Peaches and nectarines

Peaches and nectarines (Prunus persica) are actually the same species, but peaches are fuzzy, and nectarines are smooth-skinned. They have the same diseases and pests as cherries but are worth growing for the juicy flavor and aroma that comes only from freshly picked, sun-ripened fruit. They are self-pollinating, so you need only one tree.

^ Geography and climate influence peach growing rather significantly. Diseases and pests that are prevalent in some parts of the United States cause little ■ fojl concern in other areas. Plum curculio, bacterial leaf spot, and fungus diseases, for example, present problems for peaches in the eastern United States, approximately from Fort Worth, Texas, to Fargo, North Dakota. Gardeners west of that region have an easier time growing peaches organically, except in the Pacific Northwest, where the damp climate encourages diseases. If you're in the eastern United States, vigilant housekeeping, pruning, and choosing a site that encourages air circulation, as well as using natural pesticides, can help you grow this problem-prone crop.

Peaches and nectarines grow reliably only in climates with mild winters and fairly dry summers, preferably Zones 6 to 9, although some varieties produce fruit in warmer parts of Zones 4 and 5. The hardiness of their overwintering flower buds is the limiting factor in cold-winter climates; several consecutive nights of -13 degrees Fahrenheit will kill them. Mild weather in winter or early spring followed by a return to freezing weather also spells disaster for their blooms. Plant breeders have developed varieties, such as Reliance and Veteran, that withstand temperatures as low as -25 degrees Fahrenheit, but they usually are less flavorful than peaches grown in warmer climates. If you want to try growing peaches in Zone 4 or 5, choose varieties with high chill requirements because they bloom later in the season.

Gardeners in Zones 9 and 10 can grow peaches successfully if they choose varieties with low chill requirements. Some varieties developed for Florida, for example, need only 150-400 hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit to bear fruit.

Peaches and nectarines bloom on wood that grew in the previous year, so prune them in June after flowering. Maintain an open-centered form, and encourage lots of new growth each year. Maintain a vigilant pest- and disease-control program, too, because peach and nectarine trees are among the most susceptible to attack of all fruit trees. Peach leaf curl — a serious fungus disease — causes leaves and fruit to drop prematurely. Look for varieties that resist canker, brown rot, bacterial leaf spot, and pit splitting. Catalog or plant-tag descriptions usually tell you whether a variety is resistant to particular diseases.

Peach varieties that resist bacterial leaf spot include Harrow Diamond, Harrow Beauty, Delta, Southern Pearl, Desert Gold, Candor, Sweethaven, Redhaven, Reliance, Harbrite, Harken, and Veteran. Nectarine varieties include Sunraycer, Fantasia, RosePrincess, Mericrest, Hardired, and Harko.

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