Planted in a sunny, sheltered spot, ideally trained against a warm wall, a nectarine tree will reward you with pretty spring blossom followed by a crop of sweet, juicy, smooth-skinned fruits in summer. There are compact varieties for growing in containers too.
Nectarines (Prunus persica var. nectarina) are a type of peach (Prunus persica) with smooth rather than velvety skin. They are both grown in the same way, although nectarines usually need warmer conditions to ripen in the UK. Trees should be planted against a south- or south-west-facing wall, trained as a fan, or grown in a container on a sunny patio. Nectarines can also be grown in an unheated greenhouse or polytunnel, especially in cooler regions.
Nectarines make attractive small trees with pretty white or pink blossom in early spring and luscious summer fruits – and what a treat to be able to pick and eat your own delicious, sweet nectarines fresh from your garden!
Month by Month
Jobs to do now
There are many nectarine varieties to choose from, producing fruits of different sizes, flavours and levels of sweetness. Rounded or slightly flat, the fruits ripen to various shades of red, orange and yellow on the outside, with golden or white flesh inside. Fruits can be either ‘free-stone’ or ‘cling-stone’.
Depending on the variety, the crop will ripen at different times from July through to September (described as early, mid- or late season), with some varieties cropping more reliably in the UK climate.
Nectarine varieties are usually grafted onto a ‘rootstock’ – usually ‘St Julian A’ – to restrict the tree’s size. If you want to grow the tree in a container, it’s best to choose a dwarf variety such as ‘Nectarella’.
If you visit any of the RHS gardens, you’ll find many fruit trees grown in various ways, including nectarines and peaches, so you can easily compare different varieties and pick up useful growing tips.
What and where to buy
Nectarine trees may be sold bare-root (without soil), root-wrapped (in soil but without a pot) or in containers. Bare-root trees are only available while dormant, from late autumn to early spring, for immediate planting. Potted nectarine trees are available all year round.
Most commercially available nectarine trees are grafted onto a rootstock called ‘St Julian A’, which limits their size, making them suitable for even small gardens. There are also dwarf varieties bred specifically for container growing, such as ‘Nectarella’ – these slow-growing trees only reach about 1.5m (5ft) tall and needing little pruning.
Specialist fruit nurseries offer the widest choice of nectarine varieties, usually by mail order. Bare-root trees are generally only sold by specialist suppliers and larger online plant retailers, while trees in containers are more widely available. Bare-root trees are often cheaper than those in containers.
As nectarine trees crop best when grown as fans, it’s a good idea to buy a partially trained two- or three-year-old fan. A partially trained tree will save you the time and trouble of training it from scratch. Trained trees are more expensive than younger untrained trees, and are usually only available from specialist fruit nurseries.
Nectarine trees are usually bought as young trees, either in a container or not (bare-root or root-wrapped). While it is possible to grow them from the stones of shop-bought fruit, the resulting trees may not be suitable for the UK climate. If you want a tree that will fruit reliably in the UK, it’s worth investing in a good quality grafted tree, of your chosen variety, from a reputable UK supplier.
Nectarine trees are best planted against a south- or south-west-facing wall or fence, where they can be trained as a fan, soaking up the heat and getting as much sun as possible to ripen the fruit.
Dwarf nectarine trees can be planted in large containers, positioned on a sunny, sheltered patio or courtyard, ideally beside a sunny wall. They can also be kept in an unheated greenhouse, for all or part of the year when in a container. See our guide to growing fruit in containers.
As nectarines flower early in spring, it’s vital to choose a planting site that isn’t prone to heavy or late frosts, which can damage the blossom. See our guide to positioning fruit trees.
Nectarines like deep, fertile, moisture-retentive but well-drained soil. Avoid poorly drained conditions, which can cause the roots to rot. Nectarine trees will struggle in light or shallow soil. See our guide to assessing your soil type.
Nectarine trees are easy to plant, and this is best done while they are dormant, between November and March. Bare-root trees are only available during this period. Potted trees are available all year round and can potentially be planted at any time, but will settle in best from late autumn to spring.
Prepare your tree for planting by giving it a good watering if it’s in a container or by standing it in a bucket of water for half an hour if it’s a bare-root tree.
For more step-by-step information about growing trees please see the following guides:
Planting against a wall
To get the best crop, nectarine trees should be trained against a sunny wall, but the soil at the base of walls is often poor and dry, so it’s important to prepare the planting site particularly well. Dig lots of well-rotted manure or garden compost into the whole area, then plant the tree at least 30cm (1ft) away from the wall, angled slightly towards it. Fan-trained nectarine trees can eventually reach a width of about 3.6m (12ft), so make sure there is plenty of room either side.
You’ll also need to attach horizontal wires to the wall to support the fan of branches – see Pruning & training, below.
Planting in containers
Nectarines can be grown in large containers, at least 45cm (18in) across, filled with soil-based John Innes No. 3 compost. They will need regular watering and feeding to keep them healthy and fruiting well.
Nectarines in containers also need annual pruning to keep them compact, unless you buy a naturally dwarf variety such as ‘Nectarella’. These slow-growing trees need little or no pruning and will reach only about 1.5m (5ft) tall after ten years.
Nectarine trees, especially those in containers, need regular and consistent watering and feeding, and most need pruning. Protect the blossom from frost to ensure a good crop.
Nectarine trees usually need to be watered throughout the growing season, and especially once the fruits appear, to prevent fruits being shed before they ripen:
- Newly planted nectarine trees should be watered regularly for at least the first year, until well settled in
- Fan-trained nectarine trees generally require additional watering through spring and summer, as the wall or fence often reduces the amount of rainfall they receive
- Trees growing in containers dry out much more quickly than those in the ground, and even in rainy weather may receive surprisingly little water due to the small surface area of compost. They will probably need watering almost daily throughout the growing season, especially in warm weather and if kept in a greenhouse or other sheltered spot.
Be careful not to overwater during ripening though – excess or inconsistent watering, or wet weather, can cause fruits to split.
It’s also important never to leave potted nectarine trees standing in water, especially in winter, as the roots are likely to rot. Raise the container onto ‘pot feet’ or bricks to keep the drainage holes clear and avoid waterlogged compost.
In mid-spring, apply a mulch of well-rotted manure or garden compost around the base of nectarine trees growing in the ground. This will help to stop the soil drying out, while also deterring weeds and providing nutrients. See our guide to mulching and our guide to feeding and mulching fruit trees.
In late winter, apply a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4 or fish, blood and bone, to boost fruiting. Scatter two handfuls per square metre/yard around the base of the tree.
Give trees growing in containers a high potassium liquid feed every couple of weeks through spring and summer.
Extra care for plants in containers
Trees in containers have limited access to water and nutrients, so throughout the growing season it’s vital to water regularly – even daily in hot weather – and to apply a high potassium liquid feed every fortnight.
Repot nectarine trees every few years in spring, into a slightly larger container, once their roots fill the current container. Use John Innes No. 3 loam-based potting compost.
Protecting from frost
Nectarine trees are generally hardy, but their blossom opens very early in spring, so is susceptible to frost damage, which can reduce the crop. So protect the flowers with fleece or hessian overnight if frost is forecast.
Alternatively, potted nectarine trees can be kept into a greenhouse, porch or other sheltered location while in blossom to avoid frosts.
Improving the crop
Nectarine trees flower very early in spring, when there are usually very few pollinating insects around, so it’s best to pollinate them yourself. Do this over several sunny afternoons by taking a small paint brush and dabbing it gently into the centre of every flower in turn.
When the young fruits appear, they will need thinning to improve the size of the remaining fruits. It is best to thin when the fruit is size of a hazelnut by cutting the fruitlet in half with a pair of secateurs. The fruitlet will then drop off without damage to the shoot on which it is born. Start with removing awkwardly positioned, mis-shapen or noticeably smaller fruits first, when they are about the size of a pea. Aim for evenly spaced fruits spaced about 15cm (6in) apart.
As the fruits develop, they will need protection from birds and squirrels – options include covering trees with fleece or netting, growing them in a fruit cage, or moving potted plants into a greenhouse or other enclosed space.
Pruning and Training
Most nectarines should be pruned annually to keep them in good shape, healthy and productive, although some naturally compact varieties, such as ‘Nectarella’, need little or no pruning.
Nectarine fruits are produced almost entirely on shoots made the previous year, so pruning aims to replace old fruited wood with new, young wood.
Timing is important – as with all stone fruits, nectarine trees should only be pruned in spring or summer, to minimise the risk of infection from silver leaf disease and bacterial canker
- Newly planted nectarine trees should be pruned after the buds open in early spring
- Established nectarine trees should be pruned in summer, after fruiting. Fan trained trees also in spring
Nectarine trees are best grown as fans against a sunny wall or fence, so they produce a good crop that ripens well. Fans have a short trunk topped with a flat fan of radiating branches. They take up little ground space and are usually kept at a manageable size of about 1.8m (6ft) tall (the height of a fence panel) and up to 3.5m (12ft) across.
Fans make an attractive feature and are also ideal if space is limited. These compact trees are easier to hand-pollinate and harvest than larger free-standing trees, and protecting them from frost, peach leaf curl and birds is also easier – see Problem solving below. However, they do need careful pruning and training, so see our step-by-step guides:
Nectarine fruits are ready for harvesting once they are fully coloured and the flesh near the stalk feels soft. To pick, cup the fruit in the palm of your hand and gently lift – it should easily come away from the tree. Check ripening fruits regularly, as they won’t all be ready at the same time.
Nectarines are best eaten as soon as possible after picking, ideally straight from the tree when still warm from the sun. If necessary, they can be kept in a fridge for a few days.
Nectarine fruits usually need protection from birds and squirrels – see Problem solving below.
If picked before they’re fully ripe, nectarines can be placed in a fruit bowl to ripen indoors, but will not match fruits ripened on the tree. That’s why home-grown nectarines are so superior to anything you can buy in the shops.
Nectarine trees need a very warm, sheltered location and lots of sunshine to crop well and ripen outdoors in the UK.
Fruiting problems may include:
- Lack of fruit may be due to frost during flowering and/or poor pollination, so protect blossom from frost and cold winds, and hand-pollinate with a small paintbrush as the blossom opens early in spring when few insects are on the wing. Also see our guide to improving fruit production.
- Failure to ripen may be caused by cool weather and lack of sun. Training trees against a sunny wall will help to ripen the fruits. In colder regions, consider growing in a greenhouse or polytunnel.
- Poor fruit development or fruit being shed may be due to insufficient or inconsistent watering.
- Split fruit may be caused by overwatering or wet weather during ripening.
- Loss of ripening fruit – protect fruit from birds and squirrels by covering trees with netting or fleece before the fruits start to colour up, growing trees in a fruit cage or keeping potted plants indoors once the fruits start to swell.
Nectarines can be affected by several diseases, with symptoms often showing in the leaves:
- Puckered, distorted leaves and leaf loss are symptoms of peach leaf curl, which can reduce the tree’s vigour and crop. To avoid this fungal disease, protect trees from rain-splash in winter and spring, either by keeping potted plants in an unheated greenhouse or by covering wall-trained trees with fleece or plastic.
- Silvery leaves and dieback of branches may be due to the fungal disease silver leaf. Remove affected branches as soon as possible.
- Brown spots or small holes in leaves, along with dieback of shoots, may be caused by bacterial canker – remove affected growth.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.