The peach tree originates in China and is now widely grown throughout the Mediterranean. The trees require a sunny sheltered site and are therefore not suited to every garden. Having said that, they can be grown in the UK, providing they are offered protection from frost and grown in a sheltered area such as a south-facing wall.
Peaches prefer a well-drained, well-dug soil, chock-full of rich, organic matter. They take up to three years to produce fruit, but can produce up to 20kg of fruit from one tree.
Nectarines are cousins of the peach, and don’t have the distinctive furry skin like the peach. Nectarines are less winter hardy than peaches and so are not recommended for growing in the UK. They are also prone to a wide range of pests and diseases, so are more trouble than they’re worth.
Growing Your Own Peaches
Growing your own peaches will be very rewarding as they are not commonly grown in the UK and will taste far superior to peaches available in the shops. Commercially grown peaches are harvested before they are fully ripe, so they don’t develop the flavours or nutrients that are present in the home-grown peach.
Peaches flower very early in spring, so will need to be protected from frost. For this reason it is essential that you grow your peach tree against a south-facing wall, as the risk of frost will be less severe here. You can buy peaches to be trained in a fan shape against a wall. They can grow to 5m wide and 2.5m tall so you will need to give them plenty of room.
Give your peach tree a feed once a year and top-dress the sol with rich, organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost. This will ensure it has plenty of nutrients available to grow well and resist attack from pests and diseases.
Harvesting Your Peaches
A sunny position is also essential for the ripening of the fruit. Each peach needs to have good access to the sun’s rays, so remove any leaves that block light from reaching the fruits. Harvest the fruits when they are slightly soft and eat them on the same day.
Pests and Diseases
Peach trees are fairly untroubled by pests, although you may need to watch out for any large aphid infestations. Aphids are not a problem if they exist in small numbers – and they provide food for ladybirds, lacewings and hoverfly larvae. If they accumulate around the growing points of the tree, however, you may need to give them a blast with your hose to send them on their way.
The most common ailment suffered by peaches is ‘peach leaf curl’. This is a fungal infection, which attacks young leaves and causes them to curl up and fall from the tree. It can also cause the flowers and fruit to drop from the tree, ruining your crop. Remove infected leaves and burn them to prevent the fungus from spreading. New leaves that form won’t be attacked by the fungus, and will provide your stressed tree with much-needed energy, so only remove leaves, which are visibly infected. You may also want to spray the tree in January with liquid derris or a solution of water infused with chopped up garlic, which will kill the fungal spores before they have a chance to infect the leaves.
If you have the right conditions for growing peach trees, they are well worth having in your garden. They make attractive espalier trees and yield delicious, fresh, juicy fruit that is simply not available in the shops.