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Sweet, juicy peaches within your reach

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In 1995, Gouin retired as head of the horticulture department at the University of Maryland to grow peaches (and Christmas trees) on his 11-acre farm in Anne Arundel County, Md. "I'm having a ball," he says, meaning he goes to a lot of effort to raise luscious peaches. His 132 peach and nectarine trees produce about 200 bushels of fruit each summer, starting with Sentry and the Garnet Beauty varieties in early July and ending with the late-season Redskin in mid-August.

There are three aspects of peach cultivation that discourage casual growers, he says: pruning, thinning, and spraying. But if you commit to them, perfect peaches can be within your reach.

Late-winter pruning

Peach trees fruit on wood that grows the previous year, but they must be pruned in late winter to keep them healthy and productive. Gouin removes any new growth that is shorter than 12 inches. He trims longer stems back to 18 inches. He also removes wayward or unneeded stems that might erupt from the branches. There goes his March.

Thinning blooms and fruit

A little later, when the pretty blossoms appear, Gouin is out there with a toilet brush on a stick. A branch might have three ranks of blossoms, and he simply rubs out the top row with the brush when the flowers are at "popcorn stage" — just about to open fully.

Both the pruning and thinning reduce the fruit set, and without those steps the trees will produce hundreds of congested fruits about the size of a golf ball. When the fruits begin to form, Gouin goes back and removes them by hand to leave desired fruit four to six inches apart on the branches. "No one wants a peach less than 2 1/2 inches" in diameter, he says.

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