Alabama's climate and rich soils are prime for peach cultivation. Grown successfully in nearly all areas, key producing counties include Limestone in the north of the state, Clinton in the center, and Mobile in the south. Although 25 varieties of peaches are commonly grown in Alabama, some are more highly regarded for producing their fruits early, mid-season, or late.
Early-season peach varieties are the first to mature after the March flowering and pollination. They typically begin to ripen on the tree in mid-May, being the first peaches available for consumption. Popular early-season peach varieties include 'Springprince', 'Rubyprince', 'Flordaking' and 'Juneprine'.
In late June and early July the mid-season peaches ripen. They flower in March but simply take 2 to 5 weeks longer to mature on the trees than early season peach varieties. In Alabama, 'Harvester', 'Fireprince', 'Redhaven', and 'Loring' are widely regarded for their vigor, fruit quality and hardiness.
Also flowering in March but taking 4 to 5 months to reach a harvestable size and quality, late season varieties include 'O'Henry' and 'Flameprince'. They typically are ready for picking in late July to mid-August.
Peach trees have a chilling requirement annually to initiate production of flowers each spring, a process known as vernalization. Depending on the peach variety, certain plants must meet a certain threshold of cold weather each winter to ensure abundant flowering in March. The cold is measured in "chilling hours".
Select and grow the right variety for your area. Gardeners in northern Alabama should grow varieties with a chilling requirement of at least 850 hours. In central Alabama counties, varieties with at least 750 chilling requirements can provide excellent results. Orchards along the Gulf Coast need varieties that flower with a lower chilling range: 450 to 600 chilling hours.
Contact your local Cooperative Extension office to glean recommendations for the best peach varieties for your part of the state, as well as learning about newly introduced varieties and discovering the diversity in peach fruit colors and flavors.