The mild but cool Georgia winters and hot summers make a suitable climate for a variety of peach trees in the state. Traditionally, the heaviest commercial production of peaches in Georgia occurs in the midsection -- roughly the swath from Columbus to Albany. It's most concentrated in Crawford, Peach, Taylor and Macon counties. Blossoms open in late February or March, and fruit harvest begins as early as May and ends in August.
Although native to China, peaches first arrived in North America thanks to the Spanish. In 1571, the first peach trees were introduced into Georgia on St. Simon's and Cumberland islands, according to the Georgia Peach Council. By the late 19th century and into the early 20th century, peach orchard acreage expanded significantly, and in the 30 years following the Civil War, Americans adopted the "Peach State" nickname for the southern state.
The peak of annual peach fruit production within Georgia was in 1928, when nearly 8 million bushes were harvested, according to the Georgia Peach Festival website. Since then, production significantly dropped and hovers around 2.5 million bushels annually even today.
Peaches and Cold Weather
Peaches grow in every county in Georgia, but because of winter temperatures, some varieties are suited only to areas with the appropriate amount of cold. Peach trees must endure a winter dormancy period with temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit in order to produce flower buds and fruits the following spring and summer. Thus, in colder highland counties in northern Georgia, "high chill" varieties are easily grown. In the coastal south were winters are much warmer, "low chill" varieties are favored since they manage to produce flowers with much less exposure to and duration of cold. In between lies central Georgia -- an ideal area in both climate and soil for growing a vast selection of peach varieties, accounting for over 80 percent of the state's annual crop.
Besides the need for winter chilling, peach trees grow best in a fertile, loamy soil that is moist but drains well, never remaining soggy after rain or irrigation. For best flowering and fruit production, site trees where they receive at least 10 hours of direct sunlight daily. Since peaches flower so early in spring when untimely frosts remain possible, don't plant the trees in low-lying areas where cold air pools. Once flowers or tiny fruits are killed by frost, the trees do not flower again that year.