It is sometimes assumed, logically enough, that these fruits are too ‘exotic’ to be grown outdoors in this country. Given a favourable aspect and avoiding the extreme North, the reverse is true and Peach and Nectarine trees are quite easy to grown and immensely rewarding.
Of all the fruit trees we can grow in our gardens, the disparity in flavour between home-grown and that you buy in the supermarkets, is no more marked than with Peaches and Nectarines. The reason is simple; the fruits are so delicate and easily bruised that commercial samples are harvested whilst very under-ripe and left to complete the ripening process in storage. The result is, robbed of that last week or two’s crucial sunlight and warmth, the sugar levels are supressed and the fruit often doesn’t ripen properly anyway, remaining woody or rubbery.
Being able to pick your fruit straight from the tree at it’s peak of perfection is a joy and the juice and sugar levels combine to create a magical eating experience.
Apricots are the least hardy of any fruit trees that can be grown in this country and whilst good results can be achieved [commercial Apricot orchards have already been planted in the UK] they will in general require the greatest shelter of all. They are also more vigorous in growth, but have the advantage that they don’t get Peach leaf curl [see later]
Peaches and Nectarines are naturally fairly compact so, whilst they aren’t compatible on dwarfing rootstocks, they can still be contained quite readily. Apricots are more vigorous so need a bit more room. Allow 180cm’s for a Peach or Nectarine, 240cm’s or more for an Apricot.
Wherever you decide to grow your Peach and Nectarine trees, whilst they are quite cold hardy in winter, be prepared to offer them the most benevolent spot you can. Lots of sun and shelter ripens those fruits properly and makes sure the blossoms set well in the Springtime. Soil wise they aren’t fussy at all as long as it is relatively good and not to the extremes of wet or dry. If you have a sunny south or west facing wall or fence then grow these fruits – and the apricots as well – as fan trained for the very best results of all.
These fruits open their blossoms very early in the year, often in March which is another reason why shelter is preferred, to make sure the flowers don’t get frosted. All varieties are self fertile so there are no pollination issues.
If you live in the North or your garden is a windswept dustbowl, then happily you can still grow these gorgeous fruits with ease. Peaches and Nectarines in particular are perfectly suited to life in a 20” pot. That means you can cultivate them in the corner of a sheltered patio, or actually in the cold greenhouse or conservatory. If you are growing them under cover of any kind, make sure you remember to hand pollinate the flowers as there won’t be any polinating insects to do the job for you.
PEACH Peregrine remains the most reliable of all and is a delicious white fleshed peach [the sweetest of all] 75% of our Peach tree sales are of this variety. Duke of York, Saturn, Rochester and Red Haven are also well worth considering. All can be grown indoors or out, but if you want to try a greenhouse-specialist, look for ‘Charles Ingouf’. This isn’t a common variety but it can still be bought from specialist nurseries in fruit. Nectarines – Lord Napier is your first port of call and the standard-bearring variety. View our online range of peach and nectarine trees here
Include Duke of York, Rochester, Bellgarde, Amsden June.
You can plant as a bare root tree at any time during the Winter. This is a good time of year to plant as the trees receive little stress as they are dormant and as long as the soil is workable [ie not frozen hard or waterlogged] then you can go ahead and plant. The alternative is to plant a pot grown tree during the growing Season when in leaf. This is ok as long as you are in a position to water daily for the few weeks following planting. This method has the advantage of the tree becoming established before it's first winter.
You should make sure the ground is well cultivated with friable soil and free of weeds before planting. Top dress with bonemeal or growmore to provide initial nutrients. Once the tree has been set in a hole sufficient to take the roots without cramping, infill with a mix of friable topsoil and compost and firm well. The top most roots should be covered by about 2" of soil.
UK grown Apricots depend not only on good conditions but careful selection of the best varieties suited to the UK climate. A flurry of new varieties from America are more reliable and frost hardy than the oldies so whilst Moorpark remains on most lists, new varieties like Goldcott and Flavorcott are well worth seeking out. And if you fancy trying a really impressive variety with extra-big fruits, look out for Tomcott. Special mention must also be made for the more compact variety 'Isabelle' which is ideal for container growing, both in a sheleterd spot outdoors, or the greenhouse.
Dwarf Peach and Nectarines There is a small group of genuinely dwarf varieties – Garden Lady Peach and Nectarella Nectarine. These genetically dwarf little trees are an attractive proposition for the container or a small spot as they only grow to 120cm’s in height and need no pruning. The fruits are full sized, despite the diminuitive nature of the trees. But if you have the room, go for a proper tree as the yield can be truly impressive – an established Peach or Nectarine can produce over 100 full sized delicious ripe and rosy fruits every year.
They require the same principal conditions as normal growing Peach and Nectarine. A nice warm sunny aspect, they are obligingly easy to grow in a 24" container; use a loam based compost such as John Innes no2 or similar. The blossom is self fertile; it opens early in the year so remember to offer some frost protection at this time otherwise the flowers won't set fruit. Pruning of dwarftrees is less important as they don't grow so much but you can reduce longer stems by a third in late Summer. Older dead and diseased wood can be removed completely in Winter. Established plants should be fed with osmocote tablets if grown in pots, or with seaweed extract in the ground.
The only real problem specific to these trees is that of –
Peach Leaf Curl which does not affect Apricots. It is troublesome and unsightly but does not really affect the tree too badly. The raised red blisters which appear all over the leaves from late Spring look quite alarming. You can pick these off and the new growths will come clean later in the season. To prevent a recurrence in future seasons, spray with a copper based fungicide in early Spring just as the leaves are beginning to unfurl. This is when the spores of the fungal disease are active and settle on the leaves as they are spread by rain or moisture droplets. That’s why trees that are grown under cover are less likely to get this disease.
Bacterial canker can cause die back of main and subsidiary branches. The stems may exude a sticky gum. The best form of treatment is to remove affected branches where possible and treart ther woods with a good tra sealant or arbrex. In general avoid pruning in Spring or Autumn when the spores are most active.
Leaf spot may also occur and can be controlled preventatively with the use a broad spectrum fungicide applied soon after the trees start to leaf, and at intervals through the growing season.
Follown the principals of pruning other stone fruits such as Plums. In general reduction of long leaders in late Summer helps produce ripened flower bearing wood and will temper the natural vigour of the tree. Lower branches should be removed to create a pleasing trunk clearance that will make maintenance easier to manage. Any dead, dieing,congested or diseased wood may be removed in late Summer too.