Peaches--sweet, luscious and ripe from the tree--are not usually associated with winter. However, if you want your own peach tree, now is the time to act while dormant trees are available at nurseries.
Although California ranks first in peach production, peaches are a real challenge for Southland gardeners. Not that we don't have mild, warm weather. We do--and that's the problem. It just doesn't get cold enough in most of our growing regions to satisfy a peach tree's need for winter chilling.
Varieties such as Elberts will provide only spotty production--or none at all, in all but the colder regions of our area. So, how do you successfully grow peaches in the milder regions of the Southland? You choose a variety that has been bred to produce well in low-chill areas.
Popular in Florida
There are several peach varieties that produce well here. In my opinion, the top variety is Florida King. Although it has been popular in Florida for a number of years, it only recently became available locally.
I was introduced to Florida King three years ago. It was early May, when the only fresh peaches in local supermarkets are from Chile. The fruit was large, juicy and sweet. The bright orange-yellow flesh had a smooth texture.
The tree's production was just as impressive. The branches were loaded with clusters of attractive yellow, red-blushed fruit. Florida King was developed for the milder regions of Florida, and it should produce well here.
Unfortunately, the trees are still in limited supply. If you are unable to locate one, the following varieties have a low chilling requirement and are proven producers in the milder regions of Southern California:
Mid-pride--A great producer of top-quality fruit, producing medium to large fruit with yellow, freestone flesh of superb flavor. Bears in late June or July.
Florida Prince--A very low-chill requirement makes this tree a good bet in the mildest regions. Medium to large fruit are of very good quality.
Babcock--Medium-size fruit has pure-white flesh that turns red at the pit, and a pink skin with a red blush. Babcock is an old favorite in Southland yards and its popularity is making a comeback. In recent years the fruit has been featured in local specialty produce markets where it commands a lofty price.
Desert Gold--Almost as early as Florida King. Bears medium-size yellow fruit that's splashed with red.
Ventura--This tree is an older variety and will produce a big crop of small, oblong, yellow fruit, blushed with red. Fairly good flavor.
These varieties are available mostly in standard 15- to 30-foot trees; however, a limited number of semi-dwarf, 10- to 15-foot trees will be available this growing season.
If your local nursery doesn't stock Florida King, they can order trees for you from Dave Wilson Nursery, a wholesale grower in Hickman, Calif. Other varieties mentioned here should be in good supply in Southland nurseries.
Residents of the colder areas of the inland valleys, which have considerably more hours of chilling temperatures, can grow a wider range of peach varieties. Consult nurseries in these areas for favored varieties.