Archive for the 'Peaches/Nectarines' Category

Thinning Peaches

Today, I spent about an hour picking many of the newly forming peaches off of our 8-year old O’Henry peach tree. The tree probably set over 200 peaches. I think I picked about half of them off. Last year, I didn’t need to thin nearly as much, because I pruned the tree so heavily the previous winter, and the tree set about 40 large peaches that grew to grocery store size. This year, I didn’t prune nearly enough to prevent a heavy fruit set.

Two years ago, I didn’t thin much, and I waited too long to do it (in July). The tree ripened nearly 200 peaches that year, and they were small, only about half the size of grocery store peaches. Our tree isn’t large enough to ripen more than about 70 large peaches, so I plan on thinning again in a few weeks.

Peaches have a tendency to produce too much fruit. A large crop of peaches can cause the branches to sag and break off as the fruits get larger. Pruning and thinning greatly reduce the weight on the branches. Thinning and pruning also allow the tree to produce larger fruits. I’d rather have a smaller number of large peaches, than many small peaches. Although I realize that thinning is beneficial for these reasons, I still hate doing it. I feel like I am wasting good food.

Peaches form on the many small thin branches that grew during the previous year. Most of these branches can only support a few peaches. Today, I thinned to about 1-3 peaches per branch, trying to space them apart by at least 4-6 inches, per advice I read in different gardening publications. The photo above was taken before I started thinning.

I have learned through experience that thinning needs to be done early in the season, and mid-spring is the time to do it. When I waited until summer to thin in 2008 about 5 weeks before harvest, the peaches I left on the tree after thinning did not grow any larger. Although thinning always reduces the load on sagging branches.

May 02 2010 | Peaches/Nectarines | Comments Off on Thinning Peaches

Spring Blooms

The vernal equinox occurred this morning at 10:32 am PDT, but spring flowers have been blooming in our yard for several weeks now. The first picture shows some of the many white calla lilies that are blooming in our backyard this month. After planting them all over our backyard for years, I started to remove many of them last year, because they are a favorite hiding place for snails. Despite my attempts to reduce their numbers, the remaining calla bulbs have multiplied and are as numerous as ever. Callas seem to thrive on lots of water, and the plentiful rainfall we received this winter has caused them to grow and flower prolifically in the past few weeks.

The second picture shows three pink camelia bushes that are blooming in our backyard. These camelia bushes, which are very established and probably decades old, produce an abundance of flowers every winter and spring without requiring much care. They are among my favorite of the plants in our backyard. However, they do make a big mess when they drop their numerous flowers on the ground.

The third picture shows our O’Henry peach tree in bloom. We have four peach and nectarine trees, and all of them produce pink flowers. Our peaches and nectarines (and almond tree) are the only fruit trees we are growing that have pink flowers. The rest of our fruit trees (apricot, plum, cherry, apple, orange, and pear) have white blossoms. The O’Henry blossoms are particularly long lasting. This tree has been covered with blossoms for over two weeks now.

March 20 2010 | Camellias and Flowers and Peaches/Nectarines | 2 Comments »

Severe Pruning of Fruit Trees

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I added a new Arctic Rose nectarine tree to my collection of backyard fruit trees a few weeks ago. The first picture above shows what the tree looked like after I brought it home from the nursery, and the second picture shows how it looked after I pruned it severely, cutting off most of the branches. I have read several resources over the past year about pruning fruit trees. Most of these sources advise home growers to prune fruit trees regularly, especially in the first few years after they are planted when they are still small.

I have always wondered why the branches of many backyard fruit trees bend and break under the weight of the fruit that they bear. Why is it that these trees have not evolved strong enough branches to bear the weight of their fruit? Put another way, why it is that these fruit trees have evolved to bear more fruit than their branches can support the weight of?

The answer is that most of the fruit trees that people grow for food today are not entirely the result of natural selection. Breeders have bred fruit trees such as apples, pears, and peaches to bear large fruits. The wild versions of the fruit trees that we know and love are much more able to support the weight of their fruit, partly because the fruit they bear is much smaller than the cultivated varieties we cherish. For example, today’s large cultivated apples are probably descended from crabapple trees, which produce fruits that are only about 1-2 inches in diameter. Wild peaches trees that grow in their native China produce fruits that are much smaller and more sour that the peaches that are cultivated throughout the world today.

Although fruit tree breeders have been very successful at improving the size and flavor of many modern cultivars of fruit trees, they have not improved the strength of the branches of fruit trees. The only way to do that is to prune often and heavily. Pruning the branches of a tree stimulates the tree to thicken and strengthen the shortened branches that remain, making them much better able to support the weight of a heavy load of large fruits.

I am now pruning my fruit trees 1-3 times a year so that they can support the weight of their fruit without needing supports or causing branch breakage. Depending on how fast an individual tree is growing, I sometimes prune the same tree as often as 3 times per year, in the winter, in the spring, and in the summertime. Many of my fruit trees grow rapidly in the spring after a winter prune. Spring and summer pruning does a good job of reducing the vigorous growth rate of trees. Frequent pruning has kept our fruit trees small so that it is easier to spray them (if needed), net them, harvest the fruit, and perform subsequent pruning.

I have read repeatedly that is especially important to prune peach and nectarine trees heavily, because they grow vigorously and produce many more fruits than they can support. I think that at least 2/3 of the branches of a peach/nectarine tree should be removed each year to control its size and fruit production. If pruning doesn’t do enough to reduce the number of peach or nectarine fruits a tree produces, I will thin the fruits to about 4-6 inches apart in May-June. Thinning the fruit greatly reduces the likelihood of branches breaking. Also, in the years that I thinned my peaches, my O’Henry peach tree has produced peaches that are much larger in size than in the years I have not thinned them.

February 20 2010 | Fruit and Peaches/Nectarines | Comments Off on Severe Pruning of Fruit Trees

O’Henry Peaches

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The fruit on our O’Henry peach tree is ripening. Our tree has far less fruit on it this year than last year, because I pruned it more during the dormant season. I discussed my pruning technique in an earlier post. The tree only has about 40-50 peaches this year, compared with about 200 last year, which is a more reasonable number for our needs.

This year’s crop of peaches are much larger than they were last year. They are nearly the same size as grocery store peaches. However, the ones I have tried so far taste about the same as last year’s crop. Reducing the size of crop greatly increased the size of the fruit (nearly twice as large), but it doesn’t seem to have affected the flavor much.

O’Henry is a good tasting peach, but our O’Henry’s don’t have a very sweet flavor. They have slightly more tartness than sweetness. I really want to grow peach and nectarine trees that produce exceptionally sweet fruits. So last March, I planted a white snow beauty peach tree and a white snow queen nectarine tree. Snow beauty and snow queen are supposed to produce fruits that are more sweet than tart. Here is an interesting article from Dave Wilson Nursery about white peaches and nectarines.

I sprayed our O’Henry peach tree twice early in the year for peach leaf curl. See my last post about spraying for peach leaf curl. The spray appears to have worked well. Our tree had only few leaves in the spring showing signs of leaf curl. The vast majority of the leaves were and continue to be very healthy looking and curl-free.

August 23 2009 | Peaches/Nectarines | 2 Comments »

New Fruit Trees

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I planted several new fruit trees earlier this year in our yard, including an almond, another peach, a nectarine, a plum, and 2 more cherries. I sometimes hear people say that fruit trees take too many years to produce fruit. For them, I have three words: plums, peaches, and nectarines. All three typically bear fruit by their second year in the ground.

I planted a 4 variety multi-grafted plum tree in February. It already has dozens of plums (see first picture above). Most of the plums are hidden behind the leaves in this picture. The 4 varieties are beauty, nubiana, laroda, and elephant heart. They ripen in June, July, August, and September, respectively, for a 4 four month long plum season. I have already eaten several of the beauty plums, and they are good, with just a little tartness in the skin. Plums produce fruit at a young age. Although my tree wasn’t a new bare root tree when I bought it. It looked like it had been in a pot at least a year.

The other new fruit trees I planted as bare root trees. They don’t have any fruit this year, but they are growing vigorously. The second picture shows the new nectarine (snow queen) in the foreground and the new peach (snow beauty) in the back right. The peach and nectarine trees will likely have their first crop of fruit next summer. Peaches and nectarines produce fruit on branches that grew during the previous year. They also produce fruit at an early age like plums.

I found that one of the keys to growing fruit trees successfully is giving them a regular supply of water and not letting their root systems dry out at any time. In our dry climate, that means regular watering. I have micro-spray devices on all of our fruit trees that are controlled by an automatic watering system. They get watered for about 5 minutes every other day through the spring and summer months. I have found that this schedule keeps the roots moist without over-watering during normal conditions here. During hot weather (90 degrees plus), I water them everyday and/or for a longer time.

Some people are lucky enough to live in climates that get rain on and off throughout the spring and summer months. Last month, I visited family in Kentucky. The small fruit orchard in their backyard includes two peach trees. One of the things I noticed was that the leaves of their peach trees were a pale green color, and they were not actively growing new leaves. The leaves were not a healthy looking deep green like the leaves of our peach trees in California.

My first thought was that they looked like they were not getting enough water. The ground around the trees looked dried out. That seemed strange, because I was told that it had rained a lot in early May before we arrived. Apparently, the sun dries out the ground quickly there too in the late spring.

I have noticed that when fruit trees like peaches don’t get enough water for several days or weeks, the leaves tend to turn pale, and they stop growing. I think that it begins to happen as soon as the roots dry out, which probably happens a lot sooner in young trees that have small roots systems. The lesson I have taken from my experiences is that it is important to prevent the root systems of young fruit trees from drying out, so that they continue to grow through the spring and summer. That’s particularly important for newly planted trees.

Even in Kentucky were it rains frequently through the spring and summer, it’s possible that peaches and other fruit trees can dry out after a week or more without a significant downpour. I was told that nobody bothers to water their outdoor plants in Kentucky, because they feel that there is no need to. But perhaps they should consider supplemental watering during dry spells.

June 21 2009 | Cherries and Peaches/Nectarines and Plums | Comments Off on New Fruit Trees

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