A Gardener's Steps to Planting and Growing Peach Trees in Arizona
Peaches Are a Kick
One of my joyful experiences for the summer of 2010 was watching my peaches mature. From a small green bud, they get larger everyday blooming into brilliant yellow peaches ready to pick in August.
Peaches are my favorite fruit and can be used in so many ways. There's fresh peach cobbler, baked peaches, peach slices in heavy syrup, Elmira sour cream peach pie, Baltimore peach cake, peach muffins, peach frozen yogurt, peach ice cream, and hundreds more. This was my first harvest gave me the feeling of success!
What I intend to share is my seven years of experience raising a peach tree, and what I have learned about peaches from a number of sources.
Frozen Peaches and that Ain't All
To start with, my peach tree was probably about 2 years old when I got it at Wal-Mart. If you are looking for fruit trees for sale, check Wal-Mart and Home Depot garden centers in the spring. That is generally the age they have attained when we go to the nursery and buy them. After 2 more years of tending it, the tree popped out with small green buds about the size of a dime. I probably had 35-40 peaches.
By 2017, I have found that my tree averages 40 peaches per year. Sometimes around 30, other times as high as 50. I fertilize in the spring every year, as my readings on the subject stress it. Since I love my harvest, I have had no incentive to not fertilize to see what happens. If you are so inclined, go ahead and see, but if the possible disappointment at a crumby harvest would send you into a deep depression, don't do it!
The peach tree originated in China, then being carried around the world. You can raise one from a pit (sometimes called a stone), but most of us are too anxious to get a crop of fruit and buy them at stores.
Peach trees should be planted in spring. The flowers and buds should be protected from early and late frost. Peaches love the sun - they should not be shaded. When possible, plant the tree at elevation so cool air will run beneath them.
Keep your tree hydrated. The plastic cans the trees are usually in don't hold the moisture in all that well. Don't forget to water it while you plan your orchard. Find a spot in the sun for it - peach trees need full sun.
Digging a good hole is paramount. The fruit tree needs to have a good broad root system to take up nutrients and anchor itself well. I like to dig the hole 3 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep. I know, I know, that doesn't sound like fun. But it is the most important step to a healthy plant. Take several days to dig it, what's the rush? You'll be happy in the long run that you took the time to make it a good home. A peach tree is a favorite garden plant.
If you live in the southwest, you will probably need a hex shaft digging bar to loosen up your soil and move rock. A 5 footer should do. It is good to make the soil mixture that will go back in the hole as clean as you can, so I use 1/4" screen to get rid of all the rocks.
In the bottom of the hole I throw in a couple of shovelsful of manure. Fruit trees like an acid soil. I then add sifted natural soil and store bought topsoil and compost in equal parts (I like Nature's Way found at Wal-Mart. It's inexpensive and very good).
Transplanting the Tree
When the hole is ready to receive the tree (don't expose the tender roots to the air any longer than necessary), cut your plastic can with knife, scissors, or clippers down opposite sides and fold the plastic down. I grab the bottom of the trunk and the bottom of the root ball and move the tree to the hole. The top of the plant dirt should be level with the top of the hole. Fill in the sides with your soil mix. Gently tamp the soil down and add more top soil, then compost. Turn the water on slowly and fully water the soil. If the soil subsides, add more topsoil and compost.
I like to build a berm border around my fruit trees about 6 feet in diameter. This way water can be concentrated at the tree. Don't let the tree stand in water. Peach trees do not need persistent dampness. I live in Arizona and deep watered my peach tree twice a week. Constant saturation encourages fungal infections.
A stake will keep your young tree from breaking in the wind. I have taken to using metal stakes with green rubber coating that are sold at plant stores. I use one stake as big as the trunk or larger - usually the largest size offered in a standard variety.
The next step in the process is to find some fruit tree food. I use Expert Gardener Fruit & Citrus Tree Fertilizer Stakes. As advertised, it "feeds the roots all season long." These stakes are slow release, and I recommend them over granules you scratch in the soil. You use 3 stakes for every 2 inches diameter of tree trunk measured at chest height. Of course, your tree starting out will be lucky to have a 2 inch trunk, so plan on using 2 stakes spaced evenly. Drive the stakes in 2 inches below the soil's surface. Expert Gardener advises feeding in spring, mid-summer, and fall. There are many fruit tree nutrient stakes, but in general the composition of the stake is the same.
Peach Tree Diseases
I have read that peach trees are easily susceptible to plant disease as well as damage caused by insects. Spraying trees regularly is required lest most trees die. This is noted in all the articles on peaches that I read. This was my first fruiting, and I did not spray out of ignorance. Next early spring, I plan to use a dormant oil fruit tree spray which is supposed to kill a number of insects.
One has to be on the lookout for plant disease also. The most common plant disease in peach trees is brown rot. With this disease, first the flowers get a fungus and die. Then 1" - 3" wounds open up on the wood. Spores from this and dead material migrate to the fruit which then rots. My tree was not affected by this, but I am going to be vigilant.
To stop brown rot, remove diseased fruit (with brown spot enlarging to a bruise) when it occurs. Remove any dried dead fruit and deadwood in fall. Then spray in the summer before the fruit ripens (when the yellow starts to appear). Use fungicide with thiophanate methyl, captan, or azoxystrobin. A very thorough spraying is required. Make sure the fungicide is for peaches.
I did have trouble with birds, and purchased a black netting for fruit trees at Wal-Mart. It eliminated the problem completely, as the birds didn't seem to like lighting on the net.
I left all the fruit on my tree, as is recommended in the beginning. See what size your fruit is, and then thin accordingly in later crops. The idea is that thinning allows the other peaches to grow bigger. My peaches were the size of school boy apples. I may not thin next year either. Pruning should take place in dense, bushy areas. Smaller new growth can be taken out so the larger more mature limbs have room; pruning peach trees is important. I would say there should be at least 3-4 inches between branches. Leave new growth to have this spacing uniform around the tree. More air and sunlight get to the tree after such pruning with a resultant healthy tree.
As I look out my window, the leaves are still on the peach tree on October 9, 2010. The peach tree leaves are a beautiful shade of green. But soon there will be winter's chill, the leaves will fall, and the tree will go dormant. It might seem that this is a sad thing, but I look forward to seeing those green buds in spring! In the meantime, we'll be defrosting our frozen peaches. We waited until the peaches were ripe and had limited time to consume them so we froze peaches for compote and for lathering on ice cream.
Get a peach tree, they're fun!
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© 2010 John R Wilsdon