Peachy! Even in Southwest Florida, You Can Grow a Juicy PeachJun 03, 2022 07:03PM ● By ERIK ENTWISTLE
Some peach varieties need more chilling than others, and only so-called low-chill peaches can grow in Florida because of the state’s comparatively warm conditions. Southwest Florida typically accumulates 100-200 chill hours during the colder months; by contrast, the Panhandle accumulates 500-650. The fact that we have any suitable peach varieties to choose from this far south is thanks to the stone-fruit breeding program at the University of Florida, which began in the 1950s and introduced a few exceptionally low-chill varieties in the 1980s.
Two varieties in particular, Flordaglo and Flordaprince, are recommended for Southwest Florida. Both are defined as “melting flesh” cultivars, in which the flesh softens rapidly as the fruit ripens. Ideally, they are picked when ripe (typically in May) and eaten promptly for best flavor, as they tend to bruise easily.
We planted a Flordaglo specimen several years ago on Sanibel, and the tree is now 12 feet tall and producing fruit for the second year in a row. The peaches are small and relatively few in number (for now), but their flavor is intensely sweet and “peachy.” The shaping of our tree has been relatively neglected after a few missed pruning windows, possibly affecting its fruit production, but the tree is otherwise thriving in sandy soil with regular irrigation. We plan to add a Flordaprince specimen to the garden soon and look forward to seeing how the two varieties compare.
Anyone who wants a taste of gardening from more northern climes will appreciate having a peach tree here in Florida, as it behaves just like its counterparts that grow much farther north. The deciduous habit results in a bare tree during the winter months, which exposes the beautifully mottled bark in contrast to nearby tropical plants with their multicolored blooms and foliage. (Our peach tree is planted in front of a bougainvillea/clusia hedge.)
Tiny pink blossoms appear in February as the tree emerges from dormancy, an unmistakable reminder of a northern spring (minus the daffodils and tulips). When the peaches ripen in May, you’ll be among the first in the country to enjoy a locally grown, early taste of summer.
The UF extension website (sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu) provides essential information for successfully growing peaches and is a must-visit resource for those wishing to grow their own trees.
Pianist, instructor, and musicologist Erik Entwistle lives and teaches on Sanibel. He writes the Stay Tuned column for TOTI Media. A favorite hobby is growing vegetables and fruit using sustainable gardening methods.