We are losing the battle of the peach tree. Will my tree investment ever pay off?
In 2006 I planted fruit trees, in anticipation of retiring and having time to pick and use the harvest. I ordered them from a nursery catalog and paid a total of about $95 for four trees. I figured it would take at least 5 years for them to come to fruition (so to speak) and bear enough fruit to matter.
In the field, I dug huge holes, 4 feet wide and 3 feet deep and mixed in several soil amendments as well as fertilizer so that the baby trees would get a good start. I planted them that fall, a dwarf pie cherry, an Elberta peach, a Lodi apple and a Braeburn apple.
Hubby surrounded them with fence posts and chicken wire to keep the deer from eating them.
Learning to Prune
The first year my babies grew well. So I set out to figure out how to prune them, and when to prune them. I hauled my gardening books to the field in the fall and gingerly snipped here and there, frequently consulting the pictures and illustrations. After snipping, I carefully painted the cut edges with tree paint.
Fruit develops on second year growth for the most part, but how the heck do you figure out where the second year growth is?
That first spring things looked good. The Lodi put on a couple of apples, the cherry tree grew, the Braeburn flowered and the peach tree had several peaches.
The next year was not so great. In the spring, I hopefully covered the tree tops with fruit netting, to keep the birds off. But as the spring wore on, the leaves of the peach tree burled up and turned red and then dropped off.
Desperately I searched for a description matching what I saw happening. I tried multiple sprays of different types to try to kill whatever it was (probably a fungus) but nothing seemed to work. By then the poor little tree had about 10 leaves left.
We babied it the rest of the summer, with hubby hauling buckets of water out to it by hand to make sure it had enough water. Finally it started sprouting new leaves.
The Lodi bore apples that second year, but they were enjoyed by the bugs instead of us. The little dwarf cherry managed to produce one bright red fruit – which I picked and fed to hubby.
The Braeburn leaves developed dead brown spots all over each leaf and gradually dropped most of its leaves, after blooming.
Each year there was some issue that prevented us from getting any significant fruit.
The fungus kept coming back, the spots on the apple tree kept causing it to lose apples, until last year, it lost all of them and then re-grew most – using up its blooming capacity for the spring.
Since it didn’t bloom, there was nothing to cross pollinate the lodi apple, so it didn’t bloom or put fruit on.
Last year the peach tree lost most of it’s leaves and we thought it would die. Even so, I sprayed it for fungus – using a new variety – in February and did my pruning then.
I also pruned the Lodi apple tree.
Both trees had gotten out of hand. You see, when fruit trees are young, so I learned, you are supposed to focus on shaping the tree when you prune, not on making sure there is going to be second year growth!
I pruned them back pretty hard, but trimmed up the cherry and the Braebern apple with more restraint.
Peach Tree Success
This spring, the peach tree came back to full glory – the leaves were green and healthy and it had scads of baby peaches in the spring and through the early summer.
Although the apples didn’t even bloom, the cherry put on quite a show as well. We harvested 15 – 20 cherries, nicely tree ripened.
And Peach Tree Failure…
Now the peaches are ripening, but we won’t be getting any of those scads. In case you are unaware, there is a severe drought where we live in the midwest. Hubby has been walking buckets of water three times a week back to the peach tree in an effort to save the harvest. The peaches were somewhat small, but just putting on their first blush of ripening, when one morning we discovered an entire branch broken off and most all of the peaches gone. On the ground were freshly peeled peach pits. We thought perhaps a wind had come up and snapped part of the tree that had been weakend as it had some scarring on the branch or, a deer had pulled on a peach and broken off the limb.
I sawed the branch off beneath the damage and painted the wound.
The very next morning, when hubby went out to water, he found that many of the peaches on the remaining branch were filled with holes. We think a woodpecker discovered them!
Today, he watered the tree in the morning, and then checked it in the afternoon and found that only 3 peaches remained! Three peaches, out of more than 100! He put up additional fencing, thinking that perhaps the deer were jumping up to reach them. But what would be causing all the fresh peach pits scattered under the tree? Deer would just swallow the whole peach, not carefully nibble the fruit and leave the pit.
The Squirrels Are Having a Peach Fest
After hearing this, I searched gardening forums to see what kinds of critters eat peaches and found that squirrels are big offenders. In fact, the many entries detailing what gardeners had done to try to save their peach harvests were amazingly horrendous and humorous at the same time.
People tried everything from pepper to hungry tomcats to tiger poop to keep them away from their trees! They tried human pee, rat poison, bebe guns and coon dogs. They tried traps and tree rings and cages and nothing seemed to work!
Planting Fruit Trees Was a Bad Economic Decision
- We spent $95 for the trees.
- We spent money for fertilizer and amendments.
- We spent money for water.
We have harvested and eaten 15 – 20 pie cherries.
So far, the cost of each cherry ranges from $4.75 to $6.34 for EACH cherry. What a deal!
I’ve promised hubby peach cobbler as payment for all those days of walking buckets of water out to the trees! I’ll be spending some time and money at farmers market to find some nice peaches to use!
Don’t fight the peach tree battle. Plant blueberries instead! We’ve had banner crops from two bushes for 4 years since planting them 5 years ago!
So, have you ever tried something that just didn’t work?
We planted an orange tree this year and I really hope we don’t have the same problems. I don’t eat oranges but my girlfriend loves them and has been wanting a tree forever!
You must live somewhere warm year round!
I planted cherry, apple, fig, and Asian pears at our old house. We had good crops every 2-3 years. There are so many factors that can effect yields. Rain, drought, frost, etc… I don’t think I’m cut out to be a farmer.
I’d settle for good crops of fruit every 2-3 years!
Fruit trees and gardening in general are inherently fickle. One year you’ll get a bumper crop, and the next year you’ll get practically nothing. There are just so many variables that can cause feast or famine. That’s just the nature of growing your own food.
I think it’s way premature to call growing these fruit trees a ‘bad economic decision.’ Just because you had one bad growing season doesn’t make it a lost cause. Next year or the year after, you might get more fruit than you know what to do with. That’s just how it goes from year to year.
Also, the bigger these trees get, the more fruit they will yield, so the return on investment will significantly increase in several years.
I’ve got one small apple trees that produced a ton of apples this year. Last year, it yielded practically nothing. I also have peach, plum, and pear trees. The peach trees have done very poorly this year, but did very well last year. The plum trees never have done well. The pear trees are tiny and have produced 4 rock hard pears.
Fruit trees are like a box of chocolates, you’re never know what you’re gonna get. 🙂
Thanks for the encouragement. We are trying to bring them through this awful drought, so maybe we will get something in a future year (but I have a feeling I will need to solve the squirrel issue).
That sounds extremely annoying with the squirrels. It can be tough to grow your own fruits out in the nature where animals love to get at it ! Keep it up, maybe next year will be the peach year ! 🙂
BTW, I tried leaving a comment on your site and couldn’t without logging in….you might get more comments if you make it easier….
I haven’t made any efforts at planting vegetables yet, but it’s something on my list that we certainly wish to do in the future. We have two apple trees in our backyard that bear a good amount of fruit, we’reg going to try to make hard apple cider this fall with it, hopefully it’s more successful than your fruit tree experience!
Cider sounds good – how will you make it?
Oh, to be a squirrel. Par-tay! My dad grew up on a fruit farm. You already know this, but the struggles will never end BUT when you have success, it’s just that much sweeter.
Oh great…never? I’m thinking a fence around the tree with a metal cage over it that still lets in light……think that would keep out the squirrels?
Deer, don’t get me started! AND the state has just released Elk too!!!
Since this is an eco-blog, I have to ask! 😀
You mentioned a few times that you were spraying the trees, what did you spray them with? Just keep in mind that what you spray on the trees is probably going to make its way into the peaches if and when you eat them. Otherwise, I’m sorry its been a rough go of it. Squirrels can be downright nasty – I have a grudge against them personally, ever since I got peed on by one.
Yes…you read that right. If you want to laugh, here’s a rant on my squirrel hatred – http://www.earthandmoney.ca/do-i-look-like-a-bathroom-to-you/
Yep I was bad. How would you get rid of a recurring fungus? The trees were sprayed in Feb. which is the dead of winter around here.
I’m hopping over to read about your squirrel pee fun!
I have no idea! 🙂
I may be a fun guy but I don’t know much about fungus. OK, that was a terrible joke I know.
That sucks! I hate squirrels, they once opened my golf bag and pulled out my pb and j from my lunch when I was playing golf haha
But I think the best fruit trees are the ones that require the least work. Here in socal, we have planted, avocado, orange and guava trees and water them once in a while or never at all and they always seem to produce a ton of fruit. I’d look for something that grows well in your area..
Thanks for the tip, but these trees are supposed to grow well in my area (in years where we don’t have an ‘exceptional drought’!
Mixed results this year with the fruit trees. Bumper crops of white and yellow peaches (I don’t know what kind they are), and some plums. One plum tree died. The combination of extreme drought and grasshoppers eating all its leaves was too much. I lost a couple of peach branches due to excess fruits. I didn’t know I should have “de-fruited” the branches to prevent excess weight. I’ll be planting more in the spring.
Suggest going to your state forestry services for seedlings. They have them very cheap and they will be seedlings that are adapted to your zone and climate.
State forestry…..hmmmm, I have gotten non-fruit trees from ours. I’ll have to check out whether they have fruit trees too! Thanks.