It is funny how questions come in waves. Recently, I have had several residents ask me how to grow peaches or what variety is best for this area.
At one time, peaches were the leading fruit crop grown in Texas. I do not know if they still are. Years ago, experts estimated there were 1 million trees planted statewide, with just less than half of them found in home landscapes across the state.
If you are looking to grow peaches in your landscape, know that peaches will take some care. There’s pruning; weed, insect, and disease control; fruit thinning; as well as water and fertilization.
Yet you only have to plant one tree, unlike many other fruits, because they are self-pollinating. And a lone tree is less likely to have problems with pests than an entire orchard.
In our area, the most limiting factor in peach production is our soils. So much of Angelina County has enough of a clay subsoil that many fruit species just do not have enough internal soil drainage.
Peaches are very susceptible to waterlogged soils. Excellent internal soil drainage is essential to long-term tree productivity and survival. “Internal” drainage is the key and that designation should not be confused with “run-off”. We often look at the slope of the land and think of how well water can run off the top. That’s “surface” drainage.
“Internal” drainage is the ability for water to percolate thru the soil profile once it gets waterlogged. The ideal is a sandy-loam topsoil that is at least 18 to 24 inches deep and is underlaid with a well-drained red clay subsoil. Subsoils that are blue, gray, mottled, or dull colored usually drain poorly.
The trees will perform better and live longer if you plant them on terraces for maximum soil drainage. While this practice is essential on shallow, poorly drained soils, the use of terraces improves tree performance even on the best of soils. If you can, construct the terrace, or bed, to make the top 12 to 18 inches higher than the surrounding soil.
The ideal soil pH for peach production is between 6 and 7. If the pH is below 6.0, you may need to apply lime before establishing the trees.
If you are thinking of planting a peach or other fruit trees, do not replant at the site of an old tree for at least 3 years after it has been cleared. In fact, peach trees perform best on sites where no stone fruits or pines have grown for several years. Also do not plant a site that was recently cleared of post oaks because the risk is higher for diseases such as oak root rot.
Another production consideration is a late spring frost. We combat this issue by choosing trees with the right number of chilling hours. Chilling hours is a horticulture term for the number of hours during the winter months where the temperature is below 45 degrees.
In Angelina County we have an average of 600 chilling hours each year with a range 450 to 750 hours. There are several varieties to consider. Be sure to determine if you want a “free-stone” variety or one where the flesh clings to the seed. There are many varieties that are classified as “semi-cling”. I could try and list them all here, but I would run out of space and with new varieties always coming on the market, one would invariably be left off.
So when should you plant peach trees. Now. Or as soon as they become available in the nurseries. Most fruit trees are sold bare root and should be placed back in the ground as soon as possible. If your trees are potted and growing in soil, you have a lot more leeway, although earlier planting will result in it being better established when our typical hot, dry summer is upon us.