Planting a peach is as easy as buying one from your local garden center and planting it in a hole in your yard, right? Well, no. Without careful planning, foresight, and a little bit of know-how, your tree will most likely be doomed to fail.
No one enjoys failure, so let’s make sure that you are on the right track when planting a new peach tree. The following tips come from my personal experience with peaches and advice I’ve been given over the years from growers more knowledgeable than I am.
Hopefully, these tips will help you avoid some common mistakes and give your new tree the best chance to thrive.
1. Research Peach Varieties Before Purchasing
You have your choice of hundreds of peach tree varieties, but not every variety will be ideal for your particular climate or have the qualities you desire.
Do you want clingstone or freestone peaches? A dwarf or standard tree? Disease resistance? Do you know which peach trees are self-pollinating? Which are the most tolerant of cold temperatures?
These are only some factors to consider — see why it’s important to do your homework?
2. Consider Planting Two for Increased Yields
Although many peach varieties are self-fertile, planting two different types in close proximity to each other will often lead to better pollination and a more bountiful harvest.
If you choose to plant two peach trees, be sure that they are indeed pollination partners and will bloom at the same time.
3. Ask Local Growers for Advice Specific to Your Area
Local growers will be able to advise you on the specific peach tree varieties that are best suited for your area and soil type as well as any special considerations.
They can also recommend pest and disease control measures that have proven to be effective in your region and advise you on preventive measures that you can take to minimize the risk of infestations.
4. Choose Planting Location Carefully
It is essential to choose a location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. A location that is too shaded can result in poor fruit production and quality.
Peach trees prefer fast-draining, loamy soil that is rich in organic matter. Soil that is too sandy or full of clay can lead to poor growth and low fruit production, and waterlogged soil can lead to issues such as root rot.
Choose a planting location that is protected from cold winds and away from frost pockets, but make sure the area has good air circulation to prevent fungal diseases.
5. Do Not Plant in Frost Pockets
Frost pockets are low-lying areas where cold air tends to accumulate and settle, creating a microclimate that is significantly colder than the surrounding area.
Planting a peach tree in a frost pocket can be detrimental to its growth and cause unnecessary blossom or fruit loss in years of early flowering.
Frost pockets can also cause damage to tender new growth in the spring, so carefully evaluate your land before choosing a planting location.
6. Plant at the Correct Time of Year
Fall is the ideal time to plant a new peach tree. This allows months for the young tree to establish a healthy root system before spring arrives and forces the tree out of dormancy.
Late winter and early spring are also suitable times for planting peaches, but in many areas, trees don’t become available in local nurseries until spring is well underway.
Planting in mid to late spring is fine, but it means that you’ll spend more time watering and the tree will use a lot of energy for above-ground growth rather than root growth.
7. Test Soil Before Planting
Peach trees grow best in soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0. If the pH level is too low or too high, the tree may not be able to absorb the nutrients it needs from the soil.
The amount and type of soil nutrients vary a great deal from area to area, even in different locations of your yard. Knowing what the soil in your planting site specifically lacks will enable you to correct imbalances before planting.
Most states offer either free or very affordable soil testing services through local county extension offices, and in many cases, your results will include amendment recommendations.
8. Amend Soil Before Planting
Soil amendments can help improve the structure of the soil, making it easier for the roots to penetrate and absorb water and nutrients. They also help increase the levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other essential nutrients in the soil.
Adding organic matter, such as compost or aged manure, helps loosen compacted soil and improve drainage.
Additionally, organic matter helps to increase the number of beneficial microorganisms in the soil, which can help suppress harmful pests and diseases.
If your soil is too acidic or too alkaline, you can add amendments such as lime or sulfur to adjust the pH level to the optimal range.
You can add amendments based on local grower’s recommendations, but it is really best to have your soil analyzed professionally to be sure you’re only adding what’s truly needed.
9. Space Trees 20 Feet Apart
Planting peach trees too close together can lead to competition for water, nutrients, and light, which can stunt their growth and reduce fruit production.
You want to provide each tree with plenty of room for horizontal growth and allow for maximum air circulation.
Additionally, planting peach trees 20 feet apart makes it easier to prune and maintain each tree. With enough space between the trees, you can access all parts of the tree for pruning, spraying, and harvesting.
10. Ensure Planting Hole Is Large Enough
The planting hole should be at least twice as wide as the root ball of the tree. This allows the roots to spread out and establish themselves in the soil.
Making the hole even wider ensures the soil surrounding the roots is nice and loose to encourage rapid growth.
The hole should be just deep enough so that the graft union is about 2 inches above ground level. If the graft union is planted too deep, it can lead to problems such as root rot, which can damage the tree.
11. Soak Bare-Root Trees Before Planting
Soaking bare-root peach trees before planting can rehydrate dry roots and improve the trees’ chances of survival by stimulating root growth, improving soil adhesion, enhancing nutrient uptake, and reducing stress.
It is a simple step that can make a big difference in the success of your peach tree.
12. Loosen and Spread Roots Before Placing in Hole
Loosening and spreading the roots of a new peach tree before planting helps to anchor the tree more firmly in the ground and makes it easier for the tree to adapt to its new environment.
Gently teasing out the roots allows for more of the roots to contact fresh soil, which leads to better nutrient uptake and growth. Just be careful not to bend roots too far or break them in the process.
13. Create a Berm Around Planting Site
A berm is simply a shallow well created by a ring of soil you put in place around a new tree to prevent runoff when watering.
A fruit tree berm can be added at any time but is best done when planting to ensure the new tree actually gets the water you provide.
Know that over time, wind, rain, and if you’re like me, your pets will gradually level the berm, and you’ll need to build it up again.
However, once winter hits, you should fill in the berm to prevent water from pooling and freezing around the trunk.
14. Mulch To Cover Root Zone
Spreading a natural mulch around the root zone will slow moisture evaporation from the soil and help to protect the roots from temperature extremes.
Ideally, the mulch layer should be 2-4 inches thick to suppress weed growth. A mulch layer deeper than 4 inches will do more harm than good as it deprives the soil of oxygen and makes an inviting home for pests and rodents.
15. Pull Mulch Away From Trunk
Once you’ve spread your mulch beneath the tree’s drip line, it’s important to complete one last task — moving the mulch away from the trunk of the tree.
This is a critical step to prevent the trunk from rotting due to constant moisture and to avoid harboring diseases and damaging insects.
16. Water Routinely
For the first few months after planting, plan on watering your new peach tree about three times per week if there is no significant rainfall.
Before watering, stick your finger a few inches into the dirt; if the top inch or so is dry, it’s time to water. If the dirt feels evenly moist, check again in a day or two.
When it’s time to water, either use a soaker hose or allow your garden hose to trickle into the berm until the soil is damp.
17. Don’t Fertilize Until Growth Resumes in Spring
Fertilizing late in the season could cause new growth that will not be sufficiently hardened by the time cold weather arrives.
Generally, one spring application of a complete, balanced fertilizer (I use this organic fertilizer on both my peaches and nectarines — it’s fantastic!) is sufficient, especially if your soil was amended properly at planting time.
18. Remove All Nursery Tags
I only mention this one because I’ve been guilty of forgetting in the past.
You might think it’s a good idea to leave the tags or labels on for a while so you won’t forget which variety you planted, or you might just simply forget to remove them when planting. Either way, it’s a mistake.
As the tree grows, it will grow right around or over the labels, leading to stuck tags and a forever reminder of your mistake.
19. Learn How To Correctly Prune
Pruning a peach tree can be tricky, and it is best to watch the process first-hand so you can ask questions along the way.
Generally speaking, your goals are to create an open center, remove damaged or crossing branches, and control height and width.
The tricky part is understanding which branches will bear fruit the following year (peach trees bear on one-year-old growth) while simultaneously shaping the tree.
20. Know How To Identify Common Peach Pests & Diseases
Unfortunately, peach trees are prone to a number of pests and diseases. Identifying peach tree problems early allows for prompt treatment and can help prevent them from spreading and causing significant damage to the crop.
Here again, do your homework! Trust me — a little studying is better than gazing at a ruined crop of peaches.
Also, be sure to talk to local growers about their spraying schedule as this will vary depending on your location.
The list above may seem a little intimidating at first, but if you just take things step by step, your efforts will pay off in a few years when you pluck your very first peach from your own tree. It’s a very satisfying feeling!