Peaches and nectarines are not hardy fruits, in that the trees will not thrive in a bleak district. But given a milder locality good crops of outdoor varieties can be ripened on a south-facing wall fully exposed to sun – unshaded by buildings or trees – sheltered from cold winds and draughts. The wall needs to be not less than 6 ft. high. If no garden-dividing wall of this description is available, a house wall, facing south, might well be made profitable and beautiful with a fan-trained peach or nectarine tree.
A sunny greenhouse whose front glass could be given up entirely to a fan-trained tree would also ripen plenty of fruit. Peaches and nectarines can be purchased as small pot trees, of fruiting size, for the greenhouse where the larger and more profitable fan-shape cannot be accommodated. Details of pot-tree culture are explained in full detail in the section FRUIT IN THE GREENHOUSE.
The outdoor ripening season of peach and nectarine varies between mid-July and late September, according to variety, locality and weather. Ripening in an unheated greenhouse is a little in advance of outdoor dates.
Varieties of peach for the sunny wall outdoors include Duke of York (ripe in mid-July), Peregrine (early August), Dymond (early September), Sea Eagle (late September). Duke of York and Peregrine are also suitable for the greenhouse.
Varieties of nectarine are given under nectarine. The culture is die same as for peach.
Like all the stone fruits, these trees should have plenty of lime in the soil. If the ground is not naturally chalky, crushed chalk or old mortar rubble should be dug into the planting site. The border, or bed, for one tree should be at least 6 ft. long and 3 ft. wide, and be dug not less than 2 ft. deep. If the soil is poor, rotted manure should be mixed in; if heavy, it should be lightened with mortar rubble, charred woody pieces from the garden bonfire, sand or sharp grit worked in throughout die full dug depth. A generous dressing of slaked or hydrated lime should be given to the surface of the border during every subsequent winter.
When and How to Plant.
A fan-trained tree needs 18 ft. of space, and planting should be done in autumn as soon as possible after the leaves have fallen. Roots should be spread out carefully in the planting hole, and they should be covered to the depth indicated by the soil mark on the tree’s stem. The base of the stem should be 4 in. to 5 in. out from the wall, to allow of future swelling, and the tree must be left very firm in the ground; soil being consolidated around and above the covered-in roots by treading, the top inch to be left loose.
Wooden trellis, or wires, should be fixed to the wall so that main branches and other growths of the fan tree can be tied back and spaced neatly. Immediately after planting, the main branches should be tied only lightly to the supports, to allow of the tree sinking with the soil until the latter has finally settled down after the deep digging.
Method of Fruiting.
The fruit is produced on young side shoots (referred to technically as laterals or breastwood). These are cut away after the fruit has been gathered, and shoots produced the same summer are tied back for fruiting the following summer. The ideal arrangement is to have these spaced at intervals of about 1 ft. along the length of each branch. They should be looped with raffia to their own branch and parallel with it, or be tied back to wire or trellis in the gaps between branches.
The Tree in Flower.
Blossoms appear before the leaves, and the side shoots are as a rule thickly studded with them. The fruit that follows will need to be thinned out undersides of leaves, can be kept down by regular syringing. If black or green fly put in an appearance, quassia solution sprayed as a fine, penetrating shower, over the foliage on two successive days when the sun is off the tree, will effect a clearance; but this should not be used after the fruit is any size.
A silvering of the foliage may occur on a branch. This is a sign of the destructive silver-leaf disease. It should be dealt with as explained under PLUM. A blistering of the leaves may follow cold winds or cutting draughts; hence the need for a really sheltered and warm position.
Gathering the Fruit.
Individual fruits may be hindered from ripening by leaves that shade them. If the removal of one or two such leaves does not expose the peach or nectarine sufficiently, it should be brought to the right position by means of a short, smooth piece of wood passed behind the shoot so that this is pushed forward. Or the purpose may perhaps be served by tying a shade-casting shoot a little more to one side.
Depth of colouring is one guide as to condition. If there is any doubt the fruit should be very gently pressed at the stalk end. If it feels hard there the fruit should be left on the tree a little longer, until the stalk end softens. If it is perfectly ripe the fruit will come away from its stalk quite easily.
This handling must not be overdone. The bloom is very easily removed from the fruit, and the latter’s appearance spoiled. Also the skin bruises only too readily.
Pruning After Fruiting.
When the fruit is all gone from the tree the side shoots which carried the fruit can go too. Each should be cut out, with a very sharp knife or with keen-edged secateurs, just short of the point where the new shoot, which is to fruit next year, at its base originates.
These new shoots will complete their hardening or ripening under the influence of sun, to the great benefit of the fruit-to-be. They should be tied – none crossing – where most convenient, loosely back to the trellis or wire or to the branch bearing them.
Syringing should be continued, vigorously, after the fruit has been gathered, until all the leaves have fallen.
The correct use of knife and secateurs as pruning tools is explained under THE HOW AND WHY OF PRUNING.
The propagation of peaches and nectarines is carried out by budding, or grafting. How these operations are performed, and how a tree is trained fan shape, is explained in the section How TO PROPAGATE FRUIT TREES AND BUSHES.
Preserving the Fruit.
These fruits do not store satisfactorily for any length of time. It is better to deal with them as explained in the section EASY HOME PRESERVATION OF FRUITS.
Preparing for Table.
With the minimum of handling the fruit for dessert should be placed on a dish lined with Virginia creeper or other attractive leaves. Peaches and nectarines are mildly laxative, and of value in the diet of those suffering from diabetes.