Nectarine trees are actually a variety of peach tree--P.persica var. nucipersica-- and are genetically almost identical to peaches, differing in only a single gene. Similar in many ways to peaches, nectarines provide a tree with attractive foliage and delicious fruit. They are among the most popular of stone fruits in the garden and are relatively easy to grow and care for.
The foliage of nectarine trees is similar to peaches, with long, slender, lance-like leaves that curve downward along the length of each leaf. The leaves are four to nine inches long and have finely serrated margins. The fruit of nectarines has a smooth skin that is yellow and red in appearance. The fruit is sweet and juicy with a moderate amount of fiber. The stone inside the fruit that holds the seed can be a cling type, strongly connected to the flesh; semi-free; or free, where the stone is partially or completely separate from the flesh.
Nectarine trees grow relatively fast, adding more than 24 inches each year and spreading out quickly. Trees with good fruiting characteristics are often grafted onto hardy root stocks to help reduce the risk of disease. The plants are relatively short-lived, usually only surviving for around 12 years. Most nectarine varieties are self-pollinating. Fruit can take anywhere from 45 to 60 days to mature and usually are ready to harvest in late spring or early summer.
The tree itself is a rounded form that ranges in size from dwarf varieties that seldom reach higher than 10 feet to normal types that can grow to 25 feet or more and can spread to 20 feet, if left uncontrolled. While the nectarine fruit is similar to that of peaches in form and taste, they're different in that they are smooth and shiny, while peaches are fuzzy and dull.
Nectarine trees need lots of direct sun. The more sunlight available, the sweeter the fruit and the higher the yield will be. Nectarines do well in a variety of soils, with sandy clay loam being the best. The soils should also be well draining to avoid waterlogged roots that can rot. The pH of the soil should, ideally, be around 6.5. It is best to plant a one-year-old tree with a good root system in the spring.
Prune regularly, once the tree is established, to control growth and encourage fruiting. Mature trees should be fed twice in spring with about a pound or two of a good 10-10-10 fertilizer.
Nectarine come in both yellow and white-fleshed varieties. 'Karla Rose' is a white variety with a semi-free stone. Another white nectarine is 'Rose Princess,' which is a free-stone fruit. 'RedGold', 'Fantasia', 'Summer Beaut', and 'Mericrest' are free-stone, yellow varieties. Semi-free yellow-fleshed nectarines include 'Sunsplash', 'Sunfre' and 'Durbin.'