By: Russell Stafford
Do you want to grow your own peaches, but lack a place for a full-sized peach tree? This is not a problem, thanks to a slew of recently introduced peach tree varieties that mature at a shrubby 4- to 6-feet in height. Ideal for containers, urban gardens, and patios, these dwarf peaches bring big possibilities to the small (or large) garden. They’re available from a number of specialty growers, both in their natural shrubby form and as short-trunked, grafted mini-trees.
Growing Patio Peaches
Patio peaches – like their full-sized kin – appreciate full sun; fertile, well-drained, moderately moist soil; and shelter from bud-damaging early-spring frosts. Where they literally break new ground is in their adaptability to containers, which puts them in play in gardens that were formerly too small, too cold, or otherwise ill-suited for home-grown peaches. Give your dwarf peach a large (10- to 20-gallon) container and coarse, humus-rich potting mix, such as Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Soil, and you’re good to go. When winter (or a spring cold snap) arrives, simply carry or wheel the container to a cool, frost-free location indoors. After favorable weather returns, move it back outdoors for an early spring display of showy pink flowers and a summer crop of sweet, juicy peaches.
Dwarf peaches also makes a first-rate garden plants, where winter-hardy. If you garden in sandy or clay soil, work several inches of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost into the plant’s future root zone before planting. The planting hole should be as deep and several times as wide as the root ball.
Peaches, like all fruit trees from temperate regions, need to remain dormant a certain period of time in winter produce flowers and fruit, so before choosing any peach, you must determine the number of “chilling hours” it needs. Chilling hours are essentially the number of hours between 32-45 degrees Fahrenheit in a winter season (hours exceeding 60 degrees Fahrenheit are subtracted from the chilling hour total). If the chilling hour quota for a tree is not met, it will not yield.
Patio Peach Varieties
Noted for its productivity and vigor, ‘Bonanza’ yields bumper crops of red-blushed, yellow-fleshed, freestone peaches on dense, 6-foot shrubby plants. The early-ripening fruits are ready for harvest in late spring or early summer, about 3 months after the pale pink flowers appear. This peach typically requires 400 chilling hours.
If your dwarf peach is the variety Bonfire (also known as ‘Tom Thumb’), you’re also undoubtedly growing it for its maroon leaves suffused with glowing coppery highlights. The smoldering tones of the bold, lance-shaped foliage make a striking complement to the fiery blooms of crocosmias, rudbeckias, and red salvias, as well as to rosy- and pink-flowered plants such as purple coneflowers and pink mallows. In addition to its arresting leafage, this 1993 introduction from the University of Arkansas produces tasty, apricot-sized peaches (but watch out for the large pits!). It’s also among the hardiest dwarf peach varieties, wintering in the ground into USDA Zone 5. (Specimens in containers are considerably less cold-hardy, requiring winter cover as outlined above.)
Most other dwarf peaches are grown primarily for their fruits and flowers (although their bold green leaves are also attractive). Cultivars for colder areas of the United States include ‘Empress’, whose mid-pink flowers are followed by a midsummer crop of rosy-pink, clingstone peaches with juicy yellow flesh. Maturing at 5 feet tall and wide, this 1965 introduction is slightly hardier than Bonfire (USDA Zone 5). It requires at least 850 hours per winter of sub-45-degree temperatures to trigger flower and fruit production.
Golden Glory Peach
Introduced a year before ‘Empress’, ‘Golden Glory’ bears deep yellow, pink-tinged, yellow-fleshed peaches on 5-foot plants. The freestone fruits are preceded by clusters of rich-pink flowers. Another good candidate for cold-climate gardens, it needs 750 chilling hours and is winter-hardy into USDA Zone 6.
Gardeners in mild-winter areas (Zones 7 and warmer) have numerous garden-hardy dwarf peaches to choose from. Many descend from ‘Flory’, a 5-foot-tall, heirloom variety introduced to the United States from China in 1939. One of the showiest peaches in bloom, it’s still well worth growing for its double rose-red flowers and rose-blushed, freestone peaches. The white flesh is relatively bland. Chilling requirement is 450 hours.
More Patio Peaches to Try
Among the many other dwarf peach cultivars requiring approximately 400 chilling hours are ‘Eldorado’, ‘Garden Gold’, ‘Garden Sun’, and ‘Pix Zee’. Gardeners who can offer only 250 chilling hours also have several varieties to choose from, including ‘Southern Flame’, ‘Southern Rose’, and ‘Southern Sweet’. They make good choices for areas with especially mild winters –and for containers that spend the winter in relatively mild conditions.
A couple of large pots, some good mix, and one or two patio peaches will afford even the smallest sunny garden space with fresh peaches. So, try planting a couple this season!
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