive.
Peach trees are also susceptible to a host of pests and diseases. You must learn how to treat trees proactively and what signs to watch out for to help prevent pests and diseases from claiming your crop.
Talk with your local cooperative extension agent if you want local expertise to identify common issues in your area. For example, the peach capital state of Georgia offers valuable information online. Your university agricultural extension service can be very helpful in understanding which varieties of peach grow best in your region and how to get started with fruit trees.
You will need to know your climate zone and your region’s chill hours to help you identify which varieties will grow best in your area. You must also assess your yard and determine the best place to plant your new tree. Finally, you must know how to select, plant, and maintain your new tree to have the best chances of growing success.
Know Your Numbers
Thankfully, you don’t have to do any math. These numbers can help guide you through the variety selection process.
USDA Climate Zones
Seek cold-hardy varieties in zones 4-5 and heat-tolerant ones in zones 8-9.
The average low temperatures of a region define USDA climate zones. Peaches can be grown in climate zones 4 to 9, but zones 6 and 7 are ideal. Peaches need cold winter temperatures to reset their cycle and hot summer temperatures for perfect fruit ripening.
If you live in zones 4 or 5, you may want to look for more cold-hardy varieties, and if you live in zones 8 or 9, be sure to check out the heat-tolerant varieties.
Peach trees need 500-1000 chill hours to break dormancy.
Depending on the variety, peach trees need between 500 and 1000 chill hours. Chill hours refers to the number of hours where temperatures are below 45°F.
During this time, a fruit tree is dormant, and after receiving enough chill hours, the tree will break dormancy and enter another growing season. You may need to contact your local agricultural extension agent to help you determine your average regional chill hours.
Chill hours are important to understand:
- If a tree breaks dormancy too soon, it will flower too early.
- An early end to dormancy means flowers and fruits can be damaged or killed by frosts.
- If a tree doesn’t receive enough chill hours, it may not flower or fruit properly.
- Lack of chill hours can delay the bloom period and interrupt or halt fruit production.
Because weather patterns are unpredictable, chill hours vary from year to year. When in doubt, and if you have enough space, plant a couple of different cultivars with slightly different requirements to increase your chances of having peaches yearly.
Choose a Growing Site
Choose an ideal site with ample sunlight, consistently moist soil, and adequate space for growing peach trees.
One very important step you need to make before you buy a peach tree is to choose a great site for it. Peach trees have some basic growing conditions that need to be met. Make sure you have a growing site that meets these basic needs.
Peach trees need a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight per day. Try to avoid growing trees in a location that receives less than this amount.
The soil for your tree should stay consistently moist but never soggy. Ideally, it should receive water in a circular diameter as wide as the tree’s canopy; this gives the best chance that all of the root system will receive water.
The ideal soil for peaches is loose, well-drained, loamy, and rich in organic matter.
Provide enough room for your peaches to grow without direct competition from other trees. Try to avoid planting your tree over pipes, as the roots may grow around the pipes making maintenance difficult and may puncture older pipes. Ideally, place your tree at least 20 feet from buildings or walls to prevent structural damage if roots grow along the surface of the soil.
Choose Your Trees
Picking out a peach tree takes a bit of research and planning, but it can be a really fun experience when you discover all the diversity available to you.
Varieties of Peaches
Consider your ideal characteristics when buying one of the more than 300 varieties of peaches available.
Over 300 varieties of peach can be grown in the United States. To give you some ideas about what characteristics to consider when buying a peach tree, here is a small sampling of varieties:
|Early season peaches||El Dorado
|Late season peaches||Cresthaven
|Cold-tolerant varieties for colder climates||Canadian Harmony
|Heat-tolerant varieties for warmer climates||Desert Gold
|Disease-resistant varieties||Belle of Georgia
|Smallest peach trees||Bonfire Patio Peach
Peach Tree Pollination
Most peach trees self-pollinate, but planting multiple trees can boost harvest and fruit variety.
Some fruit trees require two trees for successful cross-pollination and fruiting. The good news for peach growers is that most peach varieties are self-fertile and can produce peaches with pollen from the same plant.
But you can, of course, plant two (or more!) trees to expand your harvest and enjoy more diversity of fruits.
Buying a Tree
Whether you want to go the cheapest or quickest route, there are multiple ways to start growing peaches.
Starting From Seed
Growing peaches from seed is easy but yields unpredictable results.
It is quite easy to grow a peach from seed. The problem is that you won’t know what kind of peach you are growing. Because each flower is pollinated a little differently, the resulting fertilized peach flower will produce a fruit that is genetically different than the parent.
It can be an enjoyable experiment to grow a peach from seed, and you may get some tasty peaches, but if you want to know exactly what you are growing, start with a young nursery-grown tree.
Grafting helps growers control fruit production with a hardy rootstock and a known fruit variety.
Professional fruit growers typically use grafting to create great fruit trees. A hardy rootstock is grafted to a branch of a specific known variety of peach. The resulting plant will have a vigorous trunk and root system on the bottom with a known variety of fruit on the top. This allows growers to have greater control over the products they sell.
Selecting and Buying a Tree
If you’ve opted for a nursery start, here are your next steps and options.
- Buy a healthy potted or bare root tree.
- It should be vigorous and not have obvious symptoms of diseases or pest issues.
- Choose a variety well-suited for your area.
- If ordering online, be sure your region has the right number of chill hours during the winter for your selected type.
- Consider the size of your available space.
- A dwarf tree may fit well in smaller yards but still can reach 10-12 feet in height.
- Don’t buy a tree until you are ready to plant it.
- Bare-root trees will need to be planted upon arrival.
- Container-grown trees may become rootbound if you wait too long.
Order a bare-root tree from an online retailer and soak the roots for 1-2 hours before planting.
If you buy from an online fruit tree retailer, you will probably be sent a bare-root tree. This means no soil is attached to the roots, making shipping cheaper and easier.
A reputable retailer will not send the tree until it’s ready to be planted in your region, typically in late winter or early spring, while the tree is still dormant. Plan to have your site fully prepared so you can plant it as soon as possible after it arrives. Soak the bare roots for 1 to 2 hours before planting.
Purchase potted fruit trees locally for convenience and regionally-appropriate selections.
If you buy a fruit tree from a local nursery or garden center, you will most likely buy a potted tree. This can be very convenient because you can see your options and choose the one you like best.
Inspect the plant before purchasing it to ensure it appears healthy, undamaged, and a good shape and size. A potted tree can be kept and cared for in its pot until you are ready to plant it.
Locally-sourced trees are often varieties selected for at least the state you’re in, but it never hurts to confirm you have the right climate for a tree before you purchase.
Peach Tree Growth Stages
A peach tree goes through several stages, from seedling or grafted start until fruiting and old age. Your first interaction with your tree will be buying it (or planting the seed). The first stage where you must provide care is during planting.
Follow these tips for a successful planting result!
Growing Tips for a Great Start
- Timing – Plant your new tree in late winter or early spring. If in a climate where the weather typically does not get below freezing for extended periods of time, you may have another planting window of the fall, but it’s best to plant while your tree is dormant.
- Site Preparation – Prepare the planting area before you buy a tree. Make sure that the soil is amended if necessary, although it’s often best to amend after planting so the tree’s roots adapt to your native soil.
- Soil – The best soil profile for your tree will be rich, moist, and well-draining. Avoid planting in an area where water pools.
- Soil pH – The ideal range is between 6.0 and 7.0.
- Sun – Full sun is necessary for healthy peach development!
- Choose Well – Look for a healthy young tree well-suited to your area. Check the required chill hours and perhaps reach out to your local agricultural extension for varieties known to grow well in your region.
- Water – Water immediately after transplanting and then keep the soil moist, but not oversaturated. Too much water can create conditions that may result in root rot.
Immediately After Planting
A newly planted nursery tree needs thorough watering, mulching, and optional staking for establishment.
Assuming you have purchased a nursery-grown tree, it may be anywhere from 2 to 5 years old. As soon as you put your tree in the ground, it will begin establishing itself in its new location.
The first thing to do after planting is water it well. Give it a thorough soaking to get it situated and help reduce transplant shock. Then mulch around the base to help preserve soil moisture and deter weeds. Avoid “volcano mulching”, or piling mulch against the tree’s base; there should be a break between the mulch layer and the trunk to prevent any damage to the trunk. A tree surround can help protect the base of your tree if needed.
Your tree will now begin its life in its permanent location. It will spend its first year developing a robust root system and growing branches. You can stake your newly planted tree at this time to help keep it upright as it begins growing.
1 to 2 Years After Planting
The tree may bloom and fruit early, but expect a light harvest.
Depending on the age of the tree you planted, your tree may already start blooming and fruiting in these early years. It will spend a lot of energy growing roots and branches during this time. You won’t see the root growth, but you will see your tree branching out and filling in.
If your tree starts fruiting in its first two years, it may be a very light harvest. This is perfectly normal. Your tree is still getting established and growing. Flowering and fruiting take a lot of energy.
During these early years, you must start your annual maintenance routine. Annual maintenance includes:
- Regular watering
- Annual pruning
- Annual fertilization
- Regular mulching
- Weed removal
- Monitoring for pests and diseases
3+ Years After Planting
Regular pruning keeps the tree compact, well-rounded, and healthy.
Your tree should definitely be blooming and fruiting by this time. It will start looking more mature, well-rounded, and robust. It’s important to keep pruning your tree during this time to help it keep an attractive and practical rounded form.
Don’t be afraid to prune extremely tall branches. Keeping your tree compact will help keep your peaches easier to reach!
Continue your regular maintenance routine to keep your tree healthy. You may notice that branches occasionally die. If it is only occasional, this is perfectly normal. Prune these branches off as needed. If the branches look diseased or rotten, this may be a fungal problem or insect infestation that needs to be treated promptly.
Aging trees stay productive with proactive pest/disease management.
As peach trees age, they may look more ragged, but they can still be very productive. Keep a close eye on potential pests and diseases. It’s best to act proactively rather than wait for any symptoms to worsen. You can expect a healthy tree to continue producing fruits for 7 to 15 years. Continue your annual maintenance routine for the entire life of the tree.
Annual Care and Maintenance
Regardless of how old your tree is, you can expect to do some routine maintenance every year. These are high-maintenance plants, so be prepared to do some work to help keep your tree healthy and productive.
Basic Annual Calendar
- Early spring – Prune to help improve fruiting
- Spring – Flowering
- Late spring through fall – Check your tree regularly for pests and diseases
- Spring through fall – Keep your tree irrigated to maintain soil moisture
- Early summer – Check fruits, remove damaged fruits, thin fruits
- Late summer through fall – Harvest fruits
- Fall – Add mulch
- Winter – Rake fallen leaves
Prune in the spring to keep the strongest and most robust fruiting branches.
It’s important to prune every spring. Remove any dead or diseased branches first. Next, remove any suckers growing up from the base, so your tree has only one main trunk. Try to keep some healthy main branches, removing any crossover branches and other smaller branches growing at odd angles. The goal of pruning is to maintain the strongest, most robust fruiting branches as well as improve access to sunlight and airflow.
The best tools for pruning are:
Monitor fruit trees, spot issues, damage, and pests, and act promptly to prevent spreading.
Peach trees are prone to many pests and diseases. Keep a close eye on your tree’s health throughout the entire year so that you can quickly address any issues. Look for signs of rotting fruits, damaged branches, and browned or curled leaves.
You may want to take preemptive steps to prevent your region’s most common peach problems. Talk to your local agricultural extension agent for more targeted help with pest and disease control.
Mulching and Weeding
To prevent weed growth with mulch and add compost for moisture and nutrients.
Keep weeds from growing around the base of your tree. Pull weeds by hand, mow, or apply mulch to deter weeds. Be careful not to damage the tree’s trunk if using a mower or string trimmer. Weeds can be serious competition for fruit trees.
Mulch around your tree immediately after planting, adding fresh mulch each fall. Mulching with organic compost is a great idea because it helps retain soil moisture and adds vital nutrients for your tree.
When possible, mulch in a circular pattern that mimics the spread of your tree’s canopy. The root system often matches the canopy of the tree above it, and that’s the area that will need to have protection from the mulch!
Fertilize in the spring using a fruit tree-specific slow-release fertilizer with balanced NPK.
Fertilize your peach tree each spring. You can buy fertilizer products that are specially formulated for fruit trees. Choose a slow-release fertilizer with an even nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium balance. Carefully follow the application directions on the product you buy. Be careful not to over-fertilize, as this can harm your tree.
Regularly irrigate, keeping the soil evenly moist and never soggy.
Peach trees benefit from regular irrigation. They prefer evenly moist soil without extended dry phases. But they don’t like to be kept wet or soggy. During the growing season, an average of 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week is a good target. Make sure the water is soaking into the soil, not just running off the surface.
Growth and Fruiting
Once you’ve mastered annual maintenance, monitoring your tree’s maturation and fruit sets is the fun part.
These fruits have a relatively short lifespan of 7-15 years, reaching 6-15 feet in height.
Peach trees are relatively short-lived trees. The average lifespan is between 7 and 15 years, depending on the variety and growing location.
Dwarf trees may grow to only 6 to 10 feet tall, while standard trees can be maintained at 10-15 feet tall. During its active growing years, you can expect your tree to grow anywhere from 12 to 24 inches annually!
They usually start blooming three years after planting.
The first time you notice your peach tree flowering, you will enjoy the attractive pink flowers and the abundance of pollinators visiting the blossoms. It typically takes about three years to start flowering and fruiting.
Thinning Peach Fruits
Hand thin peach fruits for better crop: remove small, diseased, damaged, and crowded ones to enhance sunlight and airflow.
Peach trees will often start more fruits than they can carry to maturity. A tree will likely drop several fruits prematurely, but you can help by hand-thinning fruits. Carefully remove any diseased, damaged, or deformed fruits when they are very small.
On branches with crowded fruits, thin them to create space between the developing fruits. This allows more sunlight, better airflow, and a better crop than unthinned fruits.
Harvest ripe peaches when fully yellow-orange and delicate.
This is the moment you have been patiently waiting for! You can usually tell when peaches are ripe because they are fully yellow-orange with no more green. If you are unsure, try picking a peach and taking a bite.
Peaches are very delicate fruits and bruise easily. When fruits are ripe, gently grasp the fruit, twist, and pull with a slight upwards tug. It may not be fully ripe if the fruit stem doesn’t detach easily from the branch. Peaches will continue to ripen, and very quickly, after harvesting.
Try to harvest all the ripe fruits. Overripe fruits left on the tree will invite unwanted pests and diseases.
Enjoy fresh peaches quickly after harvesting, as they don’t store well.
Peaches are delicious when eaten fresh. Unfortunately, fresh peaches don’t store well and are best eaten fairly quickly after harvesting. Once your fruits are ripe, they will quickly spoil if left on the counter. You can store peaches in the refrigerator for a few days. Alternatively, you can slice, freeze, or use them for canning and preserving.
Love the taste of fresh summer peaches? Try growing your own! Peach trees also have beautiful flowers that attract pollinators. You can successfully grow peaches with the proper sunlight, soil, and space.
Consider growing a dwarf tree in a large container, or plant a standard-size tree in a sunny landscape. Be prepared to do regular maintenance and preventative care for your tree, and you will be rewarded with delicious, homegrown summer fruits.