Peaches are one of the oldest known fruits and were grown in China as long ago as 2000 B.C. The tree was cultivated for its fruit throughout Asia and southern Europe for centuries thereafter. Today, the peach does best in warm climates with reliably hot summers, mostly in the western United States. Spring frosts are the most damaging to the early blossoms, and sufficient heat and sunshine are necessary to ensure that the fruit ripens.
There are two types of peach tree: the standard size, which ranges in height from 10 to 25 feet, and the dwarf, which ranges in height from 5 to 10 feet. The leaves of the peach tree are shiny green, elliptic to narrowly shaped, 3 to 6 inches in length, with long, pointed tips, which turn yellow in autumn, according to the "Field Guide to Trees of North America," by the National Wildlife Federation. The white or pink flowers are a 1/2 inch to 1 1/2 inch wide, and bloom in the spring.
Types of Peaches
Peaches generally range in size from 2 to 6 inches and fruit in the months of July and August, depending on the variety. Peaches are available with both yellow and white flesh. Types include dwarf peaches such as "Garden Lady" and "Bonanza"; early fruiting varieties such as "Duke of York" and "Hale's Early"; heavy fruiting peaches such as "Red Haven" and "Contender" and, according to "Grow Fruit" by Alan Buckingham, one of the best peach varieties for temperate climates, "Peregrine."
Peach trees are usually pruned into a fan shape, also known as the open center, according to "The Backyard Orchardist," by Stella Otto. The goal is to encourage enough wood growth to support a peach crop but not so much that the tree puts all of its energy into growing leaves and branches. Cross branches and branches that shade others should be removed, keeping the center of the tree open. Cutting back the top branches controls the height of the tree. The best time to prune is late winter and early spring in the tree's first year and early summer to early fall in subsequent years.
Peach trees have shallow roots and are sensitive to nutrient deficiencies, especially nitrogen, according to "Backyard Fruits and Berries" by Diane E. Bilderback and Dorothy Hinshaw Patent. If the leaves and fruit are yellow-green, and the fruit ripens early and is watery, the tree is deficient in nitrogen. Another indicator of poor nutrition is a failure to thrive. The shoots of a mature peach tree should grow 8 to 18 inches a year while the shoots of a young tree should grow at least 12 inches. Establish a regular fertilizing schedule every spring, and apply .05 pounds of nitrogen for every year of the tree's age.
Peach Tree Pests
Peach trees are susceptible to diseases such as fungal infections, which cause brown rot, peach leaf curl, bacterial canker and peach rosette mosaic virus as well as pest infestations such as spider mites, Oriental fruit moth and the peachtree borer. The peachtree borer is particularly insidious; the larvae attack the trunk of the tree below ground and burrow into the bark through a crack or injury, feeding on the growing tissues inside, according to the New York State Pest Management Program. The peachtree borer can be controlled by insecticides; however, both young and old trees can be severely damaged by the insect, resulting in death for young trees and increased susceptibility to other types of disease for mature trees.