Jump To Section
How to Grow a Nectarine Tree in Your Garden
As with other stone fruit trees—cherry trees, plum trees, and apricot trees—growing a nectarine tree from seed takes three to four years to produce fruit. A quicker solution is to purchase a young tree from your local nursery to plant in your home garden.
- Choose a tree that grows in your climate. Nectarine trees grow best in USDA hardiness zones five through nine, and they thrive in climates with hot summers. In order to grow effectively, most nectarine varieties also require a cold dormancy period with winter temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Each type of nectarine tree requires a different chill hour requirement or time spent below a certain temperature. Before choosing a nectarine variety, look up the number of chilling hours typical of your climate.
- Plant in late winter or early spring. Plant a container-grown nectarine tree in early spring so it has the entire growing season to adjust to the environment before winter. Plant bare-root trees (dormant trees stored without soil on their roots) in late winter.
- Choose a planting site in a full-sun location. Like most fruit trees, nectarines thrive in a sunny environment that's protected from strong winds.
- Find a well-drained sandy soil. A nectarine tree's ideal growing medium is a well-drained sandy soil that has a pH between 6 and 7. If your soil has poor drainage, plant your nectarine tree in a raised garden bed or a container filled with a sandy, fertile soil or potting mix.
- Plant the tree in the ground. Dig the hole a few inches deeper and twice as wide as the tree's root ball. Create a small soil mound at the bottom of the planting hole, and spread the tree’s roots out over the soil mound. The top of the root crown should be at ground level, while the graft union (the bump on the lower trunk between the scion and rootstock) should rest two to three inches above ground level. Fill the hole halfway with soil and gently mix it around the root system.
- Water the soil and fill in the planting hole. Soak the soil with water and wait until it drains. Next, check whether the depth of the tree’s trunk has changed and adjust if necessary. Fill the rest of the hole with soil.
- Construct a soil basin. Pile a three to six inch high ring of soil around the root zone. This soil basin holds in water so moisture can gradually soak into the soil.
- Spread an organic mulch around the root zone. Mulch helps lock in moisture and enrich the soil.
- Prune side branches and trim the top of the tree. Cut the tree so it's only 30 inches tall. This ensures that your young tree forms new fruiting wood, leading to an increase in fruit production once the tree matures.
- Use a tree stake for support. Hammer the tree stake into the ground next to the hole, at least two feet deep. Attach the tree to the stake with a tree tie, fastening it about halfway up the young tree’s trunk.
How to Care for a Nectarine Tree
Follow these nectarine tree care tips to ensure a vigorous harvest for years to come.
- Plant multiple nectarine trees to improve pollination. Nectarine trees are self-fertile, meaning that they don't require cross-pollination from additional trees to bear fruit. However, growing more than one nectarine tree drastically increases the percentage of pollinated flowers that produce fruit when compared to an isolated tree.
- Give new trees two gallons of water per week. This equals one inch of rainfall. Mature trees can go two weeks with this same amount of water. Keep the soil evenly moist, but make sure it’s never sopping wet.
- Fertilize in early spring with a slow-release fertilizer. Choose a fertilizer high in phosphorus and low in nitrogen for best results.
- Prune trees annually to increase fruit production. Nectarines bear fruit on second-year wood, meaning proper pruning this year affects your crop yield next year. Prune nectarine trees annually during the winter dormant season. When pruning, cut off about two-thirds of the previous year's new growth, focusing specifically on weak and crowded branches. At the end of the trees’ second year of life, cut off the main tree trunk right above the topmost lateral branch in order to create an open center in the tree. An open center shape is ideal in order to maximize the tree's exposure to sunlight.
- Thin out the smaller nectarines. About a month after your nectarine tree blooms, remove the smaller nectarines, leaving the larger ones spaced six to eight inches apart. Fruit thinning lets the remaining fruit receive additional nutrients and reduces the chance of limb breakage due to the increasing weight of growing fruits.
- Practice disease and pest control. Maladies like peach leaf curl and brown rot can be devastating to your crop yield, but you can control both with the proper fungicides. Deter harmful pests like aphids and red spider mites using an insecticidal soap, and take care of peachtree borers using an appropriate insecticide spray. Rather than wait for these pests and diseases to strike your nectarine trees, apply fungicides and pesticides proactively.
How to Harvest Nectarines
The best part of growing fruit is the satisfaction of tasting the results of your hard work. To ensure your homegrown nectarines have a sweet, full flavor, it's important to know the proper harvesting process.
- When to harvest: Harvest time varies by nectarine variety, but nectarine fruits typically ripen in late June through August. Color is one of the best indicators by which to tell if your nectarines are ripe; when their outer skin is completely free of any green coloring, that means they're ready to pick. For the most definitive test, pick one and taste it before harvesting the rest of your crop.
- How to harvest: Pull a nectarine fruit off its stem using a gentle twisting motion.
- How to store: Nectarines taste best when freshly picked but will keep in the refrigerator for a week.
Grow your own food with Ron Finley, the self-described "Gangster Gardener." Get the MasterClass Annual Membership and learn how to cultivate fresh herbs and vegetables, keep your house plants alive, and use compost to make your community - and the world - a better place.