It’s peach blossom time in Texas, and in Gillespie County, the leading commercial peach production county in the state, growers are reporting a heavy bloom this early spring, a sign that the peach harvest could be “very good” this year.
A check across the county indicates peach orchards are in full bloom, but that hasn’t stopped growers from checking trees for damage after temperatures dropped rapidly with a late winter push earlier this week. Most agree that the cold blast was short lived and caused only slight damage, not enough to raise concern.
“With a heavy bloom like we’re seeing, the cold helps to thin things out, and we would have to do that anyway, so things look pretty good so far,” reported Gillespie County peach producer Russ Studebaker.
He says of greater concern are peach trees getting their 700 to 800 chill hours each winter, a requirement for a successful crop. But once the trees start to bud and the saps starts flowing, cold weather can be a real threat.
Despite commercial peach production in states like California, Georgia and the Carolinas, many Texas growers and a growing number of in-state consumers consider the Texas peach one of the sweetest peaches money can buy. However, the temperamental nature of sweet and delicate fruit and its extensive sensitivity to controlling factors makes peach production a risky crop for many farmers.
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Jim Kamas, assistant professor and Extension fruit specialist for Gillespie County, says mid-30 degree temperatures aren’t a serious threat but warns that a frost could cause significant damage; the long range forecast into next week calls for a slight warming trend.
“There was some isolated minor injury in some low lying orchards this week [when temperatures dropped near or below the freezing mark]. We got by by the skin of our teeth one night,” Kamas said about a recent blast of cold weather. “The question is how cold it’s going to get tonight [and the rest of the early spring season]. The National Weather Service predicted we could see the coldest of the two nights [this week], but right now it’s warming a little more than they anticipated, so everyone is waiting to see what happens.”
But even with less than hospitable weather conditions, projections for the peach crop still look favorable as orchards across the Hill Country are, for the most part, in “healthy condition.”
“Some are past the blooming stage, other orchards are lagging behind, but I’d say the majority of orchards are in full bloom right now,” Kamas reports.
But in spite of the optimism of most growers, weather concerns will continue to be “the topic around town” for two or three more weeks at least.
“You have to understand that on any peach tree there’s normally about 10,000 blooms, and growers are forced to thin that crop down to about 400 or 500 peaches to get a full crop [without weighing the tree branches down], so just because we lost some flowers from the cold doesn’t mean we’ve lost any varieties or necessarily had any reduction in yield. But we don’t want to lose any more.”
While seeing the peach trees in bloom is encouraging, those hoping for a peach will have to wait. The time from early bloom to harvest, of course, depends on the peach variety. Early maturing fruit will be ready for harvest as early as May, while sweeter varieties require more time before maturing and will begin to ripen in mid-to-late June through July, and into August for late maturing varieties.
According to a Texas AgriLife peach guide, peaches require a certain amount of winter chilling in order to break dormancy, bloom and grow normally in the spring. Numerous ways of calculating chilling have been devised, but the old standard method is to measure the number of hours of winter chilling a specific location receives at or below 45 degrees.
“Regal peaches, about a 700 hour chiller, will be ready for harvest around mid-May,” Kamas says, but the more popular varieties require longer to mature.
Sweeter varieties like Dixieland and Redglobe—500 and 850 hour varieties respectively—won’t be ripe until June-July if they received enough chilling weather over the winter months.
In addition to weather, Extension specialists warn growers that numerous insects and diseases damage peach trees and fruits in Texas. Major pests include San Jose scale, greater and lesser peach tree borers, plum curculio, peach twig borer, and catfacing insects.
In some cases, insect populations may be monitored for presence and injurious levels of infestation through trapping. Serious diseases are scab, brown rot, bacterial spot, post-oak root rot, and cotton root rot. Fewer insect and disease problems occur in Far West Texas, but they are sufficient to warrant control measures. Commercial and homeowner spray schedules can be obtained by contacting your County AgriLife Extension Office.