If you live in South Florida, and you have not found out about this yet – here’s a news flash:
Yes! You CAN grow peaches in tropical Florida! Last fall we planted a peach tree that we purchased from our favorite local garden nursery, Weatherby’s, and we had peaches galore in late spring and early summer. There are special varieties to choose from – “Flordago,” “Florida Prince,” “Tropic Beauty,” and “UF Sun” – hybrids propagated at the University of Florida. And any one will do well in your South Florida garden.
According to Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Florida peach tree was in development for 45 years. And the production of the Florida peach could provide a replacement or supplemental income stream for Florida’s citrus growers, particularly because Florida peaches could hit the marketplace about 2 months before Georgia peaches are ripe and ready.
But why wait for your local grocery store or farmer’s market to get those peaches in stock, when you can pick them ripe off the tree? Let me tell you, there is nothing like biting into a fresh picked peach that’s sweet and juicy and tasty.
Florida peaches are admittedly smaller than the large luscious Georgia peaches. And the meat around the stone is less substantial. But that doesn’t matter when you’re picking your very own backyard (or front yard – that’s where our trees are) treats.
One thing that Chris at Weatherby’s taught us was tough love, also known as “thinning.” What do I mean? Well, after the peach tree blossoms, little tiny peaches form along the branch. If you let nature take its own course and do not intercede, the peaches will only grow within the space provided. So a crowded branch means mini peaches. To get the best sized peaches, you have to pick off every other tiny peach (or two) to provide enough room so the rest of your peaches will grow to their optimal size. It was pitiful to pluck off those baby peaches, but well worth it when we experienced the end result.
Another thing we learned is that peach trees require specific pruning. This should be done during the tree’s dormant period, which is sometime between late December to early February here in South Florida, when the weather cools and nighttime temperatures are below 38°F. The peach trees will naturally grow upright and pointy, but should be pruned in a “V” shape to maximize fruit production. The University of Florida provides great instructions for pruning your Florida peach tree. We have not pruned ours yet, but, with winter on the way, we’ll be snipping soon.
The most important thing to remember is to get your peach tree well established in good, fertile soil. What I do is dig a hole that is twice the size of the root ball and completely remove or considerable amend that dirt. Then I get the hose and fill the hole up with water. I let the water drain away, and then fill it up again, right to the top. And once again, wait for it to drain away. I do this so that the surrounding plant roots are well watered and won’t steal water from the newly planted Florida peach tree. Then I fill the hole with some good dirt, just enough so that you can place the tree in the hole and the tree’s base is level to the ground. By the way, if you don’t know what good dirt is, go to your local privately-owned nursery, and get some good dirt from them. Fill up the hole with more water. Once the water drains away, make sure the base of the tree is still level to the ground. You may have to lift the tree slightly and put more soil beneath it. You want the base level or a little bit higher, but not in a valley. Place enough soil around the root ball so that the hole is almost completely filled. Turn on the hose and fill the hole up once again. Fill in more loose soil if the soil around the tree settles. Or you can fill in with some organic compost. Mulch over the area, leaving space around the base of the tree to keep is fungus and disease free. Over water once again, and you’re done!
Now some might say that this planting process is a pain. But you’re only going to plant your tree once, so you might as well do it right. And you’ll be rewarded with rich, delicious fruit in your garden before you know it!