Questions on: Peach

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service

Q: Why do my peach trees have blossoms, but don't produce fruit? Is it a pollination thing? (e-mail reference)

A: It could be the lack of bee activity, windy weather when the pollen is ripe, rain or cold weather. Take your pick!

Q: I have two peach trees here in Virginia. The past two seasons I've lost all of my fruit due to insects and borers in the tree and fruit. I've sprayed the trees with products provided by my local feed store. I've sprayed so much that last year the leaves turned brown and I almost lost the trees. This year the trees are loaded with peaches, so I don't want to loose this year's crop! I dug around both trees and found at least 20 black grubs near each tree. I also put down pine bark nuggets, which I was told would add acidity. I do not see signs of borers in the trees, but something is in the fruit. What do I need to do to eliminate both problems? (Southeastern, Virginia)

A: I strongly suggest that you make contact with the land-grant university in your state and seek out the horticulturist who specializes in fruit tree care or culture. If one is not available, the folks in the entomology department can get this problem resolved. You don't want to surrender those delicious peaches to those ravenous insects!

Q: I wrote you last year about my peach trees south of Jamestown. They made it through the winter. I was scared they wouldn't because of a week with minus 30-degree temperatures. The deer and rabbits left them alone and they have the same branches they had last fall! I have more questions now that they made it through the winter. The trees are starting to bud, but it is only March! I know this is why we don't get a lot of peaches because of the early budding. Do you know if there is anything I should be spraying on the trees this spring or do I leave them alone? Also, I have been reading a lot about pruning the trees, but I don't know when I should. Do you prune them now that they are budding? Is it too cold for it? Do you wait until they have flowered? How many branches should I leave? I really appreciated the help last year. I did buy some deer repellant and kept the bark covered during the winter. I don't know if the repellant worked, but the deer left them alone. I promise if I grow a peach, I will send you one. (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: Nice going. I hope the trees make it so I can say that I've eaten a North Dakota peach! At this point, leave them alone. Once they start budding, they shouldn't be pruned. If a cold snap is forecast, try covering them with a sheet or turn a sprinkler on them. Since the trees are so young, allow the branches that are there to remain to help build a strong tree stock. In another year or so, prune them as you would any fruit tree to give them maximum light, air movement penetration and ease of harvest.

Q: I am hoping you will have some good news for me about two peach trees I planted. I purchased the trees from Gurney's and they are in excellent shape. I have seen deer and rabbits around, but they have not touched the trees. Just in case, is there anything I can do to keep them away from the trees? How do I insulate the trees for the winter? When I purchased the trees, I was told the trees would survive in our zone. I should have done some more investigating to see how they survive in North Dakota. The trees are located south of Jamestown and protected by a shelterbelt. (e-mail reference)

A: Good luck on keeping the deer and rabbits from enjoying these trees as a winter meal. I tried growing some peach trees at the Carrington Research Extension Center, but they were wiped out by these sweethearts of nature. You have a borderline hardy plant for your area, but where you located the trees may help them survive. Allow the trees to harden off this fall. Don't try to continue to grow them in a luxuriant manner. Give the trees just enough moisture to keep them from drying out. Purchase a repellent, such as Plantskydd, Liquid Fence or Hinder, to spray on the trees as the winter months come on. Repeat the application at least once during the winter months. Wrap the trunks in Kraft Tree Wrap after the trees drop their leaves. This will protect them from frost cracks and sun scald, as well as nibbling by bunnies and voles. In addition to the repellent, get some highly odoriferous soap (motel size) to hang from the branches of the trees to also help (hopefully) keep the deer from sampling. Good luck and I hope the trees bear peaches for you someday in the not too distant future.

Q: I ate a peach yesterday and the pit was partially opened. For the first time I noticed there were seeds inside and so I bit one to see what it tasted like. It tasted very almondy to me and have a nice soft nut like texture. Are these seeds edible and if so, why can't I find any commercial reference to them? (E-mail reference)

A: Not a good idea! You are fortunate to be alive. All parts of the peach, plum, and cherry are poisonous, with the stone kernels containing the highest concentration of cyanide, at 164 mg/100 grams. While no human deaths have been reported, hogs and cattle have succumbed to eating fallen peaches pit and all. Now you know why they are not for sale on the market.

Q: The other day I bought some peaches and I was wondering, if a person plants the peach pit, will it grow into a tree? (Enderlin, N.D.)

A: It has the potential to become a tree. Whether or not it does is anybodyís guess. Most likely no, but even if it did, peaches donít survive North Dakota winters.

Q: We have a peach tree seedling that is about 24inches tall. Can we prune it to make a dwarf tree? We thought we'd try making a container plant with it. (Gwinner, N.D.)

A: Good luck! You can prune it to make it more shrub-like, and keeping it in a container will allow you to move it in during the winter where it can go through a cold period but not freeze to death. Be aware that I have found the bunny and deer populations have a nose for peach trees in our area. I have been frustrated twice attempting to grow peaches in North Dakota, only to have them completely wiped out by these cute but destructive creatures.

Q: Just letting you know that I have a Reliance peach tree and an Orange quince tree that, with a lot of TLC, both survived the past winter. Early in the spring of 2000 I made two 6-foot-deep conical dugouts in a sandy hillside and lined them with rocks averaging about the size of a softball. The trees were planted in these dugouts, and last fall I covered the tops of the dugouts. Each dugout has about a 2-foot-diameter base and about a 5-foot-diameter top. This spring when I uncovered the dugout with the peach tree I was surprised to find a green leaf at the top of the tree. Within a few weeks after uncovering both trees were fully leafed out. This summer I hope to make a long, narrow, deep trench in which I'd like to eventually plant cold-sensitive plants such as jostaberry, blackberry, Suffolk Red grape, Mericrest nectarine, cold-hardy almond and several more. ( Warroad, Minn.)

A: My only comment is, "There are no more determined people on this earth than devoted gardeners!" For all the work you went to, you deserve some kind of medal, or at least to be able to harvest the fruits of your labors. Better guard that tree. Someone (like a fresh-peach starved neighbor!) might just pull a midnight raid.

Q: I have been wondering whether you planted sweet potatoes and if so what were your results. After your columns about sweet potatoes many people here tried them and reported that they had good results but that the potatoes got so large. I planted 14 plants and got 57 pounds. I know Gurney's Seed & Nursery is pleased with you as they sold a lot of plants to this area.

I also read that your radishes do not produce seed. I had some blooming at the time so I left them in the garden to see what they would do. They produced seed and for the past three weeks we have been harvesting the most wonderful radishes that have grown from the seeds. They are much better than spring radishes as the cool weather agrees with them.

As you can see, I like a gardening challenge. I am trying northern hardy peach trees at the present time. I will protect them like I do my roses. I hope to let you know in a couple of years that I have wonderful peaches. (e-mail)

A: Well, I'm glad to hear that everyone's sweet potatoes did so well. Mine produced lots of vine and enough sweet potato meat for one meal -- that's it! Of course they were under water for days a couple of times. This doesn't help crop production much!

Good luck with your peach experiment. I tried and failed -- the deer ate the whole two trees!

Q: Can you tell me if there are any peach tree varieties that will grow in this area? (e-mail)

A: Peach trees are not a reality in North Dakota. It is simply too cold for successful growth and fruit development.

That said, I have heard of some real peach lovers growing some as shrubs in movable tubs. They apparently allow them to "experience" the onset of our winter, then move them into an unheated garage and protect them with burlap wrapping around the containerized roots and branches or stems. They claim success.

I thought I would try a variation of that several years ago by growing them in the soil and pruning them back to become shrubs. The plants didn't even make it through the first winter--between the deer and rabbits--two factors I had not counted on, since there were so many other things for them to graze upon. Apparently they recognized the good taste of these peach branches immediately and wolfed them down! After that, I just gave up!

Don't worry, if there is ever a winter-hardy peach that will survive in North Dakota, I will let everyone in the state know about it!

Q: We have two Wisconsin balmer peach trees that are about 2 years old. Some of the leaves have brown spots on them and are drying up. What causes this? Is there something we can do about it so the trees won't die? (Aberdeen, S.D.)

A: I can give you some general possibilities: bacterial leaf spots, leaf blight, rust or leaf spotting caused by a pathogen such as Septoria flagellifera. I suggest you send a sample in to your local extension agent and have him or her give you advice on respective pesticides.

Q: Last year I planted some peach seeds and some cherry seeds. When my husband worked up the garden this year, the peach seedlings and some other seedlings emerged. Can you confirm that one of these is a peach leaf and that one of the others is a cherry leaf, and what we can expect from these two trees? (Montpelier, N.D.)

A: You indeed have peach trees growing—nice going! Now, the trick is two fold: 1. Keep the deer from finding them, and 2. keep them from freezing out! The other leaves were not from a cherry but from an ash. 

To try to get the peach to survive, I suggest growing it as a shrub so you can cover it going into the winter (like roses!). Good luck and keep me posted!

Q: Can a North Dakotan "plant" a peach pit indoors and expect to get an indoor plant of some kind? If the answer is yes, how do you "plant" it? Do you put the pit in soil, or do you break open the pit to retrieve the "seed"? (E-mail reference, Grand Forks, N.D.)

A: It would take forever for a plant to emerge from a peach pit, so I recommend removing the seed from the pit first. Now, it isn't as easy as that -- nothing is! Prunus persica, or the common peach, has a complicated dormancy that is tricky to overcome. Even if successful, I doubt it would make a decent indoor tree, as it is a temperate zone plant needing so many hours of chilling to be grown in a satisfactory manner. If you are looking for something to start easily from seed, try grapefruit, orange, or avocado. All will give much better results in a shorter period of time, with longer lasting enjoyment.

Q: Are there any peach varieties hardy to mid zone 4 or zone 3? If so, which nurseries carry them? (E-mail reference)

A: Your selection is going to be limited, but you might try Reliance or Wisconsin Balmer, both hardy in zone 4. I can't find anything for zone 3 or I'd be growing it myself! You can find these in the Henry Fields catalog. Phone 800-235-0845, or go online at

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