Who doesn't love a juicy sweet Nectarine that you can eat without even peeling? They’re everyone’s favourites and often I get asked ‘is it possible to grow a Nectarine tree in this country?’ Of course, yes you can. Nectarines are virtually identical in genetic make-up to a Peach and are actually pretty hardy. The main thing to remember when siting them is to protect against late spring frosts, that’s when they are most vulnerable and for these reason I always recommend a sunny south or west facing aspect, a nice warm patio, or a good sunny wall. Winter frosts whilst they are dormant aren’t usually a problem unless it’s very severe. If you get a prolonged arctic snap then cover the tree as best you can with some thermal fleece. The flowers are rose pink and rather pretty; they’re also quite early so also make sure you protect them with said fleece during frosty nights, removing it during the day to allow insects to pollinate them.
Have I got the room?
Nectarines are grafted usually onto St Julien stocks. This isn’t a dwarfing rootstock which would usually make it too big for a small garden, pot or confined space. Yet happily, Nectarines just seem to show a naturally compact nature. If you plant it out and let it grow, it won’t attain much more than 8’ and this can be much less with judicious pruning, or it is grown in a 20” pot. That’s as a free standing tree; against a wall expect to need about 6x 6’ in height and width.
Pruning isn’t much of an issue. They are pruned rather like Plums, in the summertime and new growths can be shortened by a third in late Summer which keeps them bushy and initiates flower buds for next spring. They do like a plentiful water supply during summer, especially as the fruits are swelling. This is a key time when irregularities will show in smaller or cracked fruits. Pay some attention during this important pertiod and you will be rewarded with top class large, and dripping with juice Nectarines! I like to feed with seaweed extract/maxicrop at intervals during the growing season and this would be especially important for pot grown trees where the available nutrient supply will be used up more frequently.
Wait until the fruits just have a little ‘give’ in them before picking and they should come away from the tree without too much of a struggle. They often colour up well before they are actually ripe so make sure you don’t try to pick too soon. To enjoy them at their best they should be already ripe before harvesting as the natural sugars only develop to their fullest extent in the last few days. The fruits won’t all ripen at once so you will need to go over the tree each morning several times.
Growing Nectarines in pots
A 20” container would be ample, larger is good but don’t go too mad. Such kindness may be a disadvantage for if the container is too big then the compost may go stale before it is used by the roots. I always a loam based potting compost such as John Innes no 2 for trees in pots. Make sure the container is well drained with crocks, or lift it just slightly off the floor.
Growing in a conservatory or greenhouse
Of course a Nectarine will thrive in such an environment as long as it isn’t heated during the winter. Nectarines do need a definite dormant period to yield well. Cultivation will be exactly the same as for outdoor Nectarines, but do remember to hand pollinate the flowers with a soft brush as there probably won’t be any insects inside to pollinate them naturally. This is a very pleasurable task but perhaps one to perform alone incase neighbours think you’ve gone ever so slightly mad.
There is a relatively limited range of Nectarine varieties from which to choice, of which Lord Napier is by far the most popular and always recommended for beginners. It is a white fleshed Nectarine with a very good sweet flavour and it is the most reliable one. ‘Pineapple’ [yes, it is a nectarine, not a Pineapple tree!] is a choice variation with an intense flavour said to be likened to tropical fruit. Other noteworthy varieties worth trying are Humboldt and Madame Blanchet.
I hope this gives you the confidence to plant a Nectarine tree sometime in your garden. The results will be well worthwhile and give you a real sense of joy and achievement. A mature tree can yield 50 or more full sized fruits so you’ll soon see the economic advantage too!