If asked to point out the differences between peaches and nectarines, could you do it? Now the harder question: Could you choose a favorite? We love peaches and nectarines equally around here. Whether they’re plucked from the tree and eaten over the sink or baked into our favorite recipes, they’re two of our favorite stone fruits in the South. But what’s the difference between the two? According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, “At first glance, the nectarine (Prunus persica nucipersica) looks like a peach (P. persica) that has lost its fuzz. Recent evidence suggests, however, that the nectarine evolved first.” Read on to learn more about these fruits’ similarities and differences, as well as a few selections that may thrive in your region.
About Peaches and Nectarines
The easiest way to distinguish between a peach and a nectarine is by sight and touch. The skin of peaches is covered with a fine fuzz, which gives the appearance of a downy texture across the surface of the peach. Nectarines, on the other hand, are smooth and their skin can look almost shiny. Both peaches and nectarines come in an array of golden, red, and pink hues. Both peaches and nectarines can be freestone or clingstone fruits, and both have white and yellow varieties. Peaches tend to be larger than nectarines, which are usually small and dense. Genetically, peaches and nectarines are nearly identical. According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, “Peaches and nectarines, while native to Asia, do just fine throughout the South. In most area, crops ripen between May and September, depending on the selection.”
Growing Peaches and Nectarines
There are a few things to consider when deciding whether or not to plant peaches and nectarines. According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, “First, these are not low-maintenance plants. They require good drainage, heavier pruning than other fruit trees, and regular spraying if you expect to get fruit. Second, it is essential to consider the chill hours a particular selection needs in order to bloom and set fruit.” Each tree has a different chill requirement, and that may affect the types of nectarines and peaches you can grow in your area.
If you’re considering planting peach or nectarine trees, take the Garden Book’s recommendation: “Growers in the Upper, Middle, and Lower South are safer planting selections that require at least 750 chill hours and bloom later in spring. On the other hand, growers in Florida and along the Gulf and South Atlantic Coasts, where winters are mild, need to plant low-chill selections that require less than 650 hours of winter chill.”
Types of Peaches
‘Challenger’ needs 1,050 hours of winter chill. It produces small fruit with great flavor in the early- to midseason months. It’s also disease resistant and hardy against any unexpected late spring frosts. ‘Cresthaven’ is a late bloomer that requires 850 hours of chill. It produces gorgeous large fruit with golden-and-red skin. ‘Madison’ needs 850 chill hours too, and it bears bountifully its fruit, which has yellow skin tinged with bright red. ‘Southern Rose’ is a dwarf peach that requires 300 hours of chill. It produces medium-size yellow-and-pink fruit.
Types of Nectarines
‘Fantastia’ produces big, beautiful flowers and yellow-and-red fruit. It needs 650 hours of chill in the winter months. ‘Redgold’ produces striking red fruit with great flavor as long as it receives its requisite 850 hours of winter chill. These nectarines are great for cooking or for eating right off the tree. ‘Sunraycer’ is a Florida favorite that needs only 250 hours of chill. It bears large yellow-and-red fruit with delicious flavor.
WATCH: Cherry-Nectarine Pandowdy
If asked to choose between a peach and a nectarine, which is your favorite? Do you have any peach or nectarine trees growing in your yard?