Nectarine Fruit Trees: History, Cultivation, Lifespan & Varieties

Nectarine, (Prunus persica), smooth-skinned peach that is grown throughout the warmer temperate regions of both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. A genetic variant of common peaches, the nectarine was most likely domesticated in China more than 4,000 years ago. The expression of a recessive allele is thought to be responsible for the smooth skin of nectarine fruits, which lack the fuzzy trichomes (plant hairs) characteristic of peach fruits. 

Nectarines as a stone fruit and can be orange or yellow with a sweet, juicy flesh. Nectarine and peach trees are virtually indistinguishable. Nectarines are basically fuzzless peaches. However, they are more challenging to grow than peaches. Most nectarines have only moderate to poor resistance to bacterial spot, and nectarine trees are not as cold hardy as peach trees.

Nectarine trees can grow to be between 6 and 30 feet tall, depending on the rootstock used. However in many places they are usually kept between 10 feet tall by pruning. The leaves are glossy green, lance-shaped, and long pointed; they usually have glands at their bases that secrete a fluid to attract ants and other insects. 

Nectarine flowers are pink to white in color, with five petals and a central cluster of yellow stamens. The petals are often soft and delicate, with a slight fragrance. The trees bloom in early spring. The flowers are one of the first signs of spring. Flowers are usually pollinated by bees, butterflies, and other insects that are attracted to their sweet scent and nectar. Cross-pollination between different nectarine varieties can lead to a more diverse and robust crop.

After pollination, the flowers develop into small green fruits, which eventually ripen into the juicy nectarines. Nectarine grow best within U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 to 8. The first nectarine harvest will happen two to four years after the tree is established in the garden. Usually ripen during the summer months.

Cultivation Basics

Climate: Nectarine trees prefer warm, sunny climates. They are not as cold-hardy as peach trees, so if you live in a colder climate, you will need to choose a variety that is suited to your zone.

Soil: Nectarine trees need well-drained soil. If your soil is heavy clay, you will need to amend it with sand or compost before planting your tree.

Planting: Nectarine trees can be planted in the spring or fall. When planting your tree, dig a hole that is twice the diameter of the root ball and just as deep. Backfill the hole with soil and water the tree well.

Watering: Nectarine trees need to be watered regularly, especially during the first few years after planting. Once they are established, they can be watered less frequently.

Pruning: Nectarine trees should be pruned annually to remove any dead, diseased, or broken branches. Pruning also helps to encourage fruit production.

Pests and Diseases: Keep an eye out for common pests and diseases that can affect nectarine trees, such as aphids, mites, and brown rot. Regular pruning, proper watering, and pest control measures can help prevent these issues.

Harvesting: Nectarines are ripe when they are soft to the touch and have a sweet smell. You can pick them by gently twisting them off the tree.

Harvesting Nectarines

Nectarine harvesting typically occurs in late summer or early fall, depending on the variety and the region. The exact timing can vary, but it’s essential to pick nectarines when they are fully ripe for the best flavor and texture.

Look for a color change. The background color of the nectarine should transition from green to yellow or creamy white, depending on the variety. A blush of red is a good sign, but avoid any green shoulders.

Gently press the nectarine with your thumb. There should be a slight give, but it shouldn’t be mushy. A firm but yielding flesh is ideal. Give the nectarine a sniff near the stem. A ripe nectarine will have a sweet, fragrant aroma.

When harvesting, use a gentle twist and lift motion, If it separates easily from the stem with minimal resistance, it’s ready for picking. If it pulls back and doesn’t detach, leave it on the tree for a few more days. It’s best to harvest nectarines in the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening, to prevent the fruit from becoming too soft or easily bruised.

Once picked, nectarines can be stored in the refrigerator for about 5-7 days. However, they are best consumed within a few days of being picked for the freshest flavor. If you have more nectarines than you can eat right away, consider freezing them or using them in jams, jellies, or baked goods.