Peaches - and Nectarines too - are wonderful fruits to grow in the garden. They are quite accomodating and can equally be enjoyed in 22" containers on the sunny patio, or grown against a warm sunny wall. Sometimes they are mistaken for exotic fruits that can not be grown in this country but the reverse is true. They are quite frost hardy and suit most localities. But if they are to fruit abundantly and regularly then you must afford them the most favourable aspect you have to offer. They can also be housed comofrtably in a cold greenhouse where the results can be quite spectacular.
The best attribute to Peaches & Nectarines is that they are naturally relatively compact in growth. This is as well because they are long-term incompatible with dwarfing rootstocks. However, even on the St Julien rootstock, which is how most trees are grown and offered for sale, they will seldom reach more than around 8' in height and this can be contained futehr if required. Peaches and Nectarines are very decorative and the beautiful deep rose pink blossom appears early, often opening in late March. And herein lies the most significant aspect in crop development for Peach and Ncetarine trees. If they are to provide good crops this early blossom must be protected from the frosts which still abound at this time. If growing them on a protected wall, or in conservatory of greenhouse then this is not a problem. But free standing trees should have their flowers protected with some handy fleece, or even silk stockings or similar lightweight clothing loosely tied around the branches during frosty nights. This should be removed for the daytime to allow polinating insects a chance to fertilize the flowers. If the daytime temperatures are cold or windy then be prepared to hand pollinate with a soft camel haired brush. This is a pleasurable and quick task that can significantly improve not only the quantity but also the quality of the fruits.
Make sure you wait until your bounty is at the peak of ripeness before harvesting. The reason shop-bought samples of these fruits are often so empty of flavour, or too wooden of texture to be enjoyed, is that they are harvested very early so that they can travel without bruising. The juice and sugar levels develop to their maximum levels in those last few days. By growing your own delicious Peaches & Nectarines you can enjoy them at their peak and you will be amazed at the difference in flavour. You can tell when they are ripe when the fruit come easily from the branch. Cup the fruit in the palm of your hand and tug very gently to remove them without bruising.
Happily, all Peaches and Nectarines are self fertile so you do not have to worry about pollinating partners.
Pruning & general cultivation
SOIL PREPARATION. The site should be in full sun and protected from cold winds, but peaches and nectarines are tolerant of a very wide range of soils. It is essential that the soil is well drained and if necessary this can be improved by placing chopped turves or even coarse gravel or small grit rubble below the planting depth. Ensure this is covered with some soil before planting. The roots will need a depth of 18 inches of soil for good growth. If the tree is to be planted against a wall plant 9 inches away from the wall and improve the soil if necessary, as previously described. Plant to the same depth as the tree was in the nursery and after planting a 2 to 3 inch mulch of well rotted manure or peat should be spread for 18 inches around the tree.
PRUNING. Pruning is the same as for a bush apple except that the pruning must be done in the Spring and a few more branches may be left in the centre of the tree. When is cropping, prune each Spring to encourage strong new growth to carry the next Summer’s fruit.
FEEDING. In February apply Growmore at 3oz per square yard around the root area, replace or improve the mulch as necessary. In May each year, a foliar feed every 14 days until the fruits start to ripen is very beneficial. Phostrogen is ideal.
WATERING. It is essential to water well and in hot dry weather your tree will appreciate a spray of water before the sun reaches them in the morning and again in late evening.
POLLINATION & PROTECTION. As peaches and nectarines flower early in the year. They should be protected from the frost. Drape the trees with Hessian or bird netting when the frost is imminent and remove during the day. As few insects are about this early in the year, pollinating the flowers by hand will ensure a better set of fruit.
THINNING. To obtain regular crops of good sized fruits, thinning of the fruits should start when the fruitlets are the size of peas until they have reached walnut size. Peaches should be about 9 inches apart and nectarines closer ay 6 inches apart when thinning has been completed.
HARVESTING. When the fruit has a reddish flush and feels soft it is ripe for picking. Hold the fruit in the palm of the hand to avoid bruising, lift slightly and twist.
THE FAN TRAINED TREE. Plant a feathered maiden and in the spring after planting cut back to lateral about 24 inches from the ground. Ensure that you have left one good bud on each side below the pruning level. Any remaining laterals should be cut back to one bud. In early Summer 3 shoots should be selected, train the top shoot vertically and with remaining two, train one to the left and one to the right. Remove all other buds and shoots. In July the shoots will now have lengthened and they should be tied to the support at an angle of about 45 degrees. Later in the Summer, cut out the central upright shoot and protect the cut with wound paint.
THE SECOND YEAR. In the Spring cut back your two side shoots to a bud or triple bud to about 12 to 18 inches from main stem. In Summer, four new shoots on each arm should be selected. The main one to extend the growth of the main arm, two to train above and one below each side of the tree other shoots should be stopped at one leaf.
THE THIRD YEAR. In Spring each leader should be shortened by a third to a downward pointing bud. In Summer the leading shoots should be allowed to extend their growth and every 4 inches a new shoot can be trained to your required fan shape. Do not train more than 3 new shoots from every branch and in late Summer when they have made 18 inches of growth pinch out the growing point and tie them to the cane or wires. These new laterals will fruit the following summer. Your wall will now be covered with your fan shaped tree and future season training is simply a matter of removing any shoots that are growing directly away or towards your wall cutting at 1 or 2 leaves. Replacement laterals can be trained if required and the old fruited wood removed to make room for your new replacement after fruiting.
GROWING IN THE COOL GLASSHOUSE. All varieties listed can be grown in the cold greenhouse if preferred. No artificial heat is necessary. Ventilate when the temperature rises above 65 degrees F. and damp down on sunny days except during flowering, Spray with water daily to create humidity when the leaves start to expand. After fruiting all ventilators should be left open.
Growing in pots
These fruits particularly suit container growing. Choose a container of not less than 22" and use a soil-based compost such as John Innes no 2 or similar. This should see the trees right for about 3 seasons, with regular feeding with seaweed maxicrop. After 3 years re-pot into fresh compost. Pruning and other cultivation aspects are the same as described above.
Good Peach Varieties
The white fleshed Peregrine, golden Duke of York and Rochester and the deeply red flushed Red Haven are probably the best varieties. Saturn, with it's curiously flattened small fruits but divinely sweet flavour, is also well worth growing but requires a warmer aspect still. The connoisseurs varieties Dymond and Kestrel are also worth seeking out.
Good Nectarine varieties
Lord Napier is by far the most universally grown and reliable variety. It is a white fleshed Nectarine with a handsome red flush and very sweetly flavoured. Pineapple is an interesting variation with a slight pineapple-character to its very juicy flesh. Humboldt and Red Gold are also worth seeking out.