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Our Persistent Peach Puzzle

When my wife and I moved to our current residence, one of the first things that went on our “we-want-to-do-this-to-the-property-some-day” list was to plant peach trees. After all, we do live in the state that produces the most fresh peaches in the nation (Georgia’s fake news nickname notwithstanding). Shortly thereafter, we marked that item off the list, having planted two four-foot peach trees in the back yard.

Knowing that the trees would not bear fruit for a couple of years, we busied ourselves gathering information about how to take care of them and produce bountiful crops of the luscious fruit that we could can, freeze, or eat fresh, as we saw fit.

One of the trees died, and I dug it out and discarded the corpse. But it had produced an off-shoot, and I left that remaining to see what, if anything, it would do. What it did was grow like a weed. It never reached the stature of its mate, but it grew nonetheless. And one year it produced fruit. The problem was that once the peaches got about the size of golf balls, they stopped growing. They never did change to the blushing red and yellow colors one typically associates with ripe peaches, and they remained as hard as green walnuts. It never produced the rest of its life.

Meanwhile, the other tree budded, blossomed, and bore fruit. The first year it bore, we got enough peaches from it to make a couple of pies with a few extra to share with neighbors. But it was enough to excite us. We began in earnest to research how to ensure continued growth and production. As a result, we fertilized. We pruned. We sprayed. We thinned the fruit that came, ensuring the recommended minimum space of six inches between peaches.

For the next four or five years, we reaped bountiful crops. Some years (when we didn’t have a killing late freeze), the limbs were so loaded with peaches that we had to prop the limbs up to keep them from breaking off. During one of the earliest years of production, we even had to bungee cord the twin main trunk to prevent the tree’s splitting. Our back yard was fast becoming a peach-grower’s paradise. Although the runt tree never did bear usable fruit, the other one more than made up for that disappointment.

Then for the next four or five years, we got nothing, even from the “good” tree. Although it would bud and blossom and begin to produce peaches, they would either rot just before they ripened or the tree would drop the fruit before harvest time. Puzzled as to what was causing the problem or how to remedy the situation, we read books, asked local peach growers, and contacted the local university agricultural extension office for help. No one seemed to know either what was causing the problem or how to correct it.

Getting tired of ducking under the limbs while mowing and frustrated over our inability to solve the mystery, I threatened to cut both trees down. My wife begged me not to, citing the biblical parable about the farmer who convinced his boss (who, like me, wanted to cut down an uncooperative fruit tree) to give him one more year during which to solve the problem and get the tree to produce. I relented and granted the tree a one-year reprieve. My wife repeated her pleas every year for the next three years, and I (with growing reluctance) gave in every time.

During the years of reprieves, my wife continued to seek a solution to our peach problem. During a visit to her parents in Southwest Florida, she visited a nursery and, explaining our conundrum to the owner, asked him if he could recommend a solution. He mentioned various chemicals, but we had already tried them all. He seemed as stumped as we were.

Suddenly, he said, “I’m not sure if this will work, but you could at least try it.” He went on to explain how a customer’s citrus tree was not producing as it ought and how, after having tried unsuccessfully everything he could think of, he had retrieved a plastic wiffle-ball bat and proceeded to beat the trunk of the tree with it. The next season, the tree produced a bumper crop! If it worked for a citrus tree, he reasoned, perhaps it would work for a peach tree.

I left the nursery rolling my eyes in disbelief, but my wife was convinced that she should at least try it. After all, we had tried everything else. What could it hurt?

So one day she grabbed a four-foot piece of half-inch PVC pipe that was leaning in the corner of the garage. (We didn’t have a wiffle-ball bat, and she figured the PVC pipe was the next best thing.) She proceeded to take out her frustrations on the recalcitrant peach tree. I hid in the house, not wanting to hear the neighbors’ comments.

“Boy, Connie has really lost it this time! Look at that woman wail on that poor tree.”

“Should I call the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Peach Trees, Harvey?”

“Nah, she’s just going through a stage. Maybe she’ll get over it before she really hurts anyone. Just stay out of her way and don’t make her angry if you’re both out in the yard at the same time.”

I waited through the winter, certain that the tree would die at worst or be none the worse for its beating at best. I never expected to see any fruit on that tree. I figured it would be fruitless again just out of spite for having been abused. I sharpened my ax for the spring, when I would chop it down. I even dreamed about once again being able to mow unobstructed in a straight line and without having my cap knocked off by low-lying branches.

This spring, that tree budded. It blossomed. It bore fruit. Boy! Did it ever bear fruit! We hadn’t thinned the buds, so peaches were growing on top of peaches. They got about the size of golf balls (nowhere near normal size for ripe peaches) and began to show color. We had so many peaches that I again had to prop up the limbs. During a small thunderstorm, one of the main branches cracked and came crashing down under the weight of the multitudinous fruit. And they stopped growing. They were ripe, but they weren’t big enough for anything.

My wife, gloating in the success of her unconventional horticulture practice, has salvaged to date enough from the crop to make a couple of peach cobblers (and, boy, did they ever taste good!) and to freeze so many I’ve lost track.

It looks like I’ll be ducking and dodging when I mow for the foreseeable future. I’m just praying that my writing production doesn’t decline, or my wife might be coming at ME with that PVC pipe!

If you have any ideas about what our problem is and how to resolve it (short of committing peach tree murder), let us have them in the comments section.

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