Peachy Keen

May 10, 2024

Last year I took this photo of my co-hort Todd Sunde eating the last peach from his ‘Contender’ Peach tree he grows in Emmetsburg.  If I only had taken a video instead of this still picture!  The juice from the peach can be seen running down Sunde’s chin and onto his hand and fingers.  Last summer this photo of Sunde sold all the peach trees we had in stock and the orders for ‘Contender’ Peach piled up! Several years ago, the University of Minnesota released a new peach tree into the market that was solidly Zone 4 hardy.  This tree consistently produces peach fruits in the Iowa Great Lakes Area, Spencer Area, Storm Lake, Cherokee and farther south.  The ‘Contender’ Peach trees are self-fruitful, so you don’t need another pollinator.  The bulk of the ‘Contender’ Peach trees we have sold the last three years or so, are to homeowners who already have ‘Contender’ Peach and want a second or third tree!  Often a ‘Contender’ Peach tree buyer is getting one because their neighbor has one of these trees in production.  

One of the first years we offered this tree at Del’s we had a great crop of peaches right here in our nursery.   We ate a few of the peaches at coffee break, but they were not quite perfectly ready.  But there were other eyes watching those peaches!  One morning we arrived and noticed that all the peaches were gone from our trees!  We were so disappointed to see the ground littered with peach pits!  Racoons had made the night a dessert bar of fresh, sugary peaches that I’m sure ran juice down their furry little faces!

During the Covid outbreak a woman in her 80s was so upset that she could not find canning lids so she could can some of her peaches!  She was sure she had over one hundred peaches on her tree that year!  This morning, we helped someone with a memorial gift of a ‘Contender’ Peach.  The tree was a memorial for a family member who loved the peaches grown on their tree.  It is amazing to me to hear these stories of peaches doing so well in Northwest Iowa!

‘Contender’ Peach grows 12-15’ tall and spreads even wider at 15-18’.  These trees need full sun and a well-drained soil. The large, deep pink flowers appear before the Apple bloom, and they are fragrant.  Early frosts could affect your harvest so try not to plant the trees in low areas where cold air may cause late frost damage.  Avoid locations that may be windy in July and August when the fruit is ripening, as twigs may damage the soft fruits.  Thinning the crop is also helpful in keeping the peaches in perfect condition.  Commercially, peach trees are pruned to look like a bowl.  The reason for this pruning method is to maximize the amount of sunlight each fruit received.  I don’t think most peach owners want to have a tree that looks like this in their yard or garden, but that choice is up to you!  Thinning the branches allows for more sunlight and reduces the number of twigs that could swing around in the wind damaging the soft fruits.  The twigs on a peach tree can be a pleasant yellow green on previous season’s growth during the winter.  The foliage is quite narrow, and the leaves hang downward.  If there are not fruits on the tree, you might mistake the tree for a Willow!

I’ve planted a ‘Contender’ Peach at my home in Greater Fostoria last December, just a few days before Christmas! I’m hoping for the “gift” of a Peachy-Keen summer!

– Todd Brockshus, Senior Horticulturalist