The peach industry in the United States is huge and was valued at $521 million in 2020. Peaches aren’t native to the U.S. but they grow successfully in 20 states. If you want to grow a peach tree in your home garden, make sure your climate is suitable. Get it right, and you’ll get sweet, succulent fruit free from your own fruit trees.
If you live where farmers grow peaches commercially, you’re in a good space to grow your own peach trees. They will usually thrive in temperate and dry continental climates. If you want to be safe, check whether your conditions are similar to those in any of the 20 peach states where they grow so well.
Where do peaches grow naturally?
The peach Prunus persica is a deciduous tree that originated in China. China is still the leading producer of peach fruits, followed by Spain, Italy, Greece, and the United States in that order.
In 2017, peach production in China was reportedly 14,294,973 tonnes vs. only 775,189 tonnes in the U.S. Peaches still grow naturally (wild) in China, although the huge volumes of peach varieties grown there are cultivated by farmers.
Peaches are also native to the parts of the Himalayas including Nepal, Northern India, Tibet, Myanmar, and the Sichuan province of China. These areas are between 6,562 and 13,123 feet (2,000-4,000 meters) in elevation.
Different Peach Varieties
Wild peaches are sour or tart compared to the peach cultivars we eat nowadays. In India, the seeds (or pips) of wild peaches are valued for their oils and the sweet inner kernels that can be substituted for almonds in some recipes.
The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC), which is partly funded by Rural Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), describes the different cultivated peaches produced in different parts of the world. They quote Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension Service as their source.
Apart from two types of peach (Prunus persica) types, clingstone and freestone, the inside flesh of different varieties may be yellow, white, or, less commonly, red. Yellow-fleshed peaches, which have a flavor balance of tangy and sweet, are the most common variety in the U.S.
White-fleshed peaches, which are common in Asian countries, are gaining popularity in the U.S. They have less acidity and lack the tanginess of yellow-fleshed types.
Peaches and nectarines are the same plant species, but their fruit feels and tastes different. Most peach skins are fuzzy, while nectarine skin is smooth.
Where is the best place to plant peaches?
Peach trees take 3 years to bear fruit, but they have a lifespan of between 7 and 15 years. So, where is the best place to plant them?
We’ve already mentioned that the best place to grow peaches is in areas that have the same type of climate as the 20 U.S. peach states. They generally do best in USDA Zones 6-8, but you’ll get away with growing peach trees in Zones 4-9.
According to the U.S. National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the top four states in peach production are California, Georgia, New Jersey, and South Carolina. According to 2017 stats, California supplies more than half (about 56%) of the U.S. fresh peach crop and almost all (96%) peaches used for processing.
So undoubtedly, California is the best place to plant peach trees. But it does depend on the variety you choose.
What is interesting is that peaches grown in different U.S. states are harvested at different times. California produces fruit from April until October, but the clingstone varieties from mid-July to mid-September and freestone peaches from late April to mid-October.
In South Carolina and Georgia, the harvest is from May to August. In the other states, peaches go on the shelves from July to September.
How to Choose the Best Spot to Grow Peaches
If you decide to plant peach trees, be aware that they need warm weather to produce buds that will produce fruit.
They will usually do well in early winter when the temperature is between -15 to -22°F (-26 to -30°C). But when it gets colder in late winter, the buds become less tolerant.
In any case, you’re going to need consistent summer heat for your peach trees to mature.
The cooperative extension service at the University of Georgia offers excellent advice on choosing the best site for peachtree growing. As they say, it’s very important to choose the right place for fruit trees to grow if you want a decent harvest.
Sunlight & Protection
Peach trees need lots of sunlight, so choose a spot that gets full sun for most of the day. If they get 8-10 hours of sun every day, there will be sufficient photosynthesis to promote good tree health. It’s important that any moisture, like morning dew, dries quickly.
Another important factor is that these fruit trees need protection from cold winter winds. If you are growing peach trees on a slope, try to plant on the side of the slope to minimize the effects of the wind.
Avoid planting peach trees in low-lying areas where cold air and frost might be a factor. This can stop them from bearing fruit and can affect the quality of the peach fruits.
Whether you are growing one peach tree or many peach trees, you must ensure that the soil is well-drained. It should also be moderately fertile, but not too rich.
The pH should be between 6 and 6.5, so test it before you plant peach trees. Then amend it to make it more acidic or alkaline, depending on the results of the test.
Size of Site
You need a spot that will accommodate as many mature trees as you decide to plant. This will depend, in turn, which peach cultivars you are planting.
While most standard peach fruit trees will spread 24-30 feet (about 7-9 meters), semi-dwarf peach varieties will be about half this size when full-sized.
You will, of course, need to take the number of trees you plan to plant into account.
Measure the Space Before You Plant Peach Trees
Taking the space that full-sized pear trees will eventually take up into account, you will need to space trees about 15-20 feet (4.5-6 meters) apart. Plant dwarf and semi-dwarf trees closer together, about 10-12 feet (3-3.6 meters) apart.
Tips to Grow Peaches
Here are some useful tips for peachtree growing. Most peach varieties are self-fertile, so if you only want to plant one tree, you will still produce fruit.
Tip 1: What to Plant
Choose a variety that suits your climate. For the best results, choose a tree (or trees, if you have the space) that is about one year old.
Be sure it has a healthy root system.
Tip 2: When to Plant
If you buy a bare-rooted tree, be sure to plant it as soon as possible. If you buy a potted tree, it’s not that urgent, but the sooner you get it into the ground, the better.
Tip 3: How to Plant
Start by digging a hole that is twice as wide as the width of the root ball and deeper than its spread. Pop your young peach tree into the hole.
Try to spread the roots away from the central stem, but don’t bend them. Fill the hole with the soil that will drain well and push the soil down firmly with your hands and water it well.
Tip 4: Fertilization
It’s best not to fertilize when you plant peach trees. In fact, the University of Georgia’s cooperative extension service advises growers not to fertilize during the first year of growth.
Tip 5: Planting Dwarf and Semi-Dwarf Grafted Trees
Make sure that the point at which the plant has been grafted is 2-3 inches (50-76 mm) above the surface of the soil. If you don’t do this, the grafted tree might put out its own roots and could grow into a full-sized tree.
Tip 6: Pruning
Remember that the peach is a deciduous tree, which means it loses its leaves in the fall. Prune in late winter or very early spring before the buds break.
Are peaches an easy plant to grow?
Peach trees aren’t particularly difficult to grow, but insect pests and diseases can be problematic. If you are happy to use chemicals on your plants, you can spray with insecticides and a fungicide to control pests and diseases.
In any case, you can at least partially control pests and diseases with good sanitation methods. Remove damaged fruit or peaches that fall off the tree and destroy it.
The Clemson University cooperative extension service has tested and now promotes the use of specialty bags that you tie over the fruit to protect it. Marketed as Clemson Fruit Bags, they are reputed to work well.
Whether you want to grow a single peach tree or plant an orchard of mixed fruit trees, peachtree growing can be a lot of fun. Our 2022 garden tips are designed to get you started.
Plant now and you’ll have ripe juicy peaches within a couple of years.