Cyclopedia of American Horticulture by L. H. Bailey, 1901
Editor’s Note: It is strongly suggested that the reader research modern organic remedies as alternatives to the listed afflictions of the Peach tree. SFJ
The Peach is essentially a luxury. Its cultivation is attended with much risk. The areas in which it can be grown with success are scattered, particularly in the northern states. The Peach is tender to frost, and the liability of the buds and blossoms to injury constitute the greatest risk in the growing of the fruit. Strangely enough these risks of frost are greater in the South than in the North, because the buds are likely to be swollen by the “warm spells” of the southern winter, and to be killed by sudden freezes. In the northeastern states the Peach areas are determined chiefly by mildness of winter temperature. They lie near large bodies of water, in which places the temperature is considerably ameliorated. In close proximity to the seacoast the winds are usually too strong to allow of the growing of Peaches, but some distance inland and on the margins of the Great Lakes and other interior bodies of water, the fruit may be grown without difficulty. While Peaches are grown over a very large range of country in the United States, still the great commercial regions are relatively few. One of these regions lies in proximity to the southernmost members of the Great Lakes, particularly along the southeastern part of Lake Ontario in New York and Canada, along the southern shore of Lake Erie and on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. In this latter belt, known as the Michigan “fruit belt,” the Peach reaches its highest northern limit in the eastern states, being grown with profit as far north as Grand Traverse, on the 44th parallel. Another large area begins near Long Island Sound, in Connecticut, and follows the seaboard as far south as the southern part of the Chesapeake peninsula and extending approximately one hundred miles inland. In the southern Atlantic states there is another commercial Peach area, comprising the upper lands of Georgia, Alabama and adjacent states. Farther south than this, where the soil does not freeze to the depth of the roots, the root-knot disease, caused by a nematode worm, is so serious as often to interfere with the raising of the crop. In this southern part, also, the old-time varieties of Peaches do not thrive to perfection, but some of the Chinese types are now giving good satisfaction. Another large Peach-growing area lies in southern Illinois, extending westward across Missouri and into Kansas. Eastern Texas has also developed a large commercial peach-growing business. Part of western Colorado is now becoming known as a peach country. Nearly the whole of California, except the mountains, is admirably adapted to the Peach, and the fruit is grown there on a large basis. There are isolated places all over the United States in which Peach growing is profitable, but the above outline designates the areas of largest commercial importance at the present time.
In regions that are too cold for the normal development of the Peach, the tree may be grown with some satisfaction by laying it down in winter. For this purpose the tree is usually trained with a thin or rather flat top so that it will lie upon the ground when the tree is bent over. When the tree is to be laid down, earth is dug away from the roots on one side, the ball of earth which holds the roots is loosened somewhat, and the tree is bent over until it reaches nearly or quite the level of the ground. It may remain in this position without covering, being protected by its proximity to the earth and by the snow which drifts into the top; or sometimes the tree is covered with litter or even with earth — if with litter, care must be taken that mice do not nest therein and gnaw the trees.
Although the Peach has many forms, it is all one species, Prunus Persica. See Prunus. It is probably native to China, but it has been in cultivation from the earliest times, and it came into Europe by way of Persia, whence the name Persica, and also Peach. From this Persian-European source have come the common Peaches of the United States. These Peaches do not thrive well in the extreme south, however. In more recent years introductions have been made directly from China, and these types, of which the Honey (Fig. 1661) is the chief example, thrive well in the far south. Still another type of Peach, which is hardy and productive in the South, is the Indian type sometimes called the “native peach.” This is probably derived from the Peaches which the early Spaniards brought into North America. It has run wild over a wide range of country in the South. As early as 1812 the botanist Nuttall found Peaches growing wild as far west as Arkansas. Still another type of Peach is the Peen-to, or the flat Peach of China. This is adapted only to the extreme southern part of the country, thriving well in the northern part of the citrous belt. It is much too early-blooming for even the middle south. It is a very early Peach, much flattened endwise so that it has the shape of a very flat apple. (Fig. 1660.) It has been described as a distinct species, Prunus platycarpa, but there is every reason to believe that it is only a modified form of the ordinary Peach species. Price (Bulletin 39, Texas Experiment Station) divides all Peaches which are known in North America into five general groups: (1) The Peen-to or flat Peach race, comprising the variety known as the Peen-to (Fig. 1660), and also the Angel and Waldo; (2) the South China race, with oval, long-pointed fruit with deep suture near the base, represented by the Honey (Fig. 1661); (3) the Spanish or Indian race, with very late, yellow, firm, often streaked fruit, represented by various southern varieties, as the Cabler (Fig. 1662), Columbia, Galveston, Lulu, Texas and Victoria; (4) the North China race, with large, mostly cling or semi-cling fruit and very large, flat leaves, represented by the Chinese Cling, Elberta (Fig. 1663), Mamie Ross, Smock and Thurber; (5) the Persian race, including the common varieties of the mid- country and the North, as Crawford (Fig. 1664), Oldmixon, Salway, and the like. The varieties of Peaches are many, although less numerous than those of apples. An inventory of 73 catalogues of American nurserymen, in 1900, showed 291 varieties on the market.
The Peach is a showy tree when in bloom. There are double-flowered varieties (Fig. 1665), which are as handsome as the dwarf flowering almond, and they are more showy because of the greater size of the tree. These double-flowered varieties have never become popular, however, owing to risks of winter injury and spring frosts, depredation of borers, and the short season in which they remain in bloom. The flowers of the Peach are naturally variable in both size and color. Peach-growers are aware that there are small-flowered and large-flowered varieties. The character of the flower is as characteristic of the variety as size or color of fruit is. Fig. 1666 shows two extremes. The Crawfords are small-flowered; the Alexander and Amsden are large flowered.
The Peach is always propagated by means of seeds. The first year the seedlings are budded to the desired variety. The seed is planted on the first opening of spring in rows far enough apart to allow of horse tillage, and the seeds are dropped every 6 to 8 inches in the row. These seeds should have been kept moist during the winter. Usually they are piled out of doors, being mixed with sand or gravel, and allowed to freeze. The shells are then soft when planting time arrives and many of the pits will be split. Then it will not be necessary to crack the pits. In the northern states the trees will be ready for budding in August and early September. The buds are set close to the surface of the ground, and they do not start until the following spring. The year succeeding the budding, the bud should make a tree 3 to 6 feet in height, and at the end of that season it is ready for sale; that is, the tree is sold when it is one season from the bud. In the southern states, Peach seedlings may be large enough to bud in June or early July of the year in which the seeds are sown. The buds will then grow that season, and the trees be ready for sale that fall. That is, the whole process is completed within the space of one season. These “June-budded trees” are popular in the South, but they have never become thoroughly established in popular favor in the North. They are very likely to be injured by the first winter, since the trees are not so well matured, as a rule, as the one-year-old trees grown in the North. If, however, they withstand the first winter, they should make as good trees as others.
Soil and Planting
The Peach will thrive on most any soil, providing the climate and site are congenial. The best Peach land, however, is that which is light and sandy. On such lands the Peach develops its highest color and its richest flavor, although on heavier lands it may be more juicy. The soil in the great Peach section of Michigan and the North Atlantic region is light and loose. On heavy lands the Peach is likely to grow too late in the fall and to make too much wood. The fruit is usually somewhat lower in color and tends to be later in ripening. The low color may be corrected, however, by planting the trees far apart, and by pruning to open tops to admit the sun.
Since the Peach blooms very early and the flowers are liable to be killed by late spring frosts, it is important that the site on which the orchard is planted should either be relatively free from late spring frosts or such as to retard the bloom. In proximity to large bodies of water, late spring frosts are less likely to occur, and the tree blooms relatively late because the water equalizes the climate and adjacent areas do not warm up so quickly in the spring. This is particularly true along such large bodies of water as the Great Lakes. In interior places it is well to choose a northern slope or other backward site, on which place the trees are retarded in bloom. In warm exposures in cities Peaches are very likely to be caught by late spring frosts because they bloom too early. It is usually better in such cases to plant the trees on the north side of a building.