Peach blooms starting to peek out

Published 11:31 am Monday, February 20, 2023

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By JOYANNA LOVE | Managing Editor

The counts are in for chill hours, and the outlook for this year’s peach crop is positive for some varieties.

Chill hours are measured when the temperature falls 45 degrees or lower. The various types of peaches in Chilton County require different amounts of chill hours for optimal peaches.

Regional Extension Agent David Lawrence said the total for this year as of Feb. 15, the last day chill hours are officially counted, came to 772 chill hours.

“That is not quite as many as we would like to have,” Lawrence said. “We typically would like to have closer to 900 or 1,000. Most growers that … have fairly recent orchards are planting between 650 and 850 chill hour trees.”

Having enough chill hours ensures the tree will break dormancy and start to form buds, blossoms and eventually fruit.

“It is too early to tell right now if those (850 chill hour) trees are going to break dormancy sufficiently, if they are going to set a full crop,” Lawrence said. “We don’t know yet. It is still a long time between now and picking peaches.”

Some warm weather this week might give some trees a nudge to start showing signs of waking up to grow.

“The early trees, some of the 650s, they are already budding out, some are blooming,” Lawrence said. “It is fairly early, this time of year, for them to be putting on blooms.”

A tree blooming too early can be a concern because there is still a potential for frost. However, Lawrence said trees still have several buds that have not opened, so even if a few blooms are lost to cold weather, a good crop can be anticipated.

He said even those that have not reached the optimal chill hours could still come out of dormancy and yield a crop.

While locals are watching the peach crop, strawberry season is getting ever closer. Lawrence said the below freezing temperatures in late December were “a hard hit” to the strawberry crop, but the plants have had time to recover. Local strawberry growers were prepared and had covered their rows of plants to minimize loss. Covers remained in place during recent cold weather. Some small berries are starting to form, giving rise to speculation about when the local harvest might begin.

Lawrence said if the weather cooperates, the first harvest could be in mid-to-late March.

Local blueberry plants are also starting to bloom.