When Can I Pick Peaches?
When to Pick Peaches
If you're growing fruit trees for the first time, knowing when to pick fruit, especially peaches, can be tricky. Pick it too soon and it will either be tasteless, bitter, or hard as a rock. Wait too long and congratulations - you've just fed every insect, deer, raccoon or squirrel in a two-mile radius. How do I know this? From experience! Last year, we had beautiful peaches on our backyard tree - see the picture. But we weren't sure if they were ripe yet. So we waited and waited to pick them. Then, one day, I noticed a big green beetle on the tree. Not thinking much of it, I waited another day. Now we had squirrels stealing peaches AND big green beetles. You guessed it. Between the squirrel raids and the June bugs munching the fruit, we got a whopping two peaches out of about 30 on the tree. What a disappointment!
Learn from my mistake. Learn to recognize when peaches are just right to pick. Understand the signs of ripening peaches, and enjoy a bountiful harvest from your home orchard this year.
How Peaches Grow
Peach tree blossom with bright pink flowers in early spring. Many peach varieties require another variety for pollination. It's important when planning your home fruit orchard to understand which varieties will thrive in your area, and if you need to plant two or more trees if different varieties to ensure fruit development. Some peach varieties, such as Moorpark, are self-pollinating. Others such as Elberta need a peach tree of a different type in order to pollinate the fruit. Your local County Cooperative Extension office is likely to have a list of peach tree types that you can grow in your area, and can advise you both on the varieties needed for pollination as well as the distance apart to plant them.
After peach trees bloom, bees, wasps or other pollinating insects move pollen from one blossom to another. The flowers drop off and the base of the fertilized blossom swells, starting to take on the telltale peach-shape. Within a few short weeks, you'll see green fruit developing on the trees. If there are too many fruit on the branches, you should thin the fruit or pick off some and discard it. This will encourage the remaining fruit to grow bigger as well as help the branches support the weight of the developing peaches. You may need to brace the limbs if they're too heavy with fruit!
Peaches near the top of the tree ripen first. Next follows peaches near the sunniest side of the tree, followed by those on the outside, and lastly, those close to the trunk.
Signs that Peaches Are Ready to Pick
Peaches give off several telltale signs that they are ready to be picked. These include:
- A strong scent of peaches - ripening peaches smell delicious, like the fruit.
- The overall fruit will have patched of red, orange, yellow and green. When the green disappears entirely (or close to it), the peach is ready to pick.
- The fruit is easy to pluck from the tree.
How Peaches Ripen
- Fruit begins as hard, green peaches.
- Peaches near the top of the tree ripen first.
- Peaches on the outside, on the sunniest and warmest sides of the tree, ripen next.
- Peaches near the trunk of the tree ripen next.
- Peaches near the trunk and towards the bottom of the tree ripen last.
What to Do If You Need to Pick Peaches Before They Are Ripe
What do you do, however, if you're faced with a situation like mine and the June bugs are invading, the squirrel army is advancing and the deer are munching? You can pick peaches before they are ripe, although it isn't recommended. Some fruits do ripen off the tree. Peaches can be picked if the green portions are still green but the peaches themselves are fully developed. They won't grow once they're off the tree, so make sure you try this ONLY with peaches that are almost-but-not-quite ready.
- Pick the peaches carefully. Do not bruise the fruit!
- Use a linen or 100% cotton tablecloth draped over a table or counter. Place unripe peaches in a single layer on the cloth.
- Cover by folding the cloth over the peaches.
- Let it remain undisturbed for a week. Check the peaches daily and turn them if they are ripening unevenly. Remember, ripe patches turn orange, red or dark yellow.
- Once peaches are ripe, you can place them in the refrigerator to make them last longer.
How to Can Peaches
Storing Fresh Peaches
Once peaches are ripe, they need to be used quickly or they will go bad. You can refrigerate peaches; the cool temperatures should help them retain their flavor and freshness for up to a week. At room temperature, fresh, ripe peaches tend to go soft quickly and attract fruit flies. Bruised peaches make the situation worse, so when picking peaches from your home orchard, be very careful not to push too hard into the flesh with your fingers, and don't drop them into a basket - place them gently into the basket or sack you're using to carry your peaches indoors.
If you have too many peaches, they can be canned. The video below shows you how to home can peaches. Please use care, caution and the proper equipment to prevent food-borne illnesses.
Fresh peaches are a treat for the senses and a delight for the summer months. Many gardening zones in the United States can successfully grow peaches. Knowing when to pick them and, if you must, how to ripen them if picked a bit early, can help you preserve and enjoy the harvest.
Resources to Help You Grow Peaches
- Michigan Peach Association
- Pollination of Tree Fruits
Most fruit trees need cross-pollination for good fruit set, and you may need to buy more than just one variety.
- G6030 Home Fruit Production: Peach and Nectarine Culture | University of Missouri Extension
MU Extension, University of Missouri
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