Though nectarines are sometimes thought to be a cross between a peach and a plum, they are actually just fuzzless peaches. This is due to a genetic mutation in a tree that would otherwise produces what we call peaches. The same mutation responsible for the smooth skin is also responsible for the spicier taste and slightly smaller size of nectarines.
Nectarines can be traced back to ancient China, where they were known as early as 2000 B.C. They were probably taken to Persia and the Mediterranean region via the Silk Road in early historical times. Thinking that both peaches and nectarines came from Persia, the Europeans named them Prunus persica, with the nectarine taking the name, Prunus persica nucipersica.
Nectarines are similar to peaches when it comes to their pits. Some nectarines contain freestone pits, while others are considered clingstone. Freestone pits can be removed from the fruit easily while clingstone pits are deeply embedded in the flesh and are hard to remove.
So what happens when you plant a pit from a nectarine? If the pollen that caused the fruit to form was from a nectarine tree, the fruit will be a nectarine. But if the nectarine tree was pollinated with pollen from a peach tree, it can turn out to be either a peach or a nectarine.
Nectarine fruit is usually red over a yellow background. The flesh can be either white or yellow or almost red. Generally, yellow nectarines have the fullest flavor while white nectarines are the sweetest. Most people find the flavor of nectarines to be distinctly different from that of peaches.
Nectarines require well-drained soil, summer watering, spraying for peach leaf curl, and full sun. In our climate, you will probably not have a crop of fruit every year due to wet spring weather or late frosts. But a healthy tree will produce many pounds of delicious fruit in a good year, making it well worth the wait.
Some outstanding varieties for our area are Arctic Queen, Double Delight, Fantasia and Liz’s Late. Arctic Queen is a delicious, super-sweet, white nectarine. It has rich flavor and a nice crunchy texture when fully ripe.
Double Delight is considered by some to be the best flavored yellow nectarine, plus it has beautiful, double-pink blossoms. The freestone fruit is sweet with unusually rich flavor.
Fantasia is a popular large yellow freestone with bright red skin. Harvest this one firm ripe for a tangy flavor or soft ripe for the melting, sweet, juicy run-down-your-chin fruit.
Liz’s Late is a late-ripening yellow freestone that has intense, spicy flavor. This is a good one for extending the fruiting season.
If you are limited on space, try Necta Zee Miniature nectarine. This sweet, very flavorful yellow freestone has beautiful red skin and can be grown in a large container for many years.
Nectarine trees are still available in bare-root at very reasonable prices. Treat your taste buds to the sweet, rich flavor of a homegrown nectarine.