ARTICLE Patricia Moore

Once a staple of sprawling backyards, peaches are now widely available in varieties that happily adapt to containers or can be trained along walls to create an attractive and productive focal point.

Peaches were among the earliest of the fruiting trees to arrive in New Zealand. Some parts of the country suited them better than others – Central Otago with its hot summers and frosty winters was ideal. By the late 19th century, cultivars that thrived in a wide range of local condition were being developed. However, choosing peaches suited to local conditions is still essential for a healthy crop; while some relish a mild winter, others need the chill of a frost or two.

The peach tree is native to China – the ‘persica’, indicating Persian origin, is something of a misnomer. It’s a comparatively easy-care deciduous tree, which prefers a sheltered, but open, sunny situation and well-drained soil. Use of a well-balanced general slow-release fertisliser is recommended in early spring and autumn. Container grown trees will require more frequent feeding and plenty of water during the growing season.

Essentially there are two types – standard and dwarf – which can grow to around a metre. Most varieties are self-pollinating and both dwarf and standard trees also offer a range of freestone and clingstone cultivars with white or yellow flesh.

Pruning is key with peaches (and with their smooth-skinned relative the nectarine). Fruit forms on the previous season’s growth and hard pruning to encourage new growth should be done in winter. The traditional ‘vase’ shape, opening up the centre by removing crowded branches, enables better ripening and harvesting of the fruit.

Probably our best known peach is the Golden Queen – over 3,500 tonnes of the iconic variety are processes in canning plants here annually – which, along with the Black Boy, was a staple of the backyard orchard and home bottlers. Today the range is considerably wider and includes varieties which ripen from January through late March, depending on the climate. Red Haven prefers colder winter, Golden Grace likes it warmer and Golden Haze flowers and fruits early to avoid damage from autumn gales. Also worth noting are peacharines – a peach/nectarine cross and peachcots – which bring the best of peaches and apricots together.

While many of the newer varieties are less prone to disease, this can still be a problem. Oriental fruit moth, aphids, leaf curl, brown rot, shot hole and rust are all something to watch out for; treat with a copper and oil spray, while the tree is dormant, and fungicide before and after flowering.

With a mouth-watering selection of varieties from which to choose, and the flexibility they offer landscape designers, the peach tree is here to stay. Even the smallest city garden can accommodate a fruit tree either in a container or espaliered – a solution for walls and fences that’s both more decorative and more productive.

You might be interested in reading: Tips and tricks for planting in a shaded garden.
 

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