Man, do I love me some gardening. It is quickly becoming one of my most rewarding activities. I now have some reason to recall what we learned in 9th-grade biology. Holy smokes, I just remembered my teacher’s name! Thank you, Mrs. Ruedas for doing the lawd’s work. This is my ever evolving growing guide for gardeners wondering how to grow organic peaches at home.
Peaches are a perfect crop to grow in Sacramento.
When we moved into our home, one of the very first things I did was dig out a ton of clay soil around my two peach trees and replaced it with a ton of organic compost. Although it was summer, there were no peaches on either tree (probably due to neglect). I’ve always wanted to grow my own food, and I knew that I had to feed the soil so the soil would feed the tree, which would, in turn, feed me.
This year, we’ve had a sizeable harvest (despite the squirrel squad’s best efforts to starve us). I would like to share some of the things I have learned.
How Much Fruit Does a Peach Tree Produce?
A peach tree can produce up to 66 pounds of fruit per year. That’s a lot of fruit, jams, jellies, and preserves!
Where do Peaches Grow in the US?
Part of the reason peaches do so well in Sacramento is due to the number of daylight hours we get as well as being in Zone 9b. They do best in USDA zones 5 through 9. Fun fact: Peaches originally came from China.
Did you know that some fruit trees require cold temperatures in winter? I had no clue whatsoever. The jargon is “chill hours” and peach trees need between 600 and 900 hours of straight chillin’ at 45°F or less each winter.
Peaches love very warm weather and ripen best at temperatures of 75°F. And, wouldn’t you know it, Sacramento’s average temperature in July and August is about 75°F.
Each peach variety has it’s own chill hour requirement, and that will determine when the peach tree will bloom and therefore when it will begin to set fruit and ripen. Varieties that need fewer chill hours bloom earlier in spring than those requiring more.
Peaches grow best in full sun & where cold air/frost will not settle. Peaches tolerate partial shade, but you’ll get less fruit. Although I’ve read that peaches prefer light well-drained sandy soil, I can tell you that they thrive in my hard Sacramento clay soil as long as I amend with compost and mulch.
Do Peach Trees Self-Pollinate?
Yep. Most peach trees do not need a second peach tree to pollinate. But, when such is the case, bees help transfer pollen between trees. The varieties Indian Free and J.H. Hale require cross-pollination.
How Much Water to give a Peach Tree?
As my trees were well established when I moved in, we only water them 1-2 times a week for 30 minutes, using a soaker hose, during the summer. We do not water the tree in the fall, winter, or spring. Having a thick 3-4 inches of mulch has been key to conserving water. Mulching reduces soil moisture evaporation.
How to Prune a Peach Tree
A peach tree can grow one to one and a half feet per year. A big part of our awesome harvest this year was the pruning I did in the fall to keep the tree from becoming unwieldy. Unpruned trees produce small fruit. Although you can do a little pruning all year long, do your heavy pruning/shaping in late fall after the tree drops its leaves and goes dormant.
I recommend you train your peach tree to grow with the center of the tree opened up like a wide vase; this will allow air and light into the center of the tree to help mitigate leaf curl (more on that later) and avoid that Sacramento sun from scalding them peaches.
How to Train a Peach Tree via Pruning
- Remove all diseased, dead, or broken branches
- Remove all watersprouts – watersprouts are fast-growing vertical branches that usually have no side branches.
- Remove all suckers – suckers are the fast-growing shoots that grow out of the soil from the roots below the soil surface
- Remove V-branching crotches – These are narrow crotches formed by branches that will not support the weight of a full crop of fruit
- Remove crossing or rubbing branches – If two branches cross and rub against each other they can cause a wound that may allow insects or leaf curl to attack the tree
- Don’t prune more than one-third of the tree at once
- Always prune to a growth bud or flush to a main branch or trunk
- Prune yearly – once a tree has been well pruned, you only have to prune crossing branches and twiggy growth
How to Thin Peach Fruit
Learn from my mistakes! When you see peaches start to emerge, you want to thin them out. I observed my tree naturally thinning itself out, so I thought nature knew best and I left them alone. If you follow me on Instagram, you saw what ended up happening. To make a long story short – I was wrong and branches broke under too much stress.
I now know that the process of the tree thinning itself out is referred to as, June Drop and it happens a little after the fruit has set.
When is it the Best Time to Thin Peaches?
You should thin your peaches while they are still green and about 1 inch in diameter. This should be a week or so after June Drop. During this time, the pit in the center of the peach has not hardened yet.
This helps the rest of the peaches grow both huge and sweet; thinning increases the sugar content and flavor of the remaining peaches.
How to Thin Early Season Peaches
If you have an early-season peach variety, you want to thin your peaches leaving six to eight inches between each fruit.
How to Thin Late Season Peaches
If you have a late-season peach variety, you’ll thin your peaches leaving four to five inches between each fruit.
Note about young peach trees: Do not allow peach trees to set fruit during the first two growing seasons. Remove flowers or young fruits before they sap the energy the tree requires for growth. During the third year, allow the tree to bear a small crop. Do not let a tree set more fruit than its limbs can bear.
What Pests Eat Peaches?
By far our biggest peach pests are the squirrels. Those bastards. Last year they ate every single peach we produced.
This year was different though. We had some local birds move in to our garden this spring and it’s been such a pleasant experience for us to watch them do all the birding they do.
The squirrels, however, would not agree.
Morning after morning, we have watched in awe as the birds gave chase to the squirrels on the electricity wires.
The birds squawked and struck down upon them with great vengeance and furious anger those squirrels who attempted to poison and destroy our peaches.
And those squirrels knew, they were the birds when they laid their vengeance upon them.
Callbacks aside – peaches are also susceptible to:
- Fruit Worms
- Tent Caterpillars
- Oriental fruit moths
- Plum curculios
I haven’t encountered any of these pests on our peach trees in Sacramento, so I can’t make any suggestions. But, Google is your friend if you encounter any of these.
Which Diseases Affect Peach Trees?
Most gardeners in Sacramento deal with leaf curl on their peaches. This seems to be the most prolific disease affecting these trees.
However, there are others to consider:
- Peach leaf curl is a fungal disease that causes leaves to curl and die; new leaves form after the curled leaves drop. Spraying with a copper fungicide in the fall and winter time is reported to help control the disease.
- Bacterial cankers cause branches to become sunken with lesions and ooze. Infected branches can be pruned away or cankers can be cut out and the healthy wood treated with lime sulfur.
- Brown rot is a bacterial disease that attacks flowers, shoots, and fruit. This disease can be controlled by spraying with lime sulfur when buds begin to turn green in spring.
- Bacterial leaf sport and peach scab cause spots or cracks on leaves and fruit. Both leaf spot and peach scab can be controlled with a lime-sulfur spray every 15 days.
- Trunk sunburn can be mitigated by whitewashing the trunk in early spring. Whitewashing will also discourage ants.
Farmer Fred has a great blog post about treating leaf curl. Read it here.
When to Harvest Peaches from the Tree in Sacramento, CA
Peaches can ripen on the counter, but, honestly, peaches are most flavorful and have the highest sugar content when they are allowed to fully ripen on the tree. A peach is ready for picking when the fruit’s skin turns yellow and the flesh gives a little when you touch it (similar to a tomato).
Picking peaches is easy – hold the fruit in the palm of your hand and give it a gentle tug while twisting. If it is truly ripe, the peach will come off the tree very easily. You’ll be grateful you let it ripen on the tree.
How to Store & Preserve Peaches
Just eat the damn things! If you must hold on to it for a while, peaches will keep in the refrigerator for a week. Otherwise, you could can peaches, freeze peaches, make jams/jellies, and/or even dry peaches.