Peaches represent challenges even to Southern growers. Since Iowa lies in USDA hardiness zones 8 and 9 at the upper limits of the peach tree's range, Iowa peach growers face additional trouble. Fragile peach trees weakened by winter cold damage could succumb to other problems later in the year. Even with the best of care, peach tree flower buds die off when temperatures plummet to 0 degrees F and below. Choosing hardy varieties and the best planting sites still could produce an occasional good fruiting year.
Choose cold-hardy peach cultivars. Plant only standard peach trees, not dwarf varieties. As yet, no dwarfing root-stocks show as much resistance to cold damage as do standard varieties of peaches. Reliance and Harrow cultivars as well as Beauty and Madison peaches withstand severe winters better than other varieties. All four self-pollinate.
Select a planting site with well-drained fertile soil. Locate the peach trees on sloping ground with southern exposure. Don't plant peaches on hilltops where wind exposure could increase cold damage, and don't plant in low areas where frost pockets form in spring.
Take soil samples before planting and test the soil for fertility and proper pH. Consult a county extension agent for advice on amending the soil properly for peach growth. Till the ground thoroughly to discourage weeds and grasses.
Mulch the soil over the root zone 3 inches deep with straw, shredded leaves or grass clippings. Keep the mulch 6 inches away from the peach tree's trunk. Deep mulch protects roots from cold and drought while suppressing weed growth. Mulch laid against the trunk could shelter rodents and insects that damage bark or girdle trees.
Prune peach trees early in spring after the last severe cold and before trees break dormancy. Prune out dead and damaged wood first and then prune to shape the tree.
Inspect peach trees for split bark due to freeze damage. Trim away dead bark at the sides of the split with a pocketknife to clean the wound and encourage healing.
Cover trees with clear plastic sheets if late spring frosts threaten the buds or blooms. Hanging an incandescent light under the plastic tarp generates enough heat to protect delicate growth.