The Chilton Research and Extension Center in Clanton, Alabama, has reported that chill hours for the 2020 peach crop are accumulating at a sufficient rate: “As of December 16, 2019, 432 and 506 chill hours have been accumulated for Central and North AL, respectively,” fruit specialist Edgar Vinson said. “This represents approximately half of total chill hours needed for most peach varieties in cultivation in these two major peach producing regions of the state. Last year, total chill hours accumulated in Chilton County was 1,049 and 1,188 in Madison County.”
According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, “During the fall and winter, deciduous fruit plants enter a dormant period that is generally referred to as the plants’ rest period. Plants enter the rest period in the fall as air temperatures begin to drop below 50 degrees F, leaf fall occurs, daylight decreases, and visible growth ceases.”
Various stages of dormancy mark development of the future peach buds. If a tree does not get enough chill hours, the number of peaches that develop will decrease. The average needed chill hours for varieties in Chilton County is 750-850 chill hours. To ensure there will be enough peaches to last through the season, peach growers have several varieties in their orchards, each needing a different length of chill hours.
Vinson said as the season progresses warming trends could decrease the number of chill hours, but research has been done on ways to boost the chill hours even if this happens. Once the peach trees have blossomed, cold weather is of course no longer a friend.