Peach Tree Growth Stages

In many places, apples are the dominant crop of cool-climate orchards and citrus of warm-climate ones. But a peach tree might be the perfect addition to your backyard food garden if you live somewhere in the middle.

The peach (Prunus persica) is a juicy stone fruit closely related to apricots, cherries, and other members of the Prunus genus. It originated in Asia but has been grown in the UK, US, and other parts of the world since at least the 17th century.

In this article, I’ll walk you through several peach tree growth stages and point out some key differences and similarities between growing this fruit and others.

Conditions for Growing Peaches

Like most fruit trees, peaches are hardy in USDA Zone 6, but can tolerate conditions in zone 5 through to 8. However, several cultivars are developed for better cold and heat tolerance, so you’re not entirely out of luck if you live on the edge of this range!

The best way to select a peach tree for your climate is to look at the required chill hours. According to Utah State University, peach trees must experience temperatures between 32 and 45°F for a certain length — chill hours — to induce flowering and fruit production the following year. 

The average required chill hours for a peach tree is 600. However, some particularly heat-tolerant varieties like ‘Desert Gold’ need as few as 250 chill hours to flower.

Peach trees grow up to 25 feet tall and wide on average. When selecting a site to plant a peach tree, it’s essential to think many years in the future to ensure the tree has ample space to spread out. Dwarf varieties, like ‘Redhaven’, are ideal for smaller areas and even containers.

Like most fruit trees, peaches prefer full sun. A lack of sunlight reduces fruit production and makes the tree more susceptible to disease (especially those of the fungal persuasion). High humidity can also contribute to such issues.

Peach Tree Growth Rate

A healthy peach tree grows 18 to 24 inches per year on average. Though new growth is most apparent when the tree is young, rest assured that it will actively grow practically until the day it dies. 

Of course, the growth rate may still ebb and flow throughout the tree’s lifespan. Environmental factors like soil nutrition, annual rainfall, and pests or diseases can all affect the total growth in a given year.

Growth Stages of Peach Trees

A peach tree won’t produce fruit for the first time until it is at least two years old. The average lifespan of a peach tree is about 12 years old, though some can live for 20 years or more in extreme cases!

In addition to the changes a peach tree undergoes yearly, paying attention to the tree’s annual life cycle is essential. Peaches are deciduous trees, which means they lose their foliage each winter and regrow new leaves the following spring. 

Fruit is also produced on an annual schedule. Most varieties begin blooming in April, and the fruit takes 90 to 150 days to ripen after the flowers are pollinated.

1. Seed Germination

Each peach fruit contains a single seed. Many people think that the pit of a peach is the seed, but this isn’t 100% true.

A peach pit is a protective covering called an endocarp. The actual seed is contained within. According to the Philadelphia Orchard Project, you can crack the endocarp before planting a peach seed to improve germination.

Seed Germination

Peach seeds won’t germinate unless exposed to cold temperatures, also known as stratification. Stratification is necessary to break the seed’s dormancy (that keeps the source from sprouting during the wrong time of year). 

A period of cold stratification is needed to germinate many fruit seeds. Peaches stand out because they need a particularly long stratification period. Peach seeds are some of the most stubborn in the fruit world!

It can take up to 120 days of temperatures between 35 and 50°F for peach seeds to ‘wake up’ from dormancy. Your refrigerator is a great place to store peach pits during this process.

Even with all of the preparation above, peach seeds take a while to germinate and don’t have the highest success rate. Viable seeds may germinate within 28 to 42 days, but waiting 90 days or longer isn’t unheard of.

2. Seedling

If germination succeeds, the peach seed will grow into a seedling. Peach tree seedlings produce a primary root, called a radicle, and then their first two leaves, called cotyledons.

Cotyledons are primitive leaves that develop inside the seed embryo during germination. They’re also the seedling’s first leaves when it sprouts out of the soil. 

Cotyledons are unique because they are a different shape than a plant’s adult leaves. The job of the cotyledons is to provide energy to the seedling before it can start photosynthesizing (some cotyledons perform photosynthesis as well but in a minimal capacity).

The peach tree should get its first true leaves within 7 to 14 days of sprouting. Once these leaves are fully developed, the cotyledons will likely die off as they are no longer needed.

3. Sapling

Though the young peach tree is increasing, it will be several years before it reaches maturity. The period between the seedling and mature growth stages is commonly known as the sapling phase.

Tree saplings are usually defined as having trunks less than 4 inches in diameter at chest height. Even though the peach tree still has a lot of growing, it should have recognizable bark, leaves, and several main branches.

4. Flowering

Your new peach tree will likely start flowering 3 to 5 years after planting from seed. Note that trees transplanted as nursery starts have a natural head start on the growth process and may bloom much earlier.

Flowering begins shortly after the tree leaves out for the spring (remember that peaches are deciduous trees that go dormant during the wintertime). Watch for swollen buds along the branches in early spring — this is the first hint that flowers will appear. Once open, the flowers last for about 15 to 30 days.

Flowering

If you look closely at a peach tree’s flowers, you might notice they resemble those of an apple or cherry tree. All three fruit trees belong to the more prominent rose family, which explains this resemblance.

5. Pollination

Most peach trees are self-fertile, which is excellent news for anyone considering growing their own. Self-fertile plants can utilize their pollen. In other words, you only need one flowering peach tree to produce fruit.

Various bee species are responsible for most peach pollination. However, don’t discount the hard work flies and other flying insects may do when it comes time to spread pollen from flower to flower!

As a rule, plants cannot cross-pollinate outside of their species. So, while the flowers of an apple or cherry tree look pretty similar, their pollen is not compatible with those of a peach tree (or vice-versa). You can safely grow them all in the same area, even if you want to save the seeds for future planting.

6. Fruit Development

Each flower ultimately has the potential to turn into one peach. (In practice, only a tiny percentage of the flowers will probably develop into ripe fruit.) 

The first requirement for fruit production is that the flower is pollinated, as we covered in the previous section. 

When pollinating a flower, it drops its petals, leaving behind a green bud-like structure on the branch. This structure contains the flower’s ovary and will gradually swell as the fruit matures.

Fruit Development

When to Harvest Peaches

Peaches are usually harvested in the summertime. The exact time your darlings will be ready can depend on several factors, including the local climate and the growing variety.

One of the most reliable ways to check a peach’s ripeness is by looking at the ground color. Ground color refers to the skin’s color around the fruit’s stem-end indent. A ripe peach should have a yellow (not green) ground color.

Looking at the ground color specifically makes it easier to monitor different varieties of peaches for ripeness regardless of the color of the rest of the skin. For example, some peaches are yellow-orange while others are red or purple.

Peaches will continue ripening once picked, but the flavor is determined while the fruit is on the branch. To ensure the best harvest possible, conduct a taste test before choosing!

FAQ Peach Tree Growth Stages

What age will a peach tree bear fruit?

Most peach trees start bearing fruit when they are 3 to 5, though some varieties can produce fruit when they are just 2. Peach trees also take time to reach total productivity, so the first couple of harvests might be on the small side.

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.