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There are about 200 varieties of peach trees readily available in the marketplace. Check with your local nursery to find out which varieties are best suited to your particular area. Consider planting peach trees with different harvest times to extend the season. Popular varieties include Jefferson, Red Globe and Belle of Georgia.
Peaches do best with at least six to eight hours of full sun a day. They also require well-drained sandy soil, so work a thick layer of organic soil conditioner into the top 18" of the planting site.
Many peaches are sold as bare-root trees. Shake off any material clinging to the roots and soak the roots in a bucket of water for an hour or two before planting (Image 1). Dig a hole the same depth as the roots and at least as wide as the roots when fanned out. Place the tree in the hole and fan out the roots (Image 2). Position the point of the trunk where the roots begin to spread out just above the soil line. Backfill with soil until the hole is three-quarters full. Water well to settle the soil (Image 3). Finish filling the hole and water again. Add mulch around the trees.
After planting a typical two-year-old peach tree, it is necessary to make a very hard cut on the tree. Cut the tree to about hip height. This may seem drastic, but this sets the location where the main branches will develop. At this time, also remove any side shoots along the trunk to force buds below the cut to produce branches.
Peach trees require approximately 2"of water per week during the early growing season, more leading up to harvest. Amounts and timing of fertilizer vary per soil and site, but a typical schedule is two or three times a year. Apply 10-10-10 fertilizer around the base of the tree, right below the outermost branches. Prune any suckers that sprout from the base of the tree and any watersprouts that shoot up from branches.
For the first two years, all immature fruit should be thinned from the tree. This allows the tree to focus its energy on producing healthy leaves, branches and roots. Starting in year three and thereafter, immature fruits should be thinned so that no two peaches are closer than 6" to 8" apart. This creates plump, full-size fruit.
Most peaches ripen in midsummer. It's best to harvest peaches in the early morning or in the late afternoon when temperatures are cooler. To determine whether peaches are ripe, focus on the background color rather than the red. When the background color turns from green to yellow, the peach is ripe. Ripe fruit also yields to gentle pressure.