August 2016 yielded a very spectacular peach crop. I was surprised to say the least as I lost most of my peach trees the winter of 2014 when we hit several days of -18 degrees in temperature. After cutting down and re-planting most of my peach trees, we decided to leave one large old Reliance peach. Glad we did! It has slowly recovered and bore just a handful of peaches last year. This year it is loaded with fruit. We easily will have about 1.5 bushels after we get them all picked.
Flavor? I guess I sort of forgot how luscious tree ripened peaches are. This year my Reliance peaches are spectacular in flavor. Truly sweet, fragrant, and chin dripping good! After plucking and eating my first peach, I sighed deeply and just had to eat 3 more before I could stop. Wow! One of the true joys of summer. Nothing—nothing—beats the flavor of a tree ripened peach.
Peaches are flower bud hardy to around zero degrees, and tissue hardy to about -15 degrees. Any time we reach colder than those temperatures in winter, it can result in the loss of flower buds or the loss of the tree itself.
Because of this, the best places to grow peaches in Wisconsin are the counties closest to Lake Michigan or in select places where you can find a small microclimate where the trees are protected and the site is warmer than the surrounding areas (courtyards, SE corner of house ect). Planting sites located in a large municipality are definitely warmer in winter than being out in the countryside where it will often be a few degrees colder (all that radiant heat from concrete, asphalt and buildings does make a few degrees difference).
Certain varieties are better for our cold Wisconsin winters than others. Reliance, Contender and Veteran are a few that come to mind. You will have better success if you start with the best possible variety for our location. Since peaches are self-pollinating, only one tree is needed for fruiting. Great news for those of us who only have a small growing area!
While not a fool proof crop with our cold winters, I actually find they are my easiest crop to grow based on pest issues. Cherries require using nets to protect the fruit from birds, apples require a lot of spraying to keep the numerous insect/disease issues at bay (or resolve by growing in bags). Peaches really only have 2 major pest problems in our area. The first is Peach Leaf Curl which is caused by a fungus. One spraying with a fungicide containing chlorothalonil applied sometime between March 15-April 2nd usually does the trick to prevent it. The other major issue is plum curculio in June. Curculios will cut the fruit and leave a crescent shaped scar as they lay their eggs. They can be controlled by spraying an insecticide. Of all the fruits I grow, peaches are the easiest for me due to the lack of insect/disease issues I have to battle in order to get nice fruit.
I am also trialing Contender peach in my hobby orchard. My little Contender tree has about 8 peaches on it (first crop) but not yet ripe. Contender is supposed to ripen about 3 weeks later than Reliance. I am looking forward to the tasting in a few weeks.
It is not too late to plant peach trees yet this year. Or plan on planting one next spring. I want you to have the joy of tasting home grown peaches too. Remember, you can’t pick peaches if you don’t plant a tree! Peach pie anyone?
Paul Schwabe is a salesman in our Contractor Sales division. He holds a degree in horticulture and will be writing about some of his favorite and underused plants.