The peach (Prunus persica) is the most widely grown stone fruit. It is native to China and was introduced to Europe 2,000 years ago. Peaches are now grown in temperate zones, worldwide. They were an important crop in Ontario by the 1880s and in British Columbia by the 1890s. Peach trees are 3-5 m tall with long, narrow, pointed leaves; single, pink flowers; and fruits (5-8 cm in diameter) with light fuzz. Peaches without fuzz are called nectarines. When ripe, varieties grown for the fresh market (in Canada, 80 per cent) have sweet, juicy flesh; those for processing (20 per cent) have firm, almost rubbery flesh adapted to mechanical handling.
In Canada peach trees are short-lived (10-20 years), beginning to bear fruit at 2-3 years. The least cold-hardy of stone fruits (they may be injured or killed by winter temperatures below -23°C), their culture is mostly limited to southern Ontario (more than 80 per cent of acreage) and southern British Columbia (about 18 per cent of acreage), while less than 1 per cent of the production occurs in Nova Scotia. Peaches thrive where summer temperatures are high. The season extends from July to September; growers plant 12 or more varieties, ripening at different times. In the semiarid valleys of British Columbia, irrigation is essential for commercial culture. In Ontario, orchards are normally cultivated until July; a cover crop is then established to absorb surplus soil nitrogen, to slow tree growth and thus aid in hardening off for winter and to hold snow to protect the roots. In BC a permanent sod cover is usually established and orchards are not cultivated. Orchards are baited in fall and trees are painted with repellants to discourage injury from animals. Peaches are susceptible to various insect pests, mites, nematodes and plant diseases. Raw peaches are high in vitamin A.