How to Plant and Care For This Marvelous Stone Fruit

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I see nectarines as a multi-season fruit because they thrive in hot summer temperatures. The aroma of nectarines growing on a tree reminds me of summer, and if you treat them right, a nectarine tree will give you a big harvest.

If you want to start growing nectarines, know that these delicious, easy-going stone fruits need a cold winter. But in many ways, they’re easier to grow than their stone fruit cousins.

So, if you are a lover of summer stone fruit, give growing nectarines a try. With simple planning and orchard maintenance, you’ll find success. Ready? Let’s go.

growing nectarine trees

What is a Nectarine Tree?

Nectarines (Prunus persica var. nucipersica) likely originated in China as a natural mutation from peach trees. Nectarines and peaches are so closely related that they differ from each other by one gene. This is what makes peaches furry and nectarines smooth-skinned.

Eventually, nectarines made their way to Greece and Rome by way of Persia. They were introduced to the Americas by the Spanish.

Nectarines loved the climate in California, where about 95% of American-grown nectarines come from.

Best Nectarine Varieties for the Home Garden

nectarine blossoms

There are around 50 varieties of nectarines, and each one has a slight variation in what it prefers in climate and temperatures. Ask your local experts about what works best in your area.

See what variety grows well in your area because there are so many varieties, you may find one that suits the conditions well.

Nectarines are either classified as freestone or clingstone. Freestone varieties have flesh that pulls away from the stone easily. Clingstone varieties have flesh that sticks to the stone.

nectarines

Also, be aware of chill hour requirements. These trees need at around 300-800 chill hours below 45°F to produce fruit. Check on the specific variety you’re looking at to make sure your area experiences enough cold days.

Below are some common, popular nectarine varieties:

Hardired

If you are looking for a hardy nectarine, this is it. It is a reliable self-pollinator and is generally carefree. It can withstand winter temperatures as low as -30°F. ‘Hardired’ grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9 and is a freestone.

Double Delight

If you live in a mild climate, ‘Double Delight’ is a great tree. It is self-pollinating and is a heavy cropper. The fruit is ready to harvest around July.

This is a freestone variety that produces medium-sized nectarines. In Zones 6 to 10, try this variety, which is a super sweet freestone.

Pacific Pride

This is a reasonably new variety that has good resistance to leaf curl. It’s a heavy cropper and can tolerate temperatures as low as -20°F. The skin is red and the flesh is white and extremely sweet. ‘Pacific Pride’ does well in Zones 5 to 9, where harvest time is in August.

Gold Mine

If you live in an area with milder winters, ‘Gold Mine’ is a good choice. It requires less chilling time and doesn’t require cold temperatures like some nectarine varieties.

The tree is a prolific cropper, and the fruit is large. ‘Gold Mine’ is self-pollinating and good in temperatures as low as -20°F. The fruit is ready around August in Zones 5 to 9 and is a freestone variety.

Sunglo

If you want to freeze your nectarine flesh for smoothies, ‘Sunglo’ is a perfect choice. It freezes well and is easy to look after. If you’re a beginner at growing nectarines, see if you can get a hold of ‘Sunglo.’

You don’t have to prune it as much, it doesn’t require much fertilizer or pruning either. Good for Zones 5 to 8 and hardy down to -28°F.

Mericrest

If you live in a northern climate, this is a good option. The fruit is medium in size and has a lovely yellow flesh, plus it’s a perfect variety for eating fresh. It grows well in Zones 5 to 8 and is hardy down to -28°F.

Flavortop

Perfect for making pies and desserts, ‘Flavortop’ is a firm yellow-fleshed variety. It ripens in July, so is a good variety to have paired with a later variety This is a productive tree that produces a lot of flowers in the spring. Hardy in Zones 5 to 9.

Fantasia

Fantasia is great for canning and baking. It ripens in late July to early August. This is a very productive tree, but requires a little work like thinning out for a good, healthy crop. Good in zones 5 to 8 and down to -20°F.

Red Gold

If you’ve grown nectarines before and found they’re prone the skin cracking or splitting, ‘Red Gold’ is resistant to that issue. This is a hardy variety in Zones 5 to 9 and down to -20°F. In spring, ‘Red Gold’ will be covered in pink flowers.

Propagating Nectarine Trees From Seed

The most reliable nectarine tree will be the one you buy from the local nursery that is ideal for your area. For fun or to save some cash, you can propagate a nectarine tree from seed. It will take up to four years to bear fruit (if it ever does) but it’s a fun learning experience.

You will need to stratify the seed to mimic the natural seasonal cycle. The seed needs to be chilled at temperatures of 32-40°F for up to four months, though two months is usually enough.

nectarine seed

Here’s the process:

  • Remove the seed from the hard pit that comes from the nectarine fruit. Allow the pit to dry out for a couple of days to make this task easier. Lightly hit the sharp end of the pit with a hammer. I do this on a concrete path. Don’t hit the flat side as this will likely crush the seed inside.
  • Soak the seeds in a jar of water for 24 hours. If any float, throw them away as they are not going to sprout.
  • Wrap the remaining seeds in paper towels and spray with water.
  • Place the paper towel package in a sealable plastic bag and put this in the fridge.
  • Check the seeds every 15 to 20 days and replace any paper towels that develop mold on them. Spray any new towels with water or any of the old ones if they dry out.
  • Once the seed has germinated, you can remove it from the fridge and plant it in seed-raising soil in a small pot. Plant it about an inch deep and keep the soil moist.
  • Plant outside once you have repotted it into bigger a container and have hardened it off for a week.

How to Care For Nectarine Trees

Nectarine trees grow well in USDA Growing Zones 5-10. Plant them in late winter to early spring in a site that gets full sun, but is protected from strong winds.

The soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.0. The ground must be free draining because you don’t want the roots sitting in soil that stays wet. It should hold moisture, but not be saturated.

Mulch around the base of the tree, but don’t let the mulch touch the trunk. You don’t want to cause disease or other issues.

Provide a new nectarine tree with two gallons of water each week. If it rains, the tree needs about an inch each week, so don’t provide any more if it gets sufficient rainfall.

Fertilizing and Pruning Nectarine Trees

nectarine tree

Nectarine trees respond well to fertilizer. Provide this in early spring. Use a high phosphorous fertilizer that is low in nitrogen.

Pruning is important for both the health of the tree and for a bumper harvest. Prune in winter when the tree is dormant. You should first prune away any diseased branches, and any that are crossing others, crowded, or rubbing on any others.

Nectarines grow on second-year wood. This means the crop will be on branches two years or older.

Best Companion Plants for Nectarine Trees

Here are some of the best options for planting near your tree:

  • Strong smelling plants: This includes coriander, dill, chives, garlic, onions, and nasturtiums. These plants repel aphids, mites, and some borers.
  • Marigolds
  • Mint
  • Tansy
  • Bee balm
  • Bergamot
  • Comfrey

Problems and Solutions for Growing Nectarines

All stone fruit trees are prone to certain diseases and pests, and that includes nectarines. Here are the most common issues that you’ll need to keep a close eye out for.

Bacterial Canker

Bacterial canker appears as gummy lumps on the tree. This disease can also cause the fruit to develop dark, sunken spots that looked water soaked. You may see some limb die-back, as well.

Bacterial canker is caused by the bacteria Pseudomonas syringae, which lives in plant material and is spread by water.

The key to preventing bacterial canker is to keep the tree as healthy as possible with proper feeding, planting, and watering. You should also prune damaged and diseased limbs off as soon as you notice them. Fungicides don’t work, so don’t bother.

Tarnished Plant Bug

tarnished plant bug

This winged insect (Lygus lineolaris) injects toxins into the shoots and buds of the tree. This causes the shoots and fruit to become deformed. These bugs feed on hundreds of different species of plants and they cause serious damage in addition to spreading disease.

Keep weeds like butterweed, fleabane, goldenrod, vetch, dock, and dog fennel out of your garden because these are favorites of tarnished plant bugs.

Most home pesticides aren’t effective against this pest. You really need to use the big guns. Use a knockdown insecticide that contains pyrethrin. Parasitic wasps also eat these bugs.

Leaf Roller

Leaf rollers are the larvae of moths in the Tortricidae family. They make little silk nests in the rolled leaves of your trees, which can reduce the health of your plant. Read our article on how to identify and deal with leaf rollers here.

Leaf Curl

leaf curl

Peach leaf curl is a disease caused by the fungus Taphrina deformans. When a tree is infected, the leaves become reddened, puckered, twisted, and lumpy. It looks unsightly and the tree may completely defoliate. It also infects the shoots, fruit, and blossoms.

Treat the entire tree once every few weeks using a copper fungicide mixed with 1% horticultural oil.

Remove as many of these leaves as you can from the ground and burn them. Otherwise, bag them up and throw them out in the garbage. Don’t put them in the compost.

‘Kreibich’ is resistant.

Brown Rot

Brown rot is a fungal disease caused by the pathogen Monolinia fructicola. When it infects a tree, the fruit turns brown and soft. It then starts to rot and becomes unusable.

Use a good quality copper fungicide in the fall. Repeat the spray in spring. In areas where you have this problem consistently, you might want to spray again a few weeks before harvest. Check the instructions on the bottle including any withholding period.

Powdery Mildew

Powdery mildew is a super common disease that impacts a lot of different plants. In nectarines, it’s caused by the fungi Sphaerotheca pannosa or Podosphaera leucotricha. Read our guide to powdery mildew for more information.

Scab

Scab is a fungal disease caused by Cladosporium carpophilum that may appear if you have a warm spring with high humidity. Lesions develop on the fruit when humidity reaches about 70%. The lesions are green or grey and they produce spores that overwinter for next season.

If you have high humidity in the spring or a history of scab in the area, apply an organic fungicide at three weeks and then five weeks after the tree blooms.

Harvesting and Using Nectarines

nectarine basket

Harvest nectarines in the morning during cool weather, if possible. The fruit should pull away gently and the background color should be yellow. You can harvest a bit early and ripen the fruit in paper bags, but they taste best when they ripen on the tree until they give slightly when you squeeze them.

Hard fruits with a green background aren’t ready to harvest.

Store them in the refrigerator for up to three weeks, but they’re really best if you eat them right away.

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