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Just Peachy! How to Grow Peaches and Nectarines in a Pot

by Fern on January 17, 2011

in Fruits & Vegetables,How To,Popular

Post image for Just Peachy! How to Grow Peaches and Nectarines in a Pot

I have had a peach tree growing in a pot for two and half years. It is one of my absolute favorite edible plants to grow, because the results are so juicy, and tasty! Peaches that are sold at supermarkets don’t even begin to compare to the taste of homegrown, tree-ripened fruit. I guarantee you will enjoy growing and eating peaches (or nectarines, which are essentially fuzz-free peaches) as much as I do. Here’s a nudge a right direction…

When and Where

If you order a bare root tree (a tree that is sold without soil around it’s roots) from a catalog or from a website, the grower will ship your tree at the right time to plant it in your area. If you want to purchase a bare root tree from a local nursery, start looking for them at the end of winter or early spring. A tree that is already growing in a nursery pot can be purchased and planted at any time, except for the height of summer.

As far as the “where” goes, you need a spot with full-sun, and preferably protection from harsh, cold winds. Just a reminder, full-sun means 6 or more hours of sunlight shining directly on the tree, without any obstructions interfering with the light (like tree branches).

Peach blossoms are pretty enough to grow the tree just for the blooms. Photo by ~Dezz~

Choosing the Right Tree

The first thing to know about peaches and nectarines is that, unlike apples, there is no dwarf rootstock to keep your tree small. However, trees that naturally maintain their dwarf stature have been developed. They’re called “natural dwarfs” and produce full size fruit on trees that max out in height at 6 feet. In a container, they are likely to stay even shorter.

Genetic dwarf peaches and nectarines

  • El Dorado (peach) – Nice yellow flesh, rich flavor, produces fruit early in the season.
  • Honey Babe (peach) – Has really great flavor. Needs a cross-pollinator that is also a genetic dwarf.
  • Nectar Babe (nectarine) – Has awesome dark red skin, yellow flesh, and good flavor. (good pollinator for Honey Babe)
  • Necta Zee (nectarine) – Medium sized fruit have flavorful, yellow flash.

Another concern when picking out a tree is winter chill; getting enough, but not too much. Peaches need about 500 chill hours, that is 500 hours of temperatures below 45F but above 32F. Those of us living in the southern part of the U.S. will have to purchase a “low chill” variety, because we don’t consistently get 500 chill hours. If you live in an area with sustained temperatures below 20F, you can grow any variety of peach or nectarine, but you’ll need to protect your tree. Though you might want to check out a variety called ‘Gleason’s Early Elberta’ (sometimes also called ‘Lemon Elberta’

Low chill peaches and nectarines:

  • Babcock (peach) – This is the variety I grow. The flesh is white, with red streaks near the pit. It’s pretty sweet, with an tangy bite.
  • Pix Zee (peach) – Large fruits with yellow flesh, and a wonderful fragrance.
  • Bonanza II (peach) – Produces large fruit with yellow-orange flesh.
  • Southern Belle (nectarine) – Large fruits have good flavor and are produced early.

Watering

Watering is super important when it comes to fruit trees, and peaches are no different. Get started on the right foot by deeply watering your tree right after you plant it. This means watering until you see water streaming out the bottom of the pot. If you purchased a bare root tree, you don’t need to water again for another couple of weeks. Watering before then could cause the barely active roots to rot. If you have an unexpected heat wave, and the soil dries out completely, then you can water before that, but that’s the only exception.

For peaches that were purchased in a nursery pot, and established bare root trees, you should water deeply whenever the soil dries out. That’s probably every 5-7 days in spring, but could be every other day in summer.

Starting in late August or early September start cutting back the water so that you provide just enough to keep the soil lightly moist. You’re doing this to slow down the tree’s growth and prepare it for winter.

Fertilizing

Choose a fertilizer that is meant for flower and fruit production. This means that the fertilizer you select should be high in phosphorus (the second number in the N-P-K numbers on the front of the fertilizer package). My preferred method is to use an organic, liquid fertilizer. I use it at half strength once a week during the growing season (and start tapering it off at the same time I taper off the water).

Pruning

Pruning is an extensive topic, and I wouldn’t even begin to pretend that I could cover enough to get you started in a paragraph or two here. Instead, I’ll point you to this excellent article on pruning/training a peach tree into what is commonly called the “vase shape.”

A Quick Word on Pests & Diseases

Other than caterpillars nibbling on my peaches, they have been largely pest free. Peaches and nectarines are not often harassed by pests. They are, however, plagued by two diseases: bacterial canker and peach-leaf curl.

You’ll know your tree has bacterial canker when you see a blob of amber colored sap on the trunk, branches, or twigs. If you were to scrape away the nearby bark, you will probably find dead or diseased wood (brown instead of white or green) in the interior. Bacterial canker is usually only a problem in areas that get lots of winter rain. The best way to prevent bacterial canker is to spray your tree with copper fungicide three times during the season: in fall before the rain begins, mid-winter during a break in the rain, and early spring, once the rain has stopped. As always, be sure to follow the label instructions carefully.

Copper fungicide will also help prevent peach-leaf curl. You’ll know you have peach-leaf curl if you see red splotches on leaves that are abnormally curled or deformed. Moving your tree out of the rain is a good way to help prevent both diseases.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Totally Inept Balcony Gardener January 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Hi Fern. What a great collection of advice on these tasty trees. I have a nectarine in a pot, first year there were a couple of fruit, second year nothing. The reason? Curly leaf! It is endemic to Melbourne, and while you can spray for it, if the timing is off, it gets the plant. While it doesn’t matter as much for full size trees, for little ones like my nectarzee it decimates it during the early fruiting and leaf growing stages. While big trees can live with it, from my experience the little ones struggle immensely.

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Jenna October 14, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Melbourne, as in Melbourne Fl?

Laura Hodge January 17, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Good information and I think I am going to give it a try. However, you did not tell us what size pot we should be looking for. How much room does a natural dwarf need? Will extreme heat be a problem? I live in Tucson and am considering my back balcony, which is in full sun from noon to sunset and it gets pretty hot back there. If I keep it wet will it withstand the heat of the southwest sun?

Thanks!

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Fern January 17, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Oops, I don’t know how I left that info out, Laura. I will update the post as soon as I get home. I grow my peach in a container that is about 24 inches tall, and 16 inches wide. I would shoot for a container that is about half wine barrel size. I’ll consult my books when I get home about your extreme heat question.

Prue–I struggled with peach leaf curl too one year. I totally defoliated my tree and sprayed with the copper fungicide and that solved my problem. One thing that I read is to always remove dead leaves that have fallen off the tree, I do that, and so far the leaf curl hasn’t come back. (fingers crossed)

Annie Haven/Authentic Haven Brand January 18, 2011 at 6:34 am

Wonderful information on growing fruit trees in containers. Small space dwellers can grow fresh and that’s important for them to know.

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Urban Gardens January 19, 2011 at 10:47 am

Fern, this is great. I am so inspired to plant some of these this spring! I am seeing a small orchard now…

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Fern @ Life on the Balcony January 19, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Go for it Robin!

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Lynn Coulter May 2, 2011 at 6:31 am

Hi, Fern. Love your blog. I have a dwarf Meyer lemon tree that I’ve kept going for years (I live in the South but have to bring it in the garage for the winter). How big does your container-grown peach tree get? And about how many peaches can you reasonably expect? Would love to try this but my hubs has this silly idea that the garage should be for cars and not all my plants ;-)
Lynn

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Fern May 3, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Hi Lynn! I have a peach tree that is about 4 feet tall and I get about 8-12 peaches from it a year. I also just got a ‘Nectazee’ nectarine that is only about 24 inches tall and is supposed to stay pretty short. It dropped all of its flowers when I transplanted it, so next year will be my first chance to gauge its harvest.

Robin June 6, 2011 at 8:49 am

This has been VERY informative…I got my very first “Dwarf Bonanza Patio Peach” from Whole Food this year. I have had it on my patio for about 2 months now. It has LOTS of little green peaches on it (as it did when I purchased it) but keeps dropping them. I am an absolute novice. Is this normal? Will there BE any come to ripen? Also, I live in Atlanta, GA…should I bring it inside the apartment during the winter or leave it on the enclosed patio? Does it lose all its leaves and look bare in the winter or does it keep its leaves year round? [I told you I was a newby! :>D] Thank you for your help!

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Fern June 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Robin–

I would remove any peaches and flowers this year while it is still a baby tree and getting established in your garden. Trying to produce fruit will take too much energy away from establishing roots and branches.

Peaches are deciduous, so it will drop all of its leaves. The general rule for container gardening is that plants are 1-2 zones less hardy in a container than they would be growing in the ground. I think Atlanta is zone 8, and your peach is hardy to zone 6 when grown in the ground. Which means that it is barely ok to be left outside. If you expect unusually cold weather, I would bring it indoors.

Robin June 7, 2011 at 7:02 am

Thank you so much! I will do as you say….(sigh) and learn the first rule of gardening…PATIENCE…right NOW! How big of a pot should it be planted in…it is about 4 feet tall and is in a nursery pot about 10″ high and 12″ across. Is it ok to leave it in that or should it go in a bigger pot? If so, how big?

Cathy June 18, 2011 at 5:40 am

Thanks for the information. You’ve given me an idea. I’ve had no luck with peaches on our property. Our problem here in Virginia is peach borers. Growing them in containers would make it a lot easier to do controls. I’ll have to give it a try. I’m currently “playing” with 3 dwarf oranges and a banana. They need cover in the winter here, but do fine in my garage wrapped in burlap. I’ve had the banana about 3 years and it’s doing well. Thanks again.

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Lisa June 24, 2011 at 6:33 am

I have had a peach tree in a pot for about 4 years now, and the peaches always fall off before they get anywhere close to maturity. This year I have about 10 peaches still on the tree, I am hopeful they will stay on and mature. If not, I am planting this tree in the ground to see what happens. I love your blog even though I don’t live in an apartment, I like to grow things in containers because my dogs think anything in the ground is theirs to destroy somehow. They like to “water” things for me I think

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Duane Linstrom June 30, 2011 at 3:17 pm

I’ve lived on a 2.5 acre lot with heavy clay soil in central California for 37 years. I’ve planted and had more peach trees die than I have harvested peaches. Typically a tree survives two years and dies. This past January I dug a hole 30″ x 30″ inches, filled it with tree planting mix, put a 2″ pvc pipe down to the bottom of the hole to use to water the tree from the bottom up and planted a bare root Babcock peach tree. So far the tree survives nicely, but some leaves have small insect holes in them and many leaves have a lot of red in them. What do the red leaves mean?

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Shirley Muswema July 19, 2011 at 8:41 am

Peaches? In containers? OMG, I need to try this!!

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Andrew September 16, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I’m curious about the circumference of the tree. My balcony is wide but not deep, and I worry it would take up the whole space!

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Fern September 16, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I’d say that at the widest point, the tree sticks out a few (3-5) inches past the edge of the 18 inch diameter pot that I have it growing in.

Mary C. January 17, 2012 at 9:45 am

Thanks for the variety suggestions! And watering/fertilizing info! Now if only they had a low-chill genetic dwarf :)

*sigh* perhaps next year…

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Fern January 18, 2012 at 11:18 am

Hey Mary! There is a low-chill genetic dwarf nectarine called ‘Nectazee.’ I purchased one at Armstrong Garden Centers last year.

sinna February 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I received some fruit trees that were not marked all I know is they are fruit trees. I have them growing and with leaves in my kitchen window in the bag they came in I just keep adding water. when may I plant them I have 1 starting to wilt. I live in zone 6. thanks Sinna

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Fern March 2, 2012 at 12:53 am

Sinna–It’s kind of hard to comment with so little information, but I would say that it is probably okay to plant them outside when all danger of frost has passed.

Janet March 23, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Dear Fern

We have a Washington Navel orange tree in a pot, it’s been there for a few years now. The first year we had one orange the next year ten oranges but since then every season it is covered in flowers and then tiny oranges but they all fall off, can you please tell me how often to feed the tree and how to water, I don’t know if this is the problem, I live in WA

Thank you
Janet

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Fern March 26, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Janet–Oranges need a ton of fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. In containers, they need about .5 to .75 pounds of nitrogen a year (given in monthly installments from mid-winter to mid-fall). To figure out how many pounds of nitrogen are in the bag, multiply the percentage of nitrogen by the weight of the bag. So if you bought fertilizer in a 10 pound bag that has an NPK of 5-5-5 that’s 10lb x 5% = .5lb of nitrogen. That 10 lb bag has about the right amount of fertilizer for your tree, so you would give about 1/8 of the bag each month.

Tim May 29, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Hi,
Last year I took a seed from my store bought peach and planted it in a plastic jar and never really paid any attention to it until this spring. I was amazed to see it had grown to about 3 inches tall and now has little tiny(egg shaped) leaves on it. I would very much like to get this guy growing in the ground or a larger pot and maybe someday enjoy a nice juicey peach from it. H E L P, what can or should I do?
Tim

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Tim Fuller May 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm

P.S.
I live in a Mobile Home Park so I could not plant the tree in the ground but would plant it in a larger pot if need be.

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jane September 9, 2012 at 9:07 pm

uh oh – i just bought 3 peach trees and would rather grow them in pots – but they are not dwarf varieties I don’t think – they are 2 Alberta and 1 JC Hale – do you think it is possible to have a go growing these in pots?
cheers Jane Adelaide South Australia

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Jenn G April 23, 2013 at 6:54 pm

What about those of us living in southern Ontario (Canada)?? Not sure what zone I’m in, but would love to try to grow peaches in a pot! Do I need to bring the pot in during our harsh snowy winters?

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Ana Maria April 26, 2013 at 8:12 am

Hi Fern,

Great post! I just moved to Florida and have a balcony that faces West–so it gets scorchingly hot in the afternoon/early evening. Could I grow a peach tree there?
Thanks!
ANa

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wendy miles October 15, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I have a Bonanza patio peach. I live in Northeast Ohio and want to know if I plan to keep it in a pot do I have to bring it in for the winter.

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Cassandra November 12, 2013 at 5:59 am

Hello! There’s some really great info on this site! :-) I’m a beginning gardener, and we are trying to grow a rose princess nectarine, a dwarf rose princess, and a black cherry tree here in TN on our balcony. We have planted the full size trees in 21 gallon plastic tubs and the dwarf in an 18 gallon one. Currently, they are rapidly losing leaves and are nearly bare, which I think/hope is normal in November. I really want to make sure that they will be ok out on the balcony in the winter, and need to know if I can do something to protect them outside or whether they need to be brought inside. We are renting here, so I cannot plant them in the yard and expect to keep them. I am worried that the roots might freeze since they are in tubs and not in the ground. Please advise me on how best to care for my new babies. Thank you!

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