PEACHES and NECTARINES

Type of tree: Bush or fan-trained.

Pollination: Self-fertile.

Climate preferred: Subtropical to temperate.

Aspect: Sunny, or facing south or west.

Soil: Any, provided that it is well-drained.

Yield: 50 to 60 fruits annually.

Planting and cultivation

Peaches are, despite their exotic appearance, no more difficult to grow in most parts than plums. Yet a home-grown peach is vastly superior to anything which you can buy from the shops; the fruit is large, very juicy and deliciously perfumed. A nectarine is simply a kind of peach with a smooth skin with none of the characteristic peach fuzz. Whereas peaches can be grown outdoors in fairly cold areas, nectarines are less hardy and are best with the additional protection of a sunny wall. Both peaches and nectarines are excellent fruits to grow in a greenhouse with a span of at least 3 m

The soil for cordons and espaliers should be prepared in the same way as for ordinary fruit trees. However, with cordons it may be found more convenient if prior to planting you take out a shallow trench the entire length of the row.

(10 ft). The trees should be planted in late autumn in soil which has been improved as necessary by the addition of well-rotted compost. The branches of fan trees should be lightly secured to a framework of wires. In early spring give the soil around the spread of the branches a top dressing of general fertilizer at the rate of 135gm per sq m (4oz per sq yd). Then in mid-spring put down a moisture-retaining and weed-suppressing layer of compost or moist peat.

Like all stone fruits, peaches and nectarines are shallow rooting. So cultivation of the soil near the trees must be kept to a minimum. Although the trees are self-fertile, it is best to pollinate them yourself by dabbing the centre of each flower in turn with an artist’s brush. Peaches and nectarines, incidentally, will cross-pollinate each other, thus improving the chances of a good crop. Blossom and fruitlets can be protected from spring frosts with a double thickness of lightweight plastic netting. Plenty of water should be given whenever the soil dries out. Nectarines especially require regular watering while the fruits are swelling to prevent them from splitting. Thinning of the fruit is generally unnecessary, but if some are over-crowded, thin when the fruits are around 2.5 cm (1 in) in diameter and leave the remainder 23 cm (9 in) apart.

Harvesting

Pick peaches and nectarines when the flesh around the stalks yields to light pressure from the fingers. The surplus crop will keep for a month if stored in a cool place.

Pruning and training

Dead, damaged and crossing branches should be removed from bush trees in late spring. On established bushes, older branches can also be cut away when they become unfruitful. With fan trees, pinch back the side-shoots in late spring and early summer to the sixth leaf and the secondary side-shoots (sub-laterals) to one leaf. Crossing, crowded and dead branches should also be removed. In autumn, after picking the fruit, cut back each side-shoot which has borne fruit to its replacement, and secure the replacement shoots to the wires with twine. Once the extension growth from the ‘ribs’ of the fan reach their allotted space, treat them as if they too were fruit-bearing side-shoots. If gaps appear in the fan structure, either through disease or neglect, fill them by retaining some of the side-shoots which have borne fruit and tic these shoots to the wires.

Pests and diseases

Aphids, birds and wasps (protect with fine netting or plastic mesh netting), red spider mites (green-house trees have a pale mottling on their leaves – spray with malathion), leaf curl (leaves develop reddish blisters and drop from tree – spray with lime sulphur in autumn and just before the leaf buds swell and burst in spring).

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