August is National Peach month, and who doesn’t love fresh peaches! Not only is the whole month dedicated to celebrating peaches, but we also have Eat a Peach Day on August 22nd and National Peach Pie Day on August 24th. If President Reagan was really thinking, he would have also named August National Ice Cream month because who doesn’t love ice cream with peach pie, cobbler, crisp, or just peaches by themselves!
Peaches in Illinois
When we think of peach growing states, Illinois is not one that pops to the top of the list. Georgia is considered the Peach State, but to my surprise, California has blown other states out of the water with peach production almost 10 times that of the second leading state, South Carolina.
As for peach production in Illinois, location plays an important role in growing peaches in the state. Most of the production in Illinois occurs in central and southern Illinois as most peach varieties are not winter hardy to survive cold winter temperatures in Northern Illinois.
Most specialists suggest that planting peach north of I-70 can be risky as our late spring frosts can damage flower buds and ultimately fruit production. However, for those of you located in northern Illinois, don’t get discouraged; there are some cold-hardy peach trees.
Find a peach tree variety for your area
When getting started with peach trees, it is best to find a variety that will do well in your area. It is also important to choose the right location for your new peach tree.
When choosing a location, consider if the location provides enough sunlight. Is there enough space for the tree to mature? Is the soil fit for peach trees?
Peach trees prefer full sun, meaning at least 6 to 8 hours of sun each day. Trees can vary on mature size based on the variety and need a well-drained soil with a pH level between 6 and 7. Soil amendments such as compost or other organic material can help improve drainage over time. Lime or sulfur can also be used to adjust the soil pH to correct levels.
Peach trees are best planted in the spring. Most peaches are self-pollinating meaning you can get away with planting one tree. However, if you do choose a cross pollinated tree, be sure to plant two trees for fruit production.
Peach tree care
Fruit trees do require maintenance which can include mulching, fertilizing, pruning, and watering during dry periods.
- Mulch: Trees tend to be more productive when the area under the canopy is mulched. Apply 2 to 3 inches of an organic mulch such as wood bark around the root zone of your tree. Mulch provides competition to weeds, prevents evaporation, and can help protect from freeze injury.
- Fertilizer: Fertilizer applications should be made based on a soil test analysis. Overfertilization can result in excess vegetative growth at the expense of fruit production.
- Pruning: Fruit trees do require pruning on a regular basis to remain productive. Regular pruning promotes a strong framework so the tree can support the weight of fruit produced; it also allows for good airflow though the tree and makes work in the tree easier. Pruning should happen in early spring when the tree is still dormant. The open center system is used for pruning peach trees.
Peach tree insects and diseases
Numerous insects and diseases are pests to peach trees and can cause damage to flowers, fruit, twigs, limbs, and trunk.
Common pests include Oriental fruit moth, peachtree borer, shot hole borer, catfacing insects, scale, Japanese beetle, and the green June beetle. Other pests to keep an eye out for include voles, mice, rabbits, and even deer.
Common diseases include bacterial canker, crown gall, peach leaf curl, phytophthora root and crown rot, rust, scab, and verticillium wilt. Disease-resistant peach trees are an easy option for control of some diseases.
Although chemical control tends to be a common way to control insects and diseases on peach trees, other control tactics include biological control by using parasitic organisms, mechanical control through physical removal or barriers, and following sanitation practices during maintenance. Poultry wire or hardware cloth can be used to protect the trunk from large wildlife damage.
Good Growing Fact: Peach trees can take up to 2 to 4 years after planting to start bearing fruit, but once it starts producing, it is best to allow fruit to ripen on the tree for maximum flavor and quality.
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