April 2008 - Growing Peaches in Minnesota
Who says you can’t grow peaches in Minnesota? Yes, peaches can be grown in Minnesota!!!!
In New Hampshire in the 1950’s, Professor Elwyn Meader was trying to develop a good tasting, cold-hardy peach. He made thousands of crosses. One spring, after a bitterly cold winter, one of Dr. Meader’s seedling peaches bloomed and produced fruit. He named the new peach ‘Reliance’.
I grew up in Connecticut and loved the peaches we grew on our small dairy farm. When I moved to the colder climate of Minnesota, I searched for a tree that we could grow here. In the spring of 2001, my wife Jennifer planted a ‘Reliance’ peach and a ‘Bailey Hardy’ peach about 15 feet from the east side of our house on the east side of St. Paul. Dave, my manager at Nord Farm, Bailey Nurseries, told me that you CAN NOT grow peaches in Minnesota. In the spring of 2002, the ‘Reliance’ peach bloomed. The flowers were fragrant and had an attractive, soft pink color. In August, the tree produced a small crop. I picked some peaches with leaves attached, brought them to Dave, and collected on a $10.00 wager.
Our trees are planted in the front yard, on the east side of our brick house, where it is a bit protected. ‘Reliance’ has excellent tree and bud hardiness. In different catalogs, I have seen it listed as Zone 5 or 4. We provide no winter protection except for a light mulch (to discourage weeds). It is perhaps the hardiest peach, producing crops even after -25 degree winters. Late blooming, it tends to escape the effects of most severe frosts. We almost never water, although in very dry summers slow trickle irrigation may be a wise move. I have had minimal disease or insect problems. One year, about 20% of the leaves had an odd leaf curl – I think it was a bacterial problem, but I did nothing about it and the tree and crop were fine. The tree is self fertile; unlike apples, it does not require a different variety (cross pollinator) nearby in order to set a good crop. ‘Reliance’ bears young; our tree produced a few fruits one year after planting. A tree planted two summers ago at the Nursery in Cottage Grove produced 20 fruits last year. Our tree has produced good crops for six years; the tree had over 100 fruit on it last year. The tree is vigorous and fast growing. A few years ago, the ‘Reliance’ set a bumper crop. As the fruit was ripening and the tree was heavy with fruit, a windstorm snapped off the top third of the tree. Only later did I learn that the fruit should be thinned even more than we had. Since then, I have also learned that peach trees should be pruned with a very open center, much like putting your hands together and then spreading the fingers apart as far as possible. The fruit itself is freestone. It is medium in size (nothing like those monstrous California peaches) with light yellow, sweet, mild, and juicy flesh. There is nothing better in this world than a tree ripened peach, sweet and run-down-your-chin juicy. The ‘Bailey Hardy’ took a year longer to produce fruit. It seems to be just as hardy in my garden, but does not produce the large number of fruits that ‘Reliance’ does. I planted a ‘Contender’ in the back yard this past year as a trial. Most members of the Prunus group are not especially long lived, so I plan to plant another ‘Reliance’ this year to replace the current tree.
Since I feel so, So, SO bad about taking Dave’s money, each year I present him with a small peach offering with leaves attached. Dave tells me, “Joe, that was the best bet I ever made in my life.” You know, I think he’s right.
I cannot guarantee 100% success if you plant a peach, but if you have a protected area in full sun, a peach tree might be worth a try. Local nurseries do not ordinarily carry peach trees, so you will have to order by mail. The plant will be sent bare root. Most nurseries will not ship bare root much after May 1, so prompt ordering is essential. Sources of ‘Reliance’ peach include Henry Field’s (www.henryfields.com), Miller Nurseries (www.millernurseries.com), Stark Bro’s (www.starkbros.com), Gurney’s Seed and Nursery Company (www.gurneys.com).