The peach (Prunus persica), sometimes called the queen of fruits, is a member of the rose family and popular for its juicy, sweet-acidic flavor, pleasing texture and wide variety of uses. Store bought peaches pale in comparison to freshly harvested, tree-ripened fruit. Hundreds of peach cultivars exist, developed for cold hardiness, chilling requirements and other characteristics.
Peaches can be grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 5 through 9, but certain varieties grown in warmer climates, such as zone 9 in Florida, will struggle to reach the required number of cold weather hours for proper fruit set and development. Choosing the right cultivar for particular growing areas is extremely important. Just as warm climates are not suitable for all peach cultivars, harsh winters and late frosts can devastate peach crops. Purchase “bud-hardy” cultivars to reduce damage from late spring frosts and grow low-chill cultivars such as Flordaglo or Floraprince in warm climates.
Soil and Sun
Grow peaches in various well-drained soils, including sandy or clay loams with a pH of 6 to 6.5. A loam soil is roughly equal parts sand, silt and clay. Peaches don't tolerate waterlogged conditions or heavy clay soils but require supplemental watering during dry periods, especially when fruit is maturing. Plant peach trees in early spring or March in southern regions and as soon as soil is workable. Peaches prefer full sun locations and plenty of air circulation around maturing trees.
Fertilization recommendations for peach trees vary, but University of Missouri extension advises applying one-half cup 12-12-12 fertilizer (denoting nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium ratios), one month after planting and 1 to 2 pounds per year of tree age thereafter in early spring before new growth. Up to 5 pounds of 12-12-12 may be used on mature trees, depending on conditions such as soil type, extent of pruning, tree growth and the fertilization of other landscape plants in the area.
Open center pruning is recommended for maximum sun exposure, yield and quality. Pruning in the first year of planting and every subsequent year develops strong, balanced trees and maintains a balance between vegetation and fruit production. See Resources in this article for information on pruning tips and techniques for producing quality peaches.
Hand thinning of fruit in late spring to about 8 inches apart is very beneficial, because peach trees often set more fruit than they can handle. Without thinning, small fruit develop and over-bearing limbs may break.
Brown rot, peach leaf curl, powdery mildew, bacterial spot and cankers are peach diseases. Insects like fruit moths, tarnished plant bugs, stink bugs, borers and beetles affect peach trees. Your county extension office is a valuable source of information regarding specific pest and disease information particular to your growing area.