In favorable localities the peach may be grown from Connecticut to Florida and westward, except in the coldest locations among the mountains, to the Pacific coast. In cold localities it is generally placed in sheltered situations where the sun will not strike the buds too strongly during winter, and thus make them swell and freeze. The north side of a hill is better than any other exposure in cold localities. Proximity to lakes and rivers is also favorable, provided the trees are not set on low ground..
The peach does best on light soils, but will succeed fairly well on even heavy ones. The trees, as a rule, are short-lived. Seldom do they last in commercial plantations beyond the tenth year. They come into bearing at three or four years and begin to bear profitably at five. In some localities they bear only two or three good crops before they begin to decline. In others they may last for 20 years when properly cared for. Instances are recorded in western New York where trees have borne fruit for 4o or even 5o years, but commercially such trees would usually not be considered profitable.
In starting a peach orchard, trees one year old from the bud should be given preference to older ones. They should be set 18 to 20 feet apart in the orchards and pruned to a whip so that the scaffold branches may be secured close to the ground. Only three or four such branches should be allowed to grow. These should be well distributed, not in the form of Y-crotches, because these are apt to split when the trees are loaded with fruit. If the branches are well placed, they will make trees with well-rounded tops. Correct pruning will help to keep the form vase-like. Little wood should be allowed on the inside of the tree. Each year the annual growth should be cut back one-half to two-thirds, depending upon the position of the fruit buds. These buds can readily be recognized, be-cause they are blunt, not sharp pointed as the leaf buds are. Normally they appear in pairs with a leaf bud between them on the main stems and also singly on short fruit spurs at various irregular places. The fruit spurs should not be pruned, be-cause they last only two or three years, and do nothing but bear fruit. It is the extending shoots that should be cut back annually. By this annual pruning, the amount of fruit can be kept within bounds and thus the necessity of thinning can be avoided to a large extent.
From the very beginning the ground should be kept cleanly cultivated until midsummer, when a cover crop of crimson clover should be sown. This must be plowed under early the following spring. If the trees are making too much wood growth in any year, it will be best to substitute rye or buck-wheat, for the clover crop is a cover crop. Many peach growers plant tomatoes, potatoes, cantaloups or other cultivated crops in the young orchard for the first two or three years in order to help pay the cost of cultivation. It is disputed among growers whether this is an advantage or a disadvantage to the orchard itself.
Rarely is it necessary to give the peach orchard any more strong fertilizer than is furnished by the clover. Nitrogenous manures should not be used. Potash and phosphoric acid are necessary, especially when the trees are coming into bearing. These fertilizers may be given in any amount, de-pending upon the character of the soil, and the grower’s pocketbook.
PEACH PRUNING AND TRAINING
“At the Paragon orchards,” writes Dr. J. H. Funk of Berks county, Pennsylvania, all peach roots are pruned to about 5 inches; the trees are then set about inch deeper than they stood in the nursery. The tops are pruned before or immediately after planting; all side limbs are removed, and the stem cut back to io or 12 inches. I prefer a medium-sized tree, as there are no large limbs, but plenty of dormant buds to form a fine, uniform top. The shoots coming, from these buds give the foundation upon which to build.
” Very little pruning is required the first summer, but the following spring is the time td select the foundation branches. Four or five coming from different directions on the stem should be left to form a symmetrical top; all others should be removed, and the foundation branches cut back one-half to two-thirds, according to the vigor. Never leave these limbs in such a position that they form a crotch. This is likely to split and ruin the tree. Very vigorous trees will require some pruning during the summer.
“If the trees have been properly handled they should be well set with stout, healthy buds, and should produce an average of half a bushel of choice fruit the third season. The pruning now should not be so severe. I thin out the branches that crowd and cross each other, cut back those branches growing too tall, cutting above an outside bud to give spread to the top. Cut the lateral branches just sufficient to cause new growth among the main limbs, thus keeping the entire side of the tree in fruiting condition. Should any portion of the tree become too thick to admit free circulation of air and sunshine, then thin out any time fruit is maturing.
” Future pruning is conducted on the same principles, keeping the top open and spreading, and all bottom and lateral limbs in good fruiting condition. I never remove bottom limbs unless compelled to do so. If pruned as they should be, they will pro-duce “heavy crops for many years.
“I have a peach orchard five years old, and trained by this method, that has but few equals. When in its third year it produced one-half bushel of really choice fruit to the tree. The next year it produced three baskets to the tree, and in its fifth year it produced four baskets to the tree. The proceeds from these three crops averaged over $1,400 an acre, and the orchard is just coming into prime bearing.”
As to harvesting, W. G. Gano of Platte county, Missouri, says : ” I pick my fruit in peck baskets, picking nothing but the perfect, well-matured fruit, and just as the specimen is beginning to soften, so that by the next morning it is ready for the retail trade. The peach is a perishable fruit, and to en-joy its rich, luscious, saccharine taste, which it can only acquire by fully maturing on the tree, it must have a near market and quick and careful convey-ance for the consumer to enjoy all of these qualities, which make it at once the most luscious, healthful, and popular fruit in our market.
“In hot weather I aim to pick each tree every day, and never longer than every other day, and I am from two to four weeks in handling every variety. One year I was four weeks handling my Elbertas, and picked peaches six days in the week. I try to have trusty, experienced men for my pickers, and for the packers I prefer girls.”
Concerning varieties, W. A. Cooper of Ottawa county, Ohio, writes: ” The hardiest varieties I have tested are Salway, Smock, Elberta, Mountain Rose, Oldmixon, and Lemon Free. The most profitable early sorts with me are Mountain Rose, Early Crawford, and Early St. John, while the most profitable mid-season fruits are Briner, Elberta, Lemon Free, and Francis. Our best late varieties are Smock and Salway. The most promising newer varieties in this section are Francis and Emma.”