Delicious as they are, the flavour of imported peaches and nectarines can’t compare with the fruits you can grow in your own garden. They need lots of sun, though, ideally in a pot on a sheltered patio or trained against a sunny wall.
Growing peaches and nectarines through the year
Bare-rooted trees should be planted on a mild day any time from November to March. Container-grown trees can go in at any time.
Although they’re hardy in the UK (apart from the far north), the blossom and young fruits are vulnerable to frost. Grow your trees against a south- or west-facing wall, or in a pot, which you can move under cover for winter.
Peaches and nectarines will tolerate most soils, but before planting dig in plenty of well-rotted garden compost or manure. If you have clay soil, improve drainage by filling the bottom of the planting hole with rubble. Plant your tree so the top of the rootball sits level with the soil’s surface and the stem is at least 20cm away from the wall. Prepare a framework of wires ready to tie in the stems as they grow.
To plant a tree in a pot, fill the bottom with pea gravel (to improve drainage and stability), then fill with a soil-based compost. Leave a gap between the compost and top of the pot for easy watering. Never let compost dry out.
Tending the crop
Water regularly, especially when fruits are forming. At blossom time, sprinkle a general fertiliser, such as pelleted poultry manure, around the tree. Follow with a mulch of garden compost or well-rotted manure.
Even though peaches are self-fertile you can encourage fruiting by hand-pollinating flowers using a soft brush and misting with water. When fruits are cherry-sized, thin out to one per cluster.
When the fruits are swelling, apply a high-potash liquid fertiliser, such as tomato feed, once a week.
After harvesting comes pruning. Peaches and nectarines flower and fruit on one-year-old shoots, so remove as much of the old growth as possible. Cut back a fruit stem to where a new shoot has grown, then tie in the new growth as a replacement.
Harvesting peaches and nectarines
Peach and nectarine fruits are ripe when they have coloured up and feel soft. They should come off the branch with a gentle twist.
Storing peaches and nectarines
Fruits bruise easily and don’t store well. You can freeze peaches and nectarines, but when defrosted use them for cooking.
Preparation and uses
Delicious eaten raw, added to fruit salads or poached in wine with a little sugar.
Control aphids and red spider mite with an insecticidal soap. Peach leaf curl is a fungus that affects the emerging leaves in spring. It causes red blistering and distortion. Covering trees with polythene in late winter and early spring will stop rain splashes spreading infection.
Peaches versus nectarines
Both of these fruit have identical growing needs, but fuzzy-skinned peaches are slightly hardier than their smoother-skinned relations. Nectarines grow best when they’re trained against a warm wall or fence, in a sunny, sheltered position.
Peach and nectarine varieties to try
‘Avalon Pride’ – pink flowers and juicy fruits from early August. It is said to be resistant to leaf curl disease
- ‘Duke of York’ – the red-skinned, yellow-fleshed fruits ripen from early summer
- ‘Peregrine’ – heavy crops of delicious fruits with red skin and white flesh, in mid-August. Mildew resistant
- ‘Lord Napier’ – large crimson-flushed fruits with sweet and juicy white flesh, ripening in early August
- ‘Pineapple’ – large orange-flushed fruits with yellow flesh, pick early September
Small is beautiful
- Dwarf ‘Terrace’ fruits – such as peach ‘Terrrace Amber’ and ‘Terrace Ruby’ are ideal for growing in pots. They’re compact and slow growing