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Skinny Peach Trees: Good for Commercial Growers and Home Gardeners

By Judy McBride
December 3, 2001

Skinny peach trees under evaluation in experimental orchards across the United States and in three foreign countries could give homeowners two for the price of one: an attractive, space-saving tree plus sweet and juicy, full-size peaches.

Commercial peach growers would reap even more benefit from the new tree forms--a “columnar” and an “upright”--developed by Agricultural Research Service scientists. Both come from conventional breeding at ARS’ Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, W.Va.

The columnar, or “pillar,” form maintains a diameter of about 5 feet, fully grown, and would fit neatly into a tiny town-house yard, according to ARS horticulturist Ralph Scorza. In commercial orchards, these compact trees can be planted much closer together than conventional trees that branch out to 16 feet across.

That translates into many more peaches per acre, while land and production costs remain about the same. One estimate shows grower profits could increase by 20 to 50 percent, according to Scorza. Another advantage of high-density planting: Growers may get a profitable crop the second year after planting, when the pickings would be too slim in a conventional orchard to make harvesting worthwhile.

For growers who may not be ready for such a radical change, Scorza selected the upright tree that reaches eight to 10 feet across. Left unpruned, both tree forms reach a height of 12 to 15 feet after several years.

The columnar form has two copies of the gene that sends the branches skyward, while the upright has only one copy. But both selections produce yellow-fleshed, dessert-type peaches with smooth, melting flesh that is sweet and aromatic. They are firm fleshed, store well, and soften when completely ripe.

Because their forms are so different from conventional trees, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has filed a patent application on both. ARS is the USDA’s chief scientific research agency.

Read more about the trees in the December issue of Agricultural Research magazine.