by Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent
Most fruits grown in northern Florida are deciduous, which means the trees shed their leaves during winter and go into a period of dormancy or rest. During this rest, the tree must be exposed to chilling temperatures. This exposure to cold prepares the plant to resume active growth in spring.
Temperatures below 45°F accumulated throughout the winter determine the total hours of chilling. Species differ in the amount of chilling they need to completely rest and resume growth; this is known as a plant’s chilling requirement. Lack of sufficient chill hours will result in sparse foliage, few to no flowers and poor fruit production.
Our area receives between 400 to 650 hours of temperatures below 45°F during the average winter. This provides enough chill hours for certain apple cultivars such as Anna, Ein Shemer, Dorsett Golden and Tropic Sweet. However, it does not provide the chill hours required for many of the more common varieties such as Red Delicious and Golden Delicious.
This same environmental factor holds true for most deciduous fruit trees. Some of the better known peach varieties, such as Elberta, perform poorly here. Most, if not all, of our winters will not provide the chill hours they require. There are peach varieties that perform okay in our area.
Even when the correct variety is selected, many fruit enthusiasts are disappointed to see insects eating their fruit, diseases causing their fruit to rot or possibly all their fruit falling to the ground before it’s ready to be eaten.
It is wise to do your homework before purchasing the planting just any old fruit tree in North Florida.