By Gerard Krewer
University of Georgia
and Tom Beckman, USDA
The little southwest Georgia town is home to the University of Georgia Attapulgus Research and Extension Farm and the Regional Moderate Chilling Peach and Nectarine Breeding and Evaluation Program.
The latter is a joint venture between UGA, the University of Florida and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Scientists are breeding new peaches with a moderate chilling requirement for the warm winters of a belt running from Charleston, S.C., to south Texas.
Chill hoursPeaches trees require a certain number of hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter.
Cultivars with a chilling requirement too low for an area allow them to begin growing too early, and blooms or fruits usually freeze. Those with a chilling requirement too high for an area won't leaf out quickly enough in the spring, and the fruits usually abort.
Moderate-chilling cultivars need 350 to 600 hours for normal growth and development in the spring. The Attapulgus peach-breeding program has been under way for 15 years. It started at a site near Quitman but has been at Attapulgus since 1991.
A series of excellent cultivars have been developed for the farmers and gardeners of this region. Breeders have emphasized size, appearance and eating quality.
Sweet timingEarly-season peaches aren't normally quite as sweet as a late-season peach. But after eight months without a tree-ripened peach, these Attapulgus peaches taste fantastic.
Early-season peaches are much easier to grow in the home garden, too. The number of sprays required for insects and diseases is much less than with late-season peaches.
Four "Gulf series" cultivars can now be ordered and planted.
Gulfking is a brand-new cultivar with a chilling requirement of about 350 hours. It blooms early, so it's bested planted on hilltops in inland south Georgia and north Florida or near the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Its southern limit is about Gainesville, Fla. It ripens in early May and has firm, yellow flesh with some red near the skin.
Gulfcrest requires about 500 chilling hours. It blooms about 10 days after Gulfking and should perform well from Lake City, Fla., to Cordele, Ga. It ripens in mid-May and has firm, yellow flesh with red in the flesh.
White Robin also requires about 500 chilling hours. It blooms with Gulfcrest and ripens about the third week of May. It has white flesh.
Gulfprince requires about 400 chilling hours but produced a good crop of peaches even after the very severe March 1, 2002, freeze. It has a protracted bloom and hardy buds and should be adapted from Cordele, Ga., to Gainesville, Fla. It ripens in late May and early June and has firm, yellow flesh.
ClingstoneThe Gulf series peaches are all clingstone. They have firm, nonmelting flesh similar to the California canned peaches, but juicier.
They haven't been released as commercial canning peaches, but from tests, they freeze and can very well for early-season peaches.
To get these peaches, contact your local nursery and ask them to order some to for planting next winter. You can get a list of nurseries propagating these trees, too, from your county University of Georgia Extension Service office.
The trees are budded in the spring in Tennessee and shipped to south Georgia nurseries and growers the following winter. Ask for trees budded on Nemaguard or Guardian rootstock. These rootstocks are resistant to root-knot nematodes, which are common in south Georgia.
(Gerard Krewer and Tom Beckman are horticulturists with, respectively, the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They and Wayne Sherman, of the University of Florida, head the Attapulgus peach breeding program.)
(Gerard Krewer is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)
(Tom Beckman is a horticulturist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.)