The nectarine is classified as a sub-species of peach. Nectarine fruit is similar to peach fruit except that the nectarine fruit tend to be smaller, smooth, more aromatic, and have more red color on the fruit surface.Nectarine fruits may be either yellow or white-fleshed.
The factors you need to consider before planting nectarines inhome gardens are: variety, spacing, selecting a good site, well-drained and fertile soil, planting at the right depth, training and pruning, insect pests and disease management, and harvesting.Peach and nectarines do not respond to dwarfing rootstocks. Use standard trees grafted on seedling rootstocks. Nectarine tree spacing depends on the growth habit of the variety, soil fertility, and tree training systems. The typical spacing is 18' X 24', 14' X 20', and 12' X 20' for very fertile, moderately fertile, and low fertile soils respectively.
Site selection - Take soil samples from the site one year before planting, and send to soil testing laboratories (list of soil testing labs are available at local Extension office). Add well rotted manure and compost based on soil test results. Peach and nectarine trees do well in a variety of soils. A rooting depth of about 4 feet and well-drained soil is preferred. Avoid low spots where water remains standing in root zone. Soil drainage can be improved with tiles and raised bed systems. Soil pH of 6 to 6.5 is preferred. Plantnectarines in elevated areas where there is good air drainage and avoid low lying spots. When temperature drops, warm air rises and cold air settles on lower spots and there is higher danger of frost injury on low lying spots than elevated areas. Windbreaks may not be necessary in urban areas where there are several building in the neighborhood butare necessary in rural areas. Do not plant nectarines and other fruit trees near wooded areas as air drainage will be poor, andcan be easily damaged by wild animals.
Planting - Plant tree in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Dig a whole twice the diameter of the root system and 2-ft deep. Loosen the soil in the walls of the hole. Place some loose soil back into the hole. Spread the roots on loose soil. Continue putting more soil around the roots and firming to eliminate air pockets. Fill remainder of the hole with loose soil. Since nectarines varieties are not grafted on dwarfing rootstock, the graft union must be very close to the soil line or slightly below. Water the plant very well to eliminate air pockets and to provide good contact between the soil and roots.The life span of the tree may vary with the climate and how the tree is taken care of. For example in areas where there is low winter temperatures, diseases, and many insect pests ofnectarines, the trees cannot survive for 10 to 12 years but in the southern states such as Virginia, well tended trees can survive for over 20 years.
Training and pruning - Training is the development of a desirable framework for your tree. Pruning is used as a part of the tree training process. Nectarines are trained on open center system where there is a single trunk that is 18-30 inches tall with 2-, 3-, or 4- scaffold branches all located close together vertically near the top of the trunk and kept about equal in size by pruning. All scaffold branches form a crotch angle of 40-900 with the trunk.
Pruning is the judicious removal of parts of plant to increase their usefulness. It ensures that all branches have full sunlight exposure, and spray coverage is uniform in the tree canopy. Pruning is done by either heading back (cuts made to encourage growth of side branches) or thinning-out (cuts made to shorten a branch or trunk or to remove a branch entirely). Pruning can be done by using very simple tools such as pruning shears for small cuts up to ½ inch in diameter, looping shears for cuts between ½ to 1 inch in diameter, and pruning saws for cuts over 1 inch in diameter. It is very important to understand fruiting habits of fruit trees in order to intelligently prune the trees. Peaches and nectarines bear fruits entirely on lateral buds on 1-year old twigs so fruiting wood must be produced annually, and hence mature treesneed to be pruned more heavily than other fruit trees. In Illinois, heavy pruning must be done during the dormant season before buds swell that is February 1 to March 15 in southern half of the state and February 15 to April 1 in northern half of the state. Annual pruning is done by removing upward growing water sprouts, downward growing wood, crossing wood, and excessive fruiting shoots. Do not over fertilize the trees. Summer pruning may be done on mature trees in addition to dormant season pruning. Avoid winter trunk injury by painting trunks with white latex paint in late fall. Nectarine fruits should be thinned when the fruit is the size of a dime and thinning should continue until before harvest. The recommended spacing between fruits on a shoot is 6 to 8 inches apart.
Fertilizer application - Take soil samples and send them to a soil testing laboratory, and apply the recommended amounts of nutrientsbefore planting the tree. After the first year of planting, apply fertilizer in early spring before growth begins. Nectarines need ½ to 1 pound of mixed fertilizer such as 10-10-10 per year of age of tree to a maximum of 10 pounds per tree. Broadcast complete fertilizer on the soil surface around the drip line of the tree.
Watering - Newly planted trees should receive water once a week for about six weeks. One inch of water every two to three weeks is necessary for good tree growth until mid summer (early August). For older trees water is very critical during the last six weeks before
harvest. Use any watering method available such as drip irrigation, sprinkler, or soaking hoses.
Weed control - Control weeds and grasses around youngnectarine trees to avoid competition, and minimize damage from pine, and meadow voles, and other rodents. Keep all weeds away from the drip line. Be careful when controlling weeds by cultivation not to injure roots of the tree, and don't use weed mowing equipment that can injure the trunk of the tree. Control weeds by using 4 inches thick organic mulches such as wood chips but remember to remove mulch away (1-ft radius) from the trunk, and place rodent guards around the base of the tree. Grass and weeds should be kept at least 2-ft away from the trunk.
Nectarines are typically self-fruitful and do not require cross-pollination with other varieties to set fruit. Select varieties that perform well in your area. Look for the varieties that are winter hardy, resistant to bacterial leaf spot, and can either be eaten fresh or used for processing. No nectarine variety is recommended for northern Illinois except in favorable locations in urban areas or parts of central Illinois. The varieties include:
Nectarines taste better when ripe fruits are picked from the tree.Nectarine fruit increases in size as it matures, the flesh softens and fruit surface facing the sun turns red. If the fruit has to be eaten within a day after harvest, the fruit can be allowed to ripen on the tree but if fruits are to be stored for several days, fruits should be harvested when the ground color turns greenish-yellow .Nectarine fruits ripe at different times so may need more than one picking.