Peach trees are normally associated with warmer temps in the south. Pensylvania Amish country is about the furthest north that you’ll find commercial peach orchards. I joked a while back that with climate change, we’ll finally be able to grown Peaches up here in Northern New England. It turns out, there are already a number of cold hardy peach tree varieties that are grown in zone 4, but it takes a bit of work to get them to fruit.
While some peach varieties may be hardy to zone 4, there’s a big difference between survival hardy and fruiting hardy. While the peach trees are hardy to zone 4, the flower buds aren’t quite so resilient. To harvest peaches in zone 4, the trees must be planted where they’ll be kept cold in the early spring. Ideally, somewhere that has spring shade and heavy snow cover, but strong summer sun.
Our local fruit nursery here in Central Vermont says that you’ll need good luck to harvest peaches north of Southern Vermont. For the best changes, they suggest planting peaches “in a well-drained location where the soil will be shaded from winter sun but the tree top will be in full sun during the growing season. The cold soil in spring will delay flowering and help protect them from frost damage. Protect the trunks from the warm southwest sun in winter that can cause injury.”
In our location, there is spring shade on the north side of our workshop before the sun angle changes in the late spring and rises above the peak. The steep roof provides plenty of snow cover, meaning the soil temperatures will remain cold long into the spring. Both of these characteristics make that an ideal planting location for northern peaches. The peaches will break bud late, meaning that they’ll avoid the late spring frosts and have a better chance of setting fruit.
Now that we have a suitable sight selected, it’s time to find a cold hardy peach variety that will not only survive but hopefully bear fruit on our cold northern homestead.
Cold Hardy Peach Varieties for Zone 4
For a long time, the “go to” peach for cold climates was Reliance. While it was the most dependable, the peaches weren’t the best quality. Breeding efforts have come a long way, and there are now a number of choices for zone 4 peach varieties. Most local nurseries still haven’t caught up, and the ones around here only sell reliance and contender. Given a choice, go with contender unless you’re in the coldest spots. The peaches are of much better quality.
- Reliance – As the name suggests, this is one of the most reliable peach varieties for cold climates. It’s rated to zone 4, but some sources say that the cold hardiness of this variety is exaggerated. It’s also rated to produce a “medium quality” peach, meaning that it’s not going to live up to all your peachy expectations. Freestone and ripens late July.
- Madison – Rated to zone 4, and reputedly of better quality than Reliance but still not the best. The fruit is a bit fibrous, though flavorful. Ripens in mid-August.
- Contender – Rated to zone 4, and of better quality than both Reliance and Madison. Freestone and ripens in late July.
- Blushingstar – This zone 4 hardy peach is small but flavorful. They’re only about 2.5 inches in diameter, but they have a sweet and fragrant white flesh. Said to be a good keeper, at least for longer than most peaches. This is a relatively new variety, introduced in 1996. Freestone and ripens in Mid-August.
- Intrepid– Hardy to zone 4, with exceptionally frost resistant flower buds. Some sources say that this variety can withstand a hard frost even in full bud. Good flavor, and great for baking. Ripen in August and produce a medium sized peach with firm flesh.
Other Cold Hardy Peach Trees
While there are only a few peach tree varieties that are hardy to zone 4, a number of others are good candidates in the warmest zones. They have special characteristics such as a late-blooming tendency that makes them worth a try with the right site preparation.
- Veteran – Rated to zone 5, but this peach variety blooms very late in the spring. That means with a little extra winter protection and mulching, it may stand a chance. This peach is freestone and richly flavored, making it worth the effort.
- Harrow Diamond – Rated to zone 5 and of excellent quality. This is an early peach, ripening in early July right alongside home-grown raspberries. The flesh has a strong red blush, making them a beautiful sight on the tree.
- Red Haven – Zone 5 peach with very low fuzz and creamy flesh. Blooms late to avoid frosts. Freestone and ripens in late July.
If you’ve had success growing peaches in zone 4 (or colder) I’d love to hear about it. Leave a note in the comments below.