Hard work sweet play

Growing peach trees isn't always that peachy

Growing peach trees isn't always that peachy

August 09, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

Ever wish you could just walk out the back door and grab a peach to eat, the way you can pull a tomato off the vine in your vegetable garden?

You can, but it will take vigilance and maintenance.

Just like other fruit trees, peach trees can be a bit of challenge because of various pests and diseases they can face, said Annette Ipsan, horticulture extension educator for the Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

But as the visitors to the Leitersburg Peach Festivalknow, the reward for the effort is so sweet.


The peach tree's foes include pests such as the peach tree borer, Oriental fruit moth and Japanese beetles. Diseases such as peach scab and brown rot are other foes, Ipsan said.

Brown rot is the most common disease and, like other fungal problems, can be prevented and treated with a sulfur spray, she said.


Peach trees need to be pruned in the early spring before they bloom to encourage light and air circulation, experts said.

The rule of thumb with pruning a peach tree is to give it the shape of an upside down umbrella, said Betsy Lower, co-owner of Boyer Nurseries & Orchards Inc. in Biglerville, Pa. This allows for optimal sunlight.

When the peaches start to grow in, you thin them so they can get chubby, said Ipsan and Lower. You don't want them hanging like a bunch of grapes. Lower suggests allowing for three to four inches between peaches so there is room to grow.

The third issue peach growers gamble with is a late frost.

"Anybody that grows fruit trees will tell you that they cross their fingers in the spring and hope we don't have a late frost because the late frost can damage the blossoms, which can mean little or no fruit," Ipsan said.

If the forecast calls for a late frost, throw burlap over the tree so the frost won't touch the blossoms, Lower said.

Before you buy

Before you buy a peach tree to plant this fall, consider the different varieties' characteristics, such as when the fruit is expected to be ready for picking and whether you prefer cling or freestone. With cling peaches, the flesh holds tightly to the pit; with freestones, it doesn't.

Boyer Nurseries & Orchards Inc.'s more popular varieties are Harmony, Loring and Sunhigh. According to Lower and the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service's home fruit production guide:

Harmony is a freestone peach that ripens in mid-August, has large, yellow peaches, and is good for canning and freezing.

Loring is a freestone peach that ripens in mid-August, has medium to large red fruits over a yellow background, and can produce heavy crops.

Sunhigh is a freestone peach that harvests in mid-August, and are large, oblong fruits that turn red over an orange background.

More varieties and their characteristics are listed in the extension's "Home Fruit Production Guide."

Peach trees are planted when they are dormant. Plant during spring - as soon as the ground thaws - to mid-May, Lower said, or plant after Thanksgiving but before the ground hardens.

To learn more

To learn more about growing peaches, the Maryland Cooperative Extension has a book, "Home Fruit Production Guide," for $8 that can be ordered online through the Home and Garden Information Center at, or purchased at the Washington County extension office at 7303 Sharpsburg Pike.

A fact sheet on pruning peach trees is available at the Washington County office for the Maryland Cooperative Extension. Pick one up at the office, or, to get the fact sheet mailed, call Ipsan at the Extension office at 301-791-1604; or e-mail Ipsan at

Peach tips

· Pick peaches a week before they ripen, when the skin's base color is greenish.

· Peaches are ripe when the base color is cream-colored.

· Putting peaches in the refrigerator will slow the ripening.

· Store peaches stem down on the countertop so moisture wicks out the stem end and doesn't rot the peach.

· Can peaches when they are ripe so you get the sweet flavor. Then you won't need as much sugar in a recipe.

· Growing seasons with less rain result in peaches with more concentrated sugar and flavor.

- Source: Betsy Lower, co-owner of Boyer Nurseries & Orchards Inc. in Biglerville in Adams County, Pa.

If you go ...

WHAT: Leitersburg Peach Festival

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 10

WHERE: Leitersburg Ruritan Community Park, 21431 Leiter St., Leitersburg

COST: Free admission and parking

CONTACT: For more information, call 301-739-8077 or 301-797-1335.

MORE: The festival will have more than 60 arts and craft vendors, a petting zoo, an antique tractor display, a quilt raffle, children's barrel train, pony rides and a peach pie-baking contest.

In addition to fresh peaches, for sale there will be peach pies, peach ice cream, sausage sandwiches, ham sandwiches, open-pit roast beef sandwiches, fresh-cut french fries and more.

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