Herman Auer is a Class of 1983 Master Gardener from Santa Fe, Texas.  His gardening expertise is on the production of peach and plum trees in Galveston County.  Herman serves as a resource educator for the Galveston County Master Gardeners for information on fruit tree production.  He also teaches classes on fruit tree production at a local college.

Herman wants everyone to remember three facts about peaches:

The leaves of a peach tree are toxic.

The root system of a peach tree requires excellent soil drainage and is very sensitive to excessive soil moisture conditions.

Peaches are self-pollinating.

1. Question:  What is the most important factor in growing fruit trees?

Answer:  The one simple and most critical factor when investing in home fruit production is variety selection.  While there are several other important factors involved, without the proper variety, you may be up the proverbial creek without a paddle - or, in the case at point, without a fruit to eat.  Homeowners waste thousands of dollars each year on fruit varieties which are not adapted to their growing area.  The undesirable varieties may lack disease resistance, proper chilling requirements, etc.  In many cases, the newer varieties are simply superior in production and quality. 

2. Question:  What does the term "chill hour requirement" mean?

Answer:  In order to set fruit, most trees require exposure to a minimum number of hours of temperatures within the range of 32 to 45 F.  This temperature range is called "chill hour requirement" and the amount can vary widely for varieties within a given fruit class.  The local growing area has a range of 600 chill hours to less than 200 chill hours over a winter season.  If an advertisement claims a fruit tree is hardy to zero for a zillion hours, then don't expect a lot of fruit if you grow it locally!  Look for a variety that says it needs "low chill hours" or 400 chill hours or less.

3. Question:  What is the difference between bare-rooted and container-grown fruit trees?

Answer:  Container-grown fruit trees are grown in a pot and are well rooted.  Bare-rooted trees have been grown in the ground at a nursery and then dug, wrapped and shipped without soil on the roots.  Bare-rooted trees are less expensive than container-grown trees but they are easy to plant and grow vigorously.  Once you have selected the best possible tree, you must transfer that bare-root tree into the soil.  This one step in fruit production may result in rapid success, lingering existence or sudden death.  Since most fruit trees are sold either bare-rooted or "packaged bare-root," planting techniques will be the same for all varieties.  Plant the tree as soon as possible.  If there is any delay, store the tree in a cool, shady location.  And most important, keep the roots moist (but not soaked) during this time.  Five minutes without moisture may spell disaster.

4. Question:  I want to plant a peach tree.  What are some of the recommended varieties for our area with the correct number of chill hours?

Answer:  Early Amber requires 250 hours of chill and produces fruit about May 10.  Tex-Star is a 450-chill-hour peach and produces fruit about May 5.  Florida King is a 450-chill-hour peach and produces fruit about May 10.  Early Grande is about a 200-chill-hour peach and produces its fruit about the first of May on Galveston Island.  MidPride is about a 250-chill-hour peach, and normally its fruit is ripe on or about July 4.  Tropic Snow, a white-flesh peach, requires 200 hours of chill, and its fruit is ripe in early June.  There are other varieties, such a MayPride and Eva's Pride, that require a low number of chill hours.  I normally suggest that in northern Galveston County, peaches that require 300 hours of chill, plus or minus 100, will do quite well.  In Texas City, Bolivar peninsula and Galveston Island, stay with peaches requiring the lower number of chill hours.

5. Question:  When I buy a new peach tree, what rootstock do I want?

Answer:  The type of rootstock that a variety is grafted onto is important for several reasons.  Unfortunately, some soils in this area are infested with the dreaded root-knot nematode.  This microscopic parasite invades the root tissue of plants causing lumps and bumps to form.  The root looses its ability to absorb and transmit moisture and nutrients to the plant, eventually resulting in low performance or even death of the plant.  Look for trees grafted onto a Nemagard rootstock.  Nemagard rootstock is resistant to the root-knot nematode and has been in use since 1960.  The Okinawa hybrid rootstock also does well here.  Rootstocks are also used to help dwarf certain types of fruit trees such as plums, pears, apples and citrus as well as peaches.

6. Question:  After a very wet fall/winter season my peach trees died.  What did I do wrong?

Answer The roots of a peach tree do not tolerate excessive soil moisture; in fact, of all fruit trees grown in Galveston County, peaches and nectarines are the most sensitive to excessive soil moisture.  A good place to plant peach trees is on a levy or in a raised bed that is 8' x 8' square and a minimum of 12" high.  Planting peaches above ground level will normally provide adequate drainage for the roots, and you will be successful growing the tree.

7. Question:  How long will it take for my peach tree to bear?

Answer:  After about three years, a peach tree in Galveston County should be an established tree producing about 100 pounds of peaches per year, as long as it is one of the correct varieties for our area.

8. Question:  I did everything right for my peaches last year but I had lots and lots of very small peaches.  What can I do to produce larger peaches?

Answer To insure full size fruit that is more than just pit and skin, thinning at the early stages of production is recommended during years of heavy production.  I know, it hurts to throw away that baby peach, but it can save the tree from splitting limbs that are weighed down with too much fruit and producing a bumper crop of runt size fruit.  Your tree can produce 100 pounds of small peaches or 100 pounds of large peaches - the decision is yours.  Thinning the fruit in a year of heavy fruit set is necessary to insure large sized fruit.  Thin the fruit when it is about the size of a dime or smaller.  The peaches need to be spaced about 8" apart on each limb.  You will actually produce as much fruit in terms of total number of pounds whether growing runts or full size fruit.

9. Question:  My peaches had worms in them last year.  How can I get rid of them?

Answer: These worms are a stage in the life-cycle of a beetle called the plum curculio.  When the fruit is young, the plum curculio lays its eggs on the surface of the skin, cutting the skin and folding it over the egg.  When the egg hatches, the worm then crawls to the center of the peach.  You may notice a small crescent-shaped scar on the surface of the fruit shortly after the egg has been laid.  After the eggs have hatched, it is too late to spray; spray with Sevin or Malathion before the eggs are laid, when the flower petals begin to fall (about 5 days after bloom).

10. Question:  My peaches have small black specks or freckles on the skin of the fruit.  What causes them?

Answer: Probably your trees have peach scab. Peach scab is caused by a fungus. A good spraying program that includes a fungicide will prevent peach scab.

11. Question: My peaches are rotting on the tree. They either have brown rotten spots while still on the tree or they begin to rot immediately after picking.

Answer:  This condition is known as brown rot. Including a fungicide in your spraying program can control brown rot.  Pick up a spraying program information sheet from the Galveston County Agricultural Extension Office.  Read it and follow it.  It is a very good guideline for controlling insects and fungus on peaches and plums in Galveston County.

12. Question:  I have grass and weeds under my peach or plum trees.  Can I spray the weeds with Roundup?

Answer:  Roundup can be used under peach or plum trees; however, do not permit the liquid to touch any of the green bark.  Roundup can be applied to weeds and grass under the trees from bloom time until 90 days post-bloom.  Monsanto cautions not to use Roundup under peach trees beyond the 90 day window after the tree has bloomed because fruit trees are very sensitive to Roundup.

13. Question:  Can I plant a peach tree from a seed?  Will it produce good fruit?

Answer:  Researchers at Louisiana State University planted 15,000 peach seeds.  When they evaluated the trees that were produced, only 10 trees out of 15,000 planted seeds produced quality fruit.  If you do plant a seed from a tree grown locally, it is recommended that you graft the seedling onto a known variety so that you can expect a good yield and high-quality fruit.

14. Question:  What is the difference between "clingstone" and "freestone" peaches?

Answer:  In a clingstone peach, the flesh clings to the stone and will not release very easy.  The freestone peach will separate very easily from the stone when the peach is cut and twisted.  One note of importance - a clingstone peach contains more pectin in the fruit than a freestone; therefore, clingstone peaches are the best type to use when making jelly.

15. Question:  A friend gave me a peach tree that I planted.  When am I going to get peaches from the tree?

Answer:  If the variety does not have the correct number of chill hours for our area it will probably never produce fruit.  But it will be perhaps three to five years before you realize the tree is not the proper variety for our area.

16. Question 14:  I want to plant two peach trees.  How far apart do I plant them?

Answer:  About 14' apart is adequate.

17. Question:  Last year most of my peaches had one hole in them made by a bird.  How can I prevent birds from attacking my fruit?

Answer:  One effective method, and my favorite, is to purchase netting from a nursery or hardware store and construct a net that will completely cover the peach tree from top to bottom.  This will also be effective in keeping out squirrels and raccoons.

18. Question:  I have just picked the peaches off my tree.  When should I prune my peach tree?

Answer:  Prune the tree immediately after harvesting all of the peaches.  Remove all of the old, dark wood from the scaffold limbs.  Leave all of the bright green wood (this year's growth).  The green wood is new wood on which next years flowers will be produced.  By opening the tree up and allowing sunlight to strike the bark of the tree, the new wood will produce fruit next spring.

19. Question:  What can I do to eliminate the ragged, rough and deformed shape of some of my peaches?

Answer:  Your peaches probably have cat facing.  Cat facing is caused very early in the life of the peach, perhaps immediately after it bloomed.  It could have been bitten or stung by several different types of insects, and as the peach grows and develops, it becomes disfigured and ugly.  Normally, not much of the peach is worth keeping.  Insect control with a proper spraying program will help prevent this problem.

20. Question:  I planted a peach tree early this spring, and I have a lot of shoots coming out of the ground.  What should I do with these shoots?

Answer:  About 6" from the soil line, there will be a mark that will indicate where your tree was grafted onto its rootstock.  You do not want any growth below the graft line.  If the limbs below the graft grow and that growth dominates the tree, it is possible that the grafted portion of the tree will die and your tree would then begin to produce inedible fruit.  Remove the suckers at the bottom of the tree.

21. Question:  My plum trees bloomed very well. I had a lot of bees, but I had almost no fruit on the true.  What happened?

Answer:  Some plum trees require a pollinator.  There are three types of plums: European, Asian, and American.  An Asian plum that requires a pollinator, for example, will need another Asian plum as a pollinator and may require a pollinator of a specific variety.  If you already know the name of your tree, it is easy to find which pollinator it requires.  If you do not know the name, see if you can find a tree similar to yours in your neighborhood while it is in bloom.  Cut several blooming limbs from the found tree, put them in a jar of water, and hang the jar from your tree.  Those blooms will continue to open, and the bees will use them as a pollinator.  If a lot of fruit sets that year, you know you have found the right pollinator for your tree.  Later you can graft a limb from the neighboring tree onto your tree.  A graft will insure that you always have a pollinator for your tree so that fruit will set in the future (provided you have bees).

22. Question:  What other types of fruit trees can be grown in Galveston County?

Answer:  There are many varieties of apples, peaches, plums, pears, figs, persimmons, oranges, lemons, nectarines, apricots, and tangerines which can be successfully grown in this area.  Even odd-sounding fruit trees such as paw paws will grow here along with guava, mayhaw, kumquat, pomegranate and jujube.  Now, that is an impressive list!  If flavor, juiciness and freshness are important, then grow your own.  It's not an impossible dream.

This web site is maintained by Master Gardener Laura Bellmore, under the direction of William M. Johnson, Ph.D., County Extension Agent-Horticulture & Master Gardener Program Coordinator.

All digital photographs are the property of  the Galveston County Master Gardener Association, Inc. (GCMGA) 2002-2006 GCMGA - All Rights Reserved.