The Care of Peaches and Nectarines

Peaches and nectarines (which are simply a smooth-skinned type of peach) are usually fan-trained against a sunny wall but in the eastern and drier parts of the country peaches (but not nectarines) may be grown as bushes.

Most peaches and nectarines are self-fertile and so a single specimen can be quite successful. However, as they flower very early when the weather may be unpropitious for pollinating insects a little pollinating by hand will assist a good set.

Pruning Bush Trees

In forming a bush peach tree the aim should be an open-centred goblet-shaped tree, as with apples. Pruning should be carried out early in May.

At the first pruning of a maiden cut the central stem about 2 ft. above soil level. If any of the remaining feathers have failed to break into growth at the extremity or have a dormant patch between the tip and point of origin, cut back to an outward-pointing shoot on the lower part where buds have broken vigorously into growth. The strongest of any feathers, if well placed, may be selected to form main branches, the others being cut back to one bud.peach tree

In subsequent years pruning follows semilar lines. Cut back any branch which shows die-back at the tip or down its length to a point immediately above the second strong lateral. You have to remember with peaches (and nectarines) that blossom is carried only on wood made the previous year. Therefore your cutting is directed towards stimulating a continual supply of new laterals and, happily, the peach is naturally extremely vigorous. Any completely dead branches should be cut out at source and some may have to be removed or shortened to a sound bud because they cross others or cause congestion at the centre.

Where a three- or four-year-old tree (bush or fan) is planted, remove any blossom the first season, and allow only a token crop to develop the second year.

Pruning Fans

Although bush peaches have become quite popular in recent years the most common way of training them both against walls in the open and in the greenhouse is as fans. You can buy trees ready-trained as fans with anything from five to twelve shoots but the nurseryman is apt to take a short-cut by tying in every single feather produced in the maiden year which can possibly be twisted round to a cane fastened obliquely to the horizontal supporting wires. The method described here takes more time but results in a more robust tree, which is more likely to fruit evenly.

Plant the maiden as early in autumn as possible and in early spring just before growth starts cut it back to a sound bud 2 ft. or slightly less from the ground. It is necessary to note carefully the difference between pointed growth buds and the rounded blossom buds. The cutting must be to a growth bud. If you are in doubt, cut to a triple bud-one of the three is always a growth bud.

Select, some 9-12 in. above the ground, a growth bud on either side of the main stem: from these the first two ribs of the fan will spring. Rub out all other buds and cut off any laterals flush with the stem. As a result of these operations the top bud will produce a vertical shoot and below it there will be a lateral on either side. When these two laterals are about 18 in. long tie each to a cane fastened to the horizontal wires at an angle of 45°. As in forming an espalier lift or lower these arms to stimulate or check growth and keep the development of the two branches equal. On tying in these two main branches, cut out the central, vertical leader entirely.

In the second winter, in February, cut back these two branches to good buds 12-18 in. from the vertical leg. The buds to which you cut must be pointing either upwards or downwards, never towards the wall or away from it and from them further extension growth will be produced. As growth begins select two promising shoots from the top of each branch and one from below: allow these to grow on and form three more ribs of the fan on either side. Rub out all other shoots. When these six new shoots attain a length of about 18 in. they in their turn can be fastened to slanting canes fastened to the wires.

This process of trebling the number of branches or fan-ribs can be repeated year by year until the whole wall space available has been filled. Frequently this is achieved in three years and then fruit production may begin, laterals being allowed to develop along the branches, these fruiting the following year. Rub out any laterals which start growing towards the wall Or directly away from it. Select suitable laterals at intervals of about 6 in., rubbing out all others, tying the chosen shoots in and pinching out their growing points when some 18 in. long. In subsequent years allow one or two replacement shoots to grow out from close to the base of the fruiting lateral. Rub out all others. Let the fruiting lateral grow until eight more leaves have appeared, then cut back to the fourth. After harvest, cut back the fruited lateral to the best replacement shoot.

Fruit Thinning

Thinning is essential with wall-trained peaches to prevent overcropping and secure good fruit size. When the fruits are the size of marbles reduce all pairs to singles and then when walnut size has been reached remove further fruits until none is closer than a foot from its neighbour. Thinning is less essential with bush trees. Feeding Mulch lightly with rotted farmyard manure or garden compost in early spring and fork this into the top few inches of soil in autumn. Only if growth seems to lag, and after cropping has begun, give an annual February dressing of 1 oz. of Nitro-chalk and 1 oz. of sulphate of potash per sq. yd. With an extra 1 oz. per sq. yd. of superphosphate every third year. If peat replaces the manure or compost, double the quantity of Nitro-chalk.

Greenhouse Culture

Fan-trained peaches or nectarines are popular fruits for the greenhouse, particularly suited to growing against the back wall of a lean-to. Do not coddle the peach, but give free ventilation after harvest until growth is started in January. Aim at a temperature of 40°F (4.5°C), 50°F (I&C) in February, using the glass and heat, if any, to protect the blossom from frost rather than to force growth. Give plenty of water when growth begins.

Recommended Varieties

Peaches

  • Amsden June. The earliest, but in fact does not ripen until mid-July. White flesh; Duke of York. Mid-July. Pale greenish-yellow flesh.
  • St Julien A: Semi-dwarfing (there is no satisfactory dwarfing rootstock for plums). This stock is the most widely used for garden plums (bushes, pyramids or fan-trained) and peaches.
  • Common Mussel: Semi-dwarfing. In dry districts trees on this stock may lose vigour early and start throwing up many suckers. This stock is also used for apricots, peaches, nectarines and ornamental prunus.
  • Common Plum: Semi-dwarfing. Sometimes used for garden plums but all varieties are not compatible with it.
  • Myrobalan B: Vigorous. Only suitable for large trees. Unsuitable for gages or peaches. The Brompton: Vigorous. Suitable for all large trees, plum and peach. Seldom makes suckers.

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