Peach trees still need more chill hours

Published 2:39 pm Monday, January 11, 2016

It is still to early to tell about how the 2016 peach crop will turn out, but farmers are hoping for the right amount of chill hours.

Chill hours are tallied during the peach trees’ dormant period, when cold weather is valuable because it keeps buds from opening too early, exposing them to a potentially damaging late freeze.

At the start of 2016, Chilton County’s peach crop had experienced roughly 300 chill hours, which are defined as a complete hour where the temperature is at 45 degrees or below, according to Chilton Research and Extension Center Director Jim Pitts.

CREC records chill hours at two locations, one at the center itself, in the Collins Chapel community and in the Fairview community.

“Right now it is hard to tell,” Pitts said. “We had a little cold weather before Christmas and then it warmed back up to where it was 70 degrees some days before Christmas. We are seeing some buds moving already, even though we haven’t had enough chill hours. Something is going on that has those trees moving, but right now we just don’t know.”

Pitts said cooler mornings such as Monday morning where temperatures dropped to 23 degrees could damage the peach crops.

“We could have some buds that are killed on account of the temperatures getting that cold,” Pitts said. “It is really ideal for the temperatures to not get too low. You would rather have the temperatures stay around 45 degrees.”

Pitts said it is still too early to determine what type of season peach farmers will have, but the chilling season will end Feb. 15.

“We start counting the chill hours on Oct. 1 and we end on Feb. 15 so we should have a better idea of how many chill hours we will have for this season in February,” Pitts said.

Pitts said in previous years, the cooler weather has not started arriving until later in the winter.

“This county has been very consistent in making peach crops,” Pitts said. “About 1,000 chill hours are typically what you like to have.”

When a proper number of chill hours are attained, trees tend to bloom and then bud all at once, allowing growers to be more efficient when harvesting.

Trees that do not experience enough chill hours bloom and bud at different times, and the fruit grow in a shape that is not ideal.

Another problem mild winters can cause is buds that open before there are enough leaves on the tree to supply them with necessary nutrients during the most critical period of their growth.

Most of the work done in orchards preparing for the growing season—including fertilizing and pruning will begin Feb. 1.