Yellow peaches are the quintessential peach. They are distinguished by their fuzzy thin skin with hues of red, pink and gold blushing throughout. The flesh is aromatic, juicy when ripe, and golden colored with red bleeds at the skin and surrounding the central rough surfaced rust colored pit. They are often identified as a traditional “true” peach, meaning the fruit exudes a classic peach flavor, balancing sugar and acid for a well-rounded flavor.
Peaches, botanical name, Prunus Persica, are a stone fruit and species within the genus, Prunus, alongside cherries, apricots, plums and almonds. There are hundreds of varieties of peaches, ranging from heirloom to hybrid. There are two different colors of peaches: yellow fleshed, known as golden and white-fleshed, known as silver. Peaches are also classified as clingstone or freestone, signaling to whether the fruit’s pit hugs its flesh or is easily removed. Most yellow-fleshed peaches are clingstone varieties while white-fleshed peaches fall into the freestone category. The greatest difference between the two is really about texture and taste. Clingstone varieties tend to lean on the side of extremely juicy and flavor forward making them very suitable for baking and canning while freestone varieties are generally less succulent and thus chosen for fresh eating.
Peaches are great for fresh eating, poaching, baking, grilling and processing into jams, syrups, ice creams and preserving in syrup. They can be utilized for fresh fruit salads, for savory salads and appetizers and for desserts such as cakes and pies. Complimentary pairings include other stone fruits, honey, egg custards, lavendar, lemon, orange, cardamon, basil, arugula, cayenne, pepitas, marcona almonds, mascarpone, burrata, chevre, vanilla, white chocolate, yogurt, hazelnut, pistachios and olive oil.
All peaches are native to China, where the only wild peaches still grow today. Documentation of the first cultivated peach was recorded in Chinese manuscripts as early as the 10th Century BC. Peaches were then brought via the Silk Road to the Fertile Crescent, which is now modern day Iran. Global trade has brought peach tree cultivation into both the Northern and Southern hemispheres which experience opposite summers and winters allowing for year round availability. Regions and seasons do determine peach production. Peach trees require wet winters and hot dry summers and will not flourish in Oceanic climates.
- Peach trees can grow in USDA Zones 5 to 8, but do especially well in Zones 6 and 7.
- If you live in one of these zones, you can focus on choosing a variety based on its flavor and harvest-time. If you live in colder regions, there are some varieties that are more cold tolerant that you can choose.
- Choose a site with well-drained, moderately fertile soil in full sun. Be sure to avoid low areas because frost can more easily settle there and destroy your peaches.
- Plant the trees in spring. It is best to plant the trees the day you get them (if possible). Pick a tree that is about 1 year old.
- For container-grown trees, remove the plant from its pot and remove any circling roots by laying the root ball on its side and using shears to cut through the roots.
- For grafted trees, position the inside of the curve of the graft union away from the sun when planting.
- Dig a hole that is a few inches deeper and wider than the spread of the roots. Set the tree on top of a small mound of soil in the middle of the hole. Be sure to spread the roots away from the trunk without excessively bending them.
- If you are planting standard-size trees, space them 15 to 20 feet apart. Space dwarf trees 10 to 12 feet apart. However, most types of peach trees are self-fertile, so planting one tree at a time is fine.
- About 6 weeks after planting, fertilize the young trees with 1 pound of a nitrogen fertilizer.
- During the second year, add ¾ pound of nitrogen fertilizer once in the spring and once in the early summer.
- After the third year, add about 1 pound of actual nitrogen per year to the mature trees in the spring.
- To help make the tree hardier, do not fertilize it within 2 months of the first fall frost date or when the fruits are maturing.
- Be sure to prune the tree to an open center shape. In the summer of the first year, cut the vigorous shoots that form on the top of the tree by two or three buds. After about a month, check the tree. As soon as you have three wide-angled branches, spaced equally apart, cut back any other branches so that these three are the main branches. In the early summer of the second year, cut back the branches in the middle of the tree to short stubs and prune any shoots developing below the three main branches. After the third year, remove any shoots in the center of the tree to keep its shape.
- Be sure to prune the tree annually to encourage production. Pruning is usually done mid to late April. Pinching the trees in the summer is also helpful.
- Prune and fertilize to accomplish 10-18 inches of new growth each season.
- Thin the fruits so that they are 6 to 8 inches apart on the branch after the tree blooms (about 4 to 6 weeks). This ensures that the fruits will be larger.
- To help increase resistance to fruit diseases, be sure to prune the trees, thin the fruit, and pick the fruit when it is ripe.
- Japanese Beetles
- Leaf hoppers
- Brown rot
- Powdery mildew
- Leaf curl
- Mosaic Viruses
- Harvest your peaches when they are fully ripe, meaning that there is no green left on the fruit. They should come off the tree with only a slight twist. The fruits found on the top and outside of the tree usually ripen first.
- Be careful when picking your peaches because some varieties bruise very easily.
- You can store peaches in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. They should keep for about 5 days.
- You can also store peaches by making jam or by making pickled peaches.
- Peaches can also be canned or kept frozen for storage.
Although peaches are native to the Chinese countryside, the peach was brought to the western world from Iran.
Peaches ripen faster in a closed paper bag at room temperature.
Test buds of peaches and other sensitive fruits for freeze damage. Bring in a few twigs cut from the trees and place them in a vase of water. If the twigs bloom in a week or two, expect blossoms in the spring and a crop the following fall.