The peach (Prunus persica), a member of the Rosaceae family, brings delight to the taste buds and beauty to the landscape. While most commercial production takes place in warmer climates, Ohio gardeners can bring the exceptional flavor of fresh peaches to the table by planting cold-hardy cultivars at home. It typically takes three to four years for peach trees to bear fruit, so patience is necessary. However, with the proper planting and care, the wait will result in fresh, sweet fruit, jams and pies for years to come.
Choose a planting site with full sun, well-draining soil and higher elevation that deters cold air from reaching blooms. An open area, without shade from large trees or buildings, is preferable.
Take soil samples, 6 to 8 inches deep, from the chosen location for testing at your local agricultural extension agency. Your extension agent can make soil amendment recommendations based on soil test results.
Start planting site preparation one to two years before planting to create the best soil conditions for planting. Create a bed at least 5 to 6 feet in diameter by tilling or spading soil at a depth of at least 10 to 12 inches.
Till in compost, manure, grass clippings and sand to create a nutrient-rich base for intended peach trees. Follow extension agency recommendations for adjusting soil pH level. After making proper amendments, rake the bed to create a level surface.
Choose a peach cultivar specifically bred to withstand Ohio temperatures. Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet HYG-1406-98 (see References) provides a list of recommended varieties for Ohio gardens and orchards.
Open the tree wrappings immediately upon arrival and soak the roots for 6 to 12 hours if they are not premoistened.
Dig a hole 18 inches wide by 18 inches deep, or large enough to hold the tree without bending or cramping the roots.
Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut off any severely mutilated or broken roots before planting.
Center the tree in the hole, situating the uppermost root no deeper than 1 to 2 inches below the soil line after planting. Add soil around the root base until the hole is half full, packing it firmly around the roots. Tamp down, fill the remainder of the hole and pack it firmly around the trunk, leaving the bud union uncovered just above soil level.
Water the newly planted tree thoroughly to help the soil settle and eliminate air pockets. During the first year, give each tree 3 to 4 gallons of water per week.
Apply a layer of hardwood mulch or pea gravel around the base of each tree, at a depth of 2 to 3 inches. The mulch or stone should extend out 3 to 4 feet around the circumference of the tree.
Fertilize peach trees with 1/2 pound of 10-10-10 formula fertilizer within 10 days of planting. Avoid getting fertilizer on or near the trunk by starting application at least 2 feet out. A second application, at the same rate, should take place one month later. Second and Third-year trees should receive 3/4 of a pound in March and May, while mature trees should be fed 1 to 2 pounds twice per season.
Prune the tree to a height of 30 inches and cut off all side branches immediately after planting. Referred to as a "whip," this allows the tree to form an open center that provides the best shape for growth and production.
Maintain a strict schedule of pest and disease control throughout the life of your peach tree. Consult with your agricultural extension agent to create a safe, effective plan using the best pesticides and fungicides for your location.