ripe peaches on a tree
Updated: May 23, 2024

How to grow peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, or cherries ("stone fruits")

Peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and cherries are closely related members of the Prunus genus. They produce a type of fruit called a drupe. They are commonly referred to as stone fruits because their seeds are enclosed by large and hard (stony) pits (endocarps) that contain a single seed.

Most stone fruits are native to warmer climates of the world and, therefore, are very susceptible to injury from low winter temperatures. In addition, they bloom earlier in the spring than pome fruits (apple and pear), and the flowers frequently suffer damage from spring frost. Because of this, the backyard culture of stone fruits has unique challenges:

  • Stone fruits should only be planted in locations with the best conditions, with excellent air circulation and soil drainage, and protection from high winds.
  • Peaches, nectarines, and apricots are less hardy than cherries and plums.
  • Stone fruits are susceptible to a wide range of insect and disease pests.
  • All of the stone fruits are susceptible to brown rot disease. Apricot, sweet cherry, and peach are very susceptible; tart cherry and plum are less susceptible.
  • Sweet cherries tend to crack with excessive rainfall during fruit ripening.
  • Fruit production can vary widely from year to year due to environmental, pest, disease, and wildlife challenges.

Selecting recommended cultivars


Recommended Peach Cultivars (Prunus persica)
Cultivar Comments
Bellaire Large fruit with excellent color and firmness. Trees are vigorous and spreading. Resistant to bacterial leaf spot.
Candor Early ripening semi-freestone with medium-sized fruit. Resistant to bacterial leaf spot.
Desiree Early ripening, medium-size, highly colored fruit. Few split pits. Resistant to bacterial leaf spot.
Garner Beauty A sport of Redhaven. Medium to large, fuzzless, red fruit. Firm, yellow, semi-freestone flesh. Vigorous and productive.
Glohaven Fruit is large, firm, and uniform in size. Fruit color is mostly red with deep yellow background color. Trees are vigorous and buds are very hardy against spring frosts. Resistant to bacterial leaf spot.
Loring Medium to large red fruit over a yellow background. Can produce heavy crops but blooms early.
Newhaven Similar to Redhaven. Very reliable with good disease resistance.
Raritan Rose Large, red fruit with white flesh; excellent quality. Vigorous and productive trees.
Red Rose Medium-sized, red fruit with white flesh. Vigorous, hardy trees.
Redhaven Most popular peach in the Mid-Atlantic region. Semi-freestone, non-browning. Requires thorough thinning. Bears well at a young age.

Large fruit, very high quality. Blooms over a long period. Vigorous tree

developed at UMD in 1931.

Rich May Early ripening, medium-size, highly colored, clingstone fruit. Resistant to bacterial leaf spot.
Summerglo Large, yellow fruit. Vigorous and productive trees with above-average cold-hardiness.
Sunhigh Large, oblong fruit. Red-over-orange background. Important commercial cultivar.
White Hale Similar to J.H. Hale but with white flesh. Large, high-quality fruit; productive trees.

Note: genetic dwarf cultivars, like Bonanza, are available that reach just 5-6 ft. in height


Recommended Nectarine Cultivars (Prunus persica nucipersica)
Cultivar Comments
Arctic Star Deep red skin with white flesh. Very sweet, low-acid, semi-freestone. Ripens in early June.
Armking Large fruit with a red blush. Yellow flesh. Semi-freestone. Ripens in mid-June.
Double Delight The richest flavor among nectarines. Dark red skin, yellow flesh. Freestone. Mid-summer harvest.
Fantasia Large, yellow freestone that is firm, but very juicy. Sweet, tangy flavor. Ripens in late August.


Recommended Apricot Cultivars (Prunus armeniaca)
Cultivar Comments
Blenheim Juicy fruit is especially aromatic. Freestone. Good canning apricot.
Harcot Early-ripening, productive tree. Adaptable to many different soil types. Ripens in June-July.
Harlayne Medium-sized fruit with orange, freestone flesh. Productive and cold-hardy.
Veecot Medium-to-large fruit with orange freestone flesh.

European Plums

Recommended European Plums (Prunus domestica)
Cultivar Comments
Bluebyrd USDA release. Blue skin and amber flesh. Vigorous and productive. Requires cross-pollination.
Bluefre Later-ripening and larger fruit than Stanley. Yellow, freestone flesh.
Damson Consistent, heavy crops. Fruit is tangy and preserves well. Ripens in August.
Italian Prune Medium to large, purple-black fruit. Excellent quality, freestone flesh. Productive trees.Stanley Prune
Stanley Prune Medium-sized, dark-blue freestone. Greenish-yellow flesh. Good for fresh eating, drying, and canning. Ripens mid-August.

Asian Plums

Recommended Asian Plums (Prunus salicina)
Cultivar Comments
Methley Round, purple fruit with red blush. Ripens early to mid-July. Vigorous tree.
Ozark Premier Large, red fruit with yellow clingstone flesh. Harvest early to mid-August.
Santa Rosa Very large, round, red-purplish fruit. Very high-quality, clingstone flesh. Partially self-pollinating. Vigorous, broad habit with good black knot resistance.
Shiro Round, yellow fruit sometimes with pink blush. Very juicy clingstone that ripens late July. Vigorous and hardy, with good resistance to black knot.
Superior Asian x American hybrid. Large, reddish fruit with yellow flesh.
Toka Asian x American hybrid. Small-medium fruit with red skin and yellow flesh. Self-fertile. Resistant to black knot disease.

Tart (Sour) Cherries

Recommended Tart Cherries (Prunus cerasus)
Cultivar Comments
Balaton Vigorous, upright tree. Large, firm fruit. Has some resistance to cherry leaf spot and brown rot diseases.
Danube Can be eaten fresh; is not as tart as other sour cherries (high sugar content). Ripens a few days before Montmorency.
Meteor Genetic dwarf, reaches 8 to 12 ft. at maturity. Fruit is similar to Montmorency.
Montmorency Very old vigorous and hardy cultivar. Red fruit with yellow flesh. Tree reaches 15 ft. with a spreading habit. Ripens in mid- to late-June.
North Star Genetic dwarf, reaches 6-12 ft. Heavy producer bears in 2nd year. Crack-resistant. Hangs for up to 2 weeks.

Sweet Cherries

Recommended Sweet Cherries (Prunus avium)
Cultivar Comments
Black Gold Dark red, heart-shaped fruit. Late-blooming; avoids late frost injury. Self-fertile.
Hedelfingen Very productive trees that begin bearing quickly. Good-quality black-red fruit with some crack resistance.
Lapins Self-pollinating, heavy producer. Crack-resistant fruit. Ripens mid-July.
Royal Ann Very old yellow cultivar with a pink blush. Large, productive trees.
Sam Early-ripening, large, black-red cherry. Large, vigorous, upright trees. Blooms later than most other cultivars.
Starkrimson® Self-pollinating tree that only reaches 12-14 feet. Large, red fruit ripens in early June. Disease-resistant.
Stella Self-pollinating, vigorous, large trees (25-30 feet). Large, dark-red fruit. Bears well at a young age.
Van Fruit similar to Bing, but firmer. Vigorous, productive trees tolerant of harsh weather.

Planting, care, and pest management


The general recommended space requirement for stone fruit trees is 20 ft. x 25 ft. depending on the cultivar and rootstock.

Plant care

  • Monitor soil in the root zone for watering needs, and irrigate to supplement rainfall as needed.
    • Do not let roots dry out during establishment (the first five years after planting). A small ridge of soil may be mounded in a ring around each tree (away from the trunk) to minimize runoff.
    • Stone fruits are more shallow-rooted than pome fruits and so are less tolerant of drought. Peaches are most sensitive to drought at the “final swell,” when the fruit is rapidly increasing in size. Water the tree deeply at this time.
  • Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch over the root zone to reduce weeds and hold in soil moisture.
  • Small, immature fruits detach naturally from peach trees in late spring in a self-thinning phenomenon known as “June drop.” Hand-thinning is also required to create a 4- to 6-inch space between developing fruits. A full crop results from just 5% of flowers becoming fruits!
  • Allow stone fruits to ripen on the tree. Their sugar content will not increase after they are picked. Harvest fruits while still firm, however, to minimize fruit disease, especially brown rot.

Training and pruning

  • Like all fruit trees, stone fruit trees should be pruned to develop a strong, well-balanced framework of scaffold branches. Remove unwanted branches, ideally pruning them off while still small to avoid the necessity of large cuts in later years.
  • The pruning system best suited to most stone fruit trees is called “open center.” Pruning and training the trees to this system produces a vase-shaped tree.
    • Open center trees maximize air circulation and light penetration into the canopy center, both important factors in reducing the development of brown rot on fruit.
    • The open center pruning system also keeps the fruit-bearing limbs closer to the ground, accessible for pruning and harvest.
  • Yearly “renewal” pruning of peach branches and laterals forces the growth of new shoots that flower and fruit in their 2nd year. They produce little fruit after that.
  • Sweet cherry is usually pruned to a central leader system. Apricot and plum can be grown with either a central leader or open center.
  • Spurs are short, compressed twigs that bear flowers and fruit. On plums, sweet cherries, and apricots, spurs can bear fruit for more than one year.
  • Stone fruit trees are very susceptible to canker diseases that enter branches through bark injuries and pruning cuts. If pruned in late winter, the tree cannot protect the pruning wounds from infection by these diseases. Prune your trees from budswell through petal fall in the spring. The goal is to develop a vase-shaped tree with no branches in the center.

At planting 

A whip (young tree with no side branches) should be cut back to 26 to 30 inches after planting. Otherwise, the tree will grow major branches too high above the ground.

For trees with healthy branches positioned 18 inches or higher above the soil line:

  • Select three or four scaffold branches, beginning at 18 inches off the ground, one at each compass point so they are spaced evenly around the tree when viewed from above.
  • Choose branches that are growing at a 60° to 90° angle from the trunk above them.
  • Cut these scaffold branches back by one-half to a healthy bud facing away from the canopy center.
  • Remove all branches that are lower than 18 inches above the soil line.
  • Cut the leader back to a bud just above the topmost selected branch.
  • During the summer, pinch off any young shoots that begin to grow toward the center of the tree so they don’t crowd the canopy.

Spring after planting 

Remove any broken or diseased branches and cut out any vigorous upright shoots that may
have developed on the inside of the main scaffolds.


an illustration of how to prune a fruit tree - removing the central leader
Pruning a one-year-old peach tree.
(A) One-year-old peach tree that has produced too many limbs to be left permanently.
(B) Same tree after pruning to remove the lowest limbs.
(C) Top-down view showing that retained limbs are evenly spaced around the trunk.

Second spring 

During the second spring after planting, begin to develop secondary or sub-scaffold branches on the primary scaffolds.

  • From each scaffold branch, select two to three limbs that developed during the previous summer. These will become sub-scaffold branches. They should be spaced 6 to 8 inches apart along the branch and 18 to 24 inches away from the main trunk.
  • Remove all other side limbs.
  • Head-back (shorten) the chosen side limbs by one-half.
  • Head-back the primary scaffold branch length by one-half.
  • Completely remove any large limbs growing vertically off of the primary scaffolds, leaving only the moderately-vigorous second-year wood for fruiting.
illustration of pruning a peach tree - trimming out downward-facing and in-ward facing branches
Pruning a two-year-old peach tree.
(A) The tallest limbs are headed-back to outward-growing laterals.
(B) Drooping and inward-growing limbs are removed,

Third and subsequent years 

  • After careful pruning and training for the first two years, heavy pruning should not be necessary. Light, corrective pruning should maintain the open center, keep the tree within its allotted space, and prevent limb breakage.
  • Thin-out and shorten inside limbs to prevent shading of the canopy center.
  • Remove overly-vigorous upright branches and leave moderately-vigorous branches.
  • Remove both short, slender shoots and very long shoots which are not as productive.
  • Head-back limbs to encourage the development of new fruiting wood.

Pruning mature peach trees 

  • As your peach trees begin to bear heavily, you must prune severely to stimulate new growth. 
  • Peaches are produced on the previous year’s new growth, and the best fruiting wood is 12 to 18 inches long.
  • Limit the height and spread of older mature trees by removing large branches from the upper side of scaffolds, leaving only small fruit-producing shoots. 
  • Head-back the primary scaffold branches to a side branch growing away from the canopy. Remove or cut back damaged portions of larger branches. Maintain the open center to prevent shading of the interior portion of the tree.

Fruit thinning

Resources for peach tree pruning

(Video) The Peach Pruning Blueprint | Penn State University 

Peach Tree Pruning | Penn State University

(Video) Pruning a Young Peach Tree | NC State University 

(Video) Pruning a Two-Year-Old Peach Tree | NC State University 

(PDF) Pruning Peach Trees | Virginia Cooperative Extension

Plant and pest problems

Stone fruit trees tend to have shorter lives than apple and pear trees. The useful life of a peach tree in a commercial orchard, for example, is 12 to 15 years, although well-managed trees may be productive for 15 to 20 or more years. Gardeners often observe a general decline in tree vigor, reduced yields, undersized leaves that yellow and drop prematurely, wilting of shoots, and branch dieback. These symptoms can be caused by a combination of factors, including extreme cold, drought stress, wood-boring insects, canker and root diseases, and wildlife feeding.

Problems caused by insects/mites or diseases

Stone fruit trees are vulnerable to a large number of diseases and insect and mite pests. These include (PDF) brown rot, peach leaf curl, black knot, bacterial spot, Cytospora canker, peach scab, plum curculio, Oriental fruit moth, peach tree borer,  and spotted wing drosophila.

See the resources below for detailed pest identification and management information. For pesticide selection and timing, refer to Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Pest Management Guide (select the Home Fruit chapter). UME recommends this guide for Maryland’s home fruit gardeners.

Problems not caused by insects/mites or diseases

Branches and Trunk

  • Gum oozes from holes at the base of the trunk or lower branch crotches. If the gum is clear, suspect mechanical injury or stress. If the gum is mixed with sawdust-like frass (borer excrement), suspect borers.

Twig/branch dieback

  • Root damage, drought, or mechanical injury - prune out affected areas and keep trees well-watered. 
  • Wet, poorly drained soil - select suitable, well-drained planting sites.
  • Herbicide damage - twigs are stunted and distorted.

Bark is cracked longitudinally. 

  • Frost/freeze cracks, sunscald - cracks usually occur on the south or west side of a tree. Caused partly by differential freezing and thawing of water in trees. Stone fruit trees are more susceptible to this injury than pome fruit trees due to their thin bark. Consider painting the trunks and large scaffold branches of young trees with white latex paint. Late summer or early fall pruning or fertilizing makes trees more vulnerable to frost crack and sunscald injury.  
  • Trunk bark/wood is gouged or scarred - lawnmower and string trimmer injury, embedded wires or collars from tree support apparatus. Mulch to within 6 inches of the trunk. Stone fruit trees generally do not require support.

Water sprouts, root suckers

  • Caused by environmental stress and removal of large branches and limbs. Prolific growth of sprouts occurs directly below large pruning cuts. In all cases, promptly pull or cut all water sprouts at the point of attachment.

Bulging or deformity of the trunk at the graft union

  • Bulging of the trunk at the graft union- normal on grafted trees where the scion wood and rootstock meet. Remove all suckers that arise below the graft union. 

Flower buds or flowers are brown and dry or water-soaked; blossom drop

  • Winter-kill of buds from extended periods of very cold temperatures. Young trees, flowers, and buds at the ends of branches and facing upwards are more vulnerable. Avoid planting very early blooming cultivars. 
  • Spring frosts and freezes damage buds, flowers, and young fruits. Open blooms are more cold-sensitive. Apricot, peach, and nectarine bloom early. Peach trees produce a full crop when only 5-10% of flowers become fruits
  • Misuse of dormant oil or pesticide sprays, including spraying when blooms are open or temperatures are below 40°F. Incorrect spraying dormant oil, lime-sulfur, and other fungicides and insecticides may damage buds and blooms. Follow label directions.

Failure to fruit, minimal fruit set

  • Lack of pollinizer trees (a second variety)—this applies to most sweet cherries, Japanese plums, and apricot-plum crosses.
  • Poor pollination/fertilization—bee activity is low during cool, wet weather. 
  • Stressful conditions - drought, wind, low temperatures
  • Low light conditions (excessive shade). Follow proper thinning and pruning guidelines. Select planting sites with optimum light exposure.
  • Water stress - causes drying out of leaf and flower buds. Irrigate during dry periods.
  • Over-use of nitrogen fertilizers before the bloom period.

 Fruit problems

  • “June drop” (peach) - peach trees over-produce fruit and thin themselves naturally.
  • Small fruits due to failure to thin fruits or low soil fertility
  • Cracking/splitting from excessive moisture during ripening (sweet cherry especially vulnerable). Pick ripened fruit promptly and use mulches and irrigation to maintain even soil moisture.
  • Split pit disorder: (peach and nectarine); the opening of the pit at the stem end - a physiological problem that can lead to secondary insect and disease problems. It occurs more on early-season cling-type peaches. Encouraged by severe thinning, excessive rainfall, and excessive nitrogen fertilization.
  • Spots caused by pesticide burn. Captan®, sulfur, and oil sprays may produce russeting on sensitive varieties.
  • Hail causes small, roughened areas on fruit. Cosmetic damage.
  • Mechanical damage from contact with branches or rough handling.
  • Sunscald—white, tan, or brown sunken areas on exposed surfaces. It may alter fruit flavor. Remove and discard the affected fruit.
  • Pesticide burn - spots in a pattern or russeting. Captan®, sulfur, and oil sprays may produce russeting on sensitive varieties.
brown areas and rough skin of a peach fruit due to pesticide injury
Scarring or russetting is likely from the pesticide used and the environmental conditions and/or the amount of spray and adjuvants used. Photo: Paul Bachi, University of Kentucky Research and Education Center,

(PDF) Peach Fruit Diseases | University of Kentucky

(PDF) Managing Pests in Home Fruit Plantings | Purdue University 

Fruit Pathology Lab | Ohio State University

Fruit Tree Pests | University of Maine

Pest-Mating Disruption | Northeast IPM Center

Stone Fruit IPM | Michigan State University

Disease and Insect Control Programs for Homegrown Fruit in Kentucky- Including Organic Alternatives | University of Kentucky

Author: Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist. Reviewed by Miri Talabac, Lead Horticulture Consultant. 4/2024

Still have a question? Contact us at Ask Extension.