Spotlight on Peaches

by Shannon Moreau

The sweetest part of summer is finally here–it’s peach season! Midsummer brings loads of pop up tents to roadsides and growers to farmers markets with delicious peaches from western Colorado, with Palisade peaches enjoying particular fame. Fortunately we can also grow peaches here in Fort Collins and in other areas in Northern Colorado. 

Two women in a Palisade, Colo. peach orchard. Photographed by George L. Beam circa 1910-1919.

Peach production has a long history in Colorado. After all, Georgia isn’t the only Peach state. The history of Palisade’s peach production dates back to the late 1800s. After the Ute tribe was pushed from their ancestral lands, the town of Palisade was founded. Initially, growing conditions for fruit trees were very poor due to the lack of water. This led a farmer named John Harlow to a solution, building a canal from the Colorado river to the town. With access to irrigation the town of Palisade bloomed into the agricultural hub it is today. As peach production increased the town even started a festival celebrating this iconic fruit–The Palisade Peach Festival (which will be August 18-20th 2023 for folks wanting to head west and see what it’s all about!)

Spring blooms.

To bring things a bit closer to home, there are several different varieties that grow very well here in Northern Colorado. These selections are reliably hardy to zone 5 and it is best to plant your peach tree in a location protected from winter wind to prevent any bloom loss or dieback from harsh conditions. These trees are also self fertile, meaning you will only need one tree for pollination. However if you or a neighbor have an additional peach tree to partner with, pollination improves which leads to a more abundant fruit set. Peaches are incredibly beautiful spring bloomers, prized for their flowers and perfect for a showy spot in your garden. The flowers will all be a lovely pink and can range from nickel to quarter size.  If you decide that you need a peach more for its ornamental aspects than its fruiting ability you’re in luck! Bonanza, Bonfire, and Pix-Zee peaches are all wonderful dwarf selections that make beautiful specimen trees. Like most fruit trees, peaches thrive in full sun but will do well in partial shade. 

Freestone peach.

 After planning your planting site there are a few things to consider when picking your perfect peach tree. The first decision is freestone vs. clingstone fruit. Freestone means they have easy-to-remove pits in contrast with the fruit that stays attached to the pits of clingstone peaches and stone fruits. While the flavor of clingstone fruits is outstanding, I find that freestone peaches are easier to work with and can be used for preserving and fresh eating (and still taste great). 

Next it’s time to think about the flavor profile you are looking for. Peaches are usually classified as yellow or white. Yellow peaches will have orange skin that will develop a slight red blush as it matures and golden yellow flesh. They have an intensely rich, sweet flavor profile. Yellow peaches such as Redhaven, Reliance, and Veteran are favorites in our area.  The skin of white peaches is cream colored and will also develop a rosy blush as they ripen, with white flesh. As for their flavor they have a bright, more floral sweetness. If you would like to grow white peaches I highly recommend both Polly White and Snow Beauty. If you are trying to preserve your harvest, canning is ideal for yellow peaches while freezing is best for white peaches. I would not crown one better than the other, as both are extremely tasty and can be used for fresh eating, baking, and grilling.   Whether you would like to enjoy peaches from the western slope or pick them from your very own tree, peach season is one of my favorite times of year in Colorado. A mature peach tree always produces more fruit than you need, giving you a good reason to share the love with friends, family and neighbors. Whether you are supporting a local farmer or appreciating a peach from your neighborhood, they always taste a little sweeter knowing someone close by put all the time, effort and love into growing this fruit that is synonymous with a Colorado summer.

Originally published on July 31st, 2023.