Stone Fruits: Peaches, Nectarines, Plums, Apricots, and Cherries

Peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and cherries are all members of the Prunus genus and are therefore closely related. They commonly are referred to as "stone fruits" because the seed is very large and hard. Although stone fruit crops can provide delicious fruit from June through September, most stone fruits are native to warmer climates of the world and therefore are very susceptible to injury from low winter temperatures. In addition, because they bloom early in the spring, the flowers frequently suffer damage from spring frosts. Because of this, the backyard culture of stone fruits is more difficult than that of apples or pears.

Nectarines also are more difficult because they are more susceptible to the disease organism that causes brown rot. Sweet cherries tend to crack as harvest nears if excessive rainfall occurs. Peaches, nectarines, and apricots generally will not bear fruit consistently when planted north of a line located roughly along Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania. Cherries and plums are a little hardier. Regardless of your location within the state, you should plant stone fruits only on the very best sites with excellent air and water drainage and protection from high winds.

Currently, no suitable dwarfing rootstocks exist for peaches, nectarines, plums, or apricot that will survive under Pennsylvania conditions. Two dwarfing rootstocks have recently been introduced for cherries. They are named Gisela 5 and Gisela 6. They may be available on a limited basis. Pennsylvania growers should disregard advertisements for those fruits on dwarfing rootstocks. It is doubtful that the available peach, nectarine, and apricot varieties will do well in the colder areas of the state.

In the absence of a soil test, lime a 10-by-10-foot area where each tree will be planted.

Shortly after planting, apply 8 ounces of 10-10-10 per plant.

Stone fruit trees produce vegetative buds and flower buds.

Pruning a young tree controls its shape by developing a strong, well-balanced framework of scaffold branches. Unwanted branches should be removed or cut back early to avoid the necessity of large cuts in later years.

The practice of fruit thinning apples, pears, and stone fruits is much discussed but little understood.