Nothing beats biting into a sweet, succulent peach that has ripened to juicy perfection in the warmth of the sun. Despite possessing an exotic air, it doesn’t require great expertise to produce a worthwhile crop in your garden.
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The flowers of peaches appear very early on in the year, so protection from frost may be necessary to prevent the potential crop from being harmed.
When peaches flower, there are very few pollinating insects around, so it is best to carry out pollinating by hand. To do this, help transfer pollen by spending a few minutes over several sunny afternoons pressing the bristles of a small paint brush into every bloom.
As the soil beneath walls can become very dry, you will need to keep a close eye on watering and have to apply plenty of water during periods of sunny, dry weather. However, avoid excessive or irregular watering when fruit is ripening to avoid the skin splitting.
Water container-grown trees almost every day during the growing season and give them a high potassium liquid feed every couple of weeks. Repot compact peaches in containers every couple of years, using John Innes No 3 loam-based potting compost.
When fruit appears it will need thinning. Remove poorly placed, small or misshapen fruits when they are about the width of your little finger nail. With peaches aim to have a fruit every 15cm (6in).
As the fruit develops it may need protecting from birds or foraging squirrels.
In late winter, feed with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4. Scatter two handfuls per square metre/yard around trees growing in bare soil, and two and a half around those in grass.
Pruning fan-trained trees
Fruit appears almost entirely on shoots made in the previous season, so pruning aims to replace fruited wood with new, young wood.
Fan-trained fruit trees need summer pruning to ensure the shape is maintained and there is plenty of fruiting wood.
For a good crop, peaches are best fan trained against a south or south-west facing wall or fence in moisture retentive, well-drained soil. As peaches flower early in the year, avoid planting in frost pockets, choosing the most sheltered site possible.
Before planting erect a series of horizontal training wires against your vertical support – these should be set at 15cm (6in) apart , starting from 30cm (12in) above the level of the soil.
Plant bare root peaches from November to March, 15-20cm (6-8in) from the wall and angled slightly towards it. If you are growing several, space them 3.6-4.5m (12-15ft) apart.
Buy a partially trained, two or three-year-old fan as this will save both time and money - it should have at least eight branches. Spread these out evenly over the wall space, with four branches on each side, tied to canes already attached to wires on the wall.
Growing in containers
Many peaches, can be grown in at least 45cm (18in) containers filled with soil-based John Innes No 3 compost, but they need annual pruning to keep them within bounds. You can buy patio peaches, such as ‘Bonanza’, which is naturally dwarf and needs little or no pruning to keep its compact shape. After ten years you should expect this fruitful, but diminutive plant to stand around 1.5m (5ft) tall.
Peach leaf curl
A fungal disease that causes distorted leaves that are heavily marked with pink blisters that become covered in white spores. Foliage will fall prematurely, leading to lack of vigour.
The spores of fungus are spread by rain splash. Prevent this fungal disease from attacking plants by covering with a rain shelter of plastic sheeting from January to May.
Grey squirrels gnaw on developing fruit, leaving tell-tale holes and remove fully ripe fruit.
It is impossible to stop squirrels from coming into a garden. Placing netting over plants that are being damaged may be of some help.
Limpet-like scale insects suck the sap of trees reducing the vigour of plants and excreting a sticky substance called honey dew that provides a surface for sooty moulds to grow. The pest is generally found on stems and underneath leaves.
If spotted early enough, insects can be removed by hand.
Fruit is ready for harvesting after it has fully coloured and the flesh near the stalk feels soft. To pick, cup it in the palm of the hand and gently lift. It should easily come away from the tree. The tree will need regular visits for picking as the fruit will not ripen all at once. Peaches are best eaten directly after being picked.
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.