Peach tree buds are naturally protected from freezing temperatures, but unseasonably warm temperatures in early February have some Georgia trees already beginning to bloom.
Trees that begin to flower this early in the growing season are much more susceptible to a late freeze in March, according to Jeff Cook, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources agent in Peach and Taylor counties.
“As long as temperatures stay cool, that will keep the peach orchards protected from running into a mid-March freeze, which is what we encountered last year. February was so warm last year, it got us blooming early. The flowers started to pop out the first of March and then we had two freezes, on March 9 and 15,” Cook said. “That really hurt the crop’s potential.”
While a late freeze is cause for concern for Georgia peach farmers, most trees appear to have received enough chilling hours to produce a crop. Peaches need chill hours with temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit to mature and break dormancy. Cook said growers prefer to get around 1,000 hours to satisfy all peach varieties. Chill hours are recorded from Oct. 1 to Feb. 15.
“Farmers are optimistic about this year’s peach crop because they feel like we’ve gotten enough chill hours to make a good crop. It’s just when you start seeing these warm temperatures and peaches start to advance the first week of February, it gets the farmers a little bit on edge,” Cook said.
Georgia growers endured a disastrous crop in 2017. A mild winter contributed to an 80 percent loss of the state’s peach crop. Cook estimates that approximately 70 percent of those losses can be attributed to a lack of chilling hours.