HOW TO GROW VEGETABLES IN NORTHWEST FLORIDA

Selecting fruit trees to grow in Northwest Florida

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Given the massive number of deciduous fruit trees available at local nurseries and the gardening departments at the box stores in north and central Florida, it is no secret anymore that we can successfully grow apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, plums and other fruit throughout much of the state.

The difference between success and failure begins at the nursery: only selected varieties will thrive and regularly produce fruit in Florida. In most instances, we don’t grow the same varieties of fruit found at the grocery store and that we have grown up eating and enjoying. For example, lots of us love Red Delicious apples, and Elberta peaches.  While both are popular sellers at the local supermarket, the trees perform poorly in our climate and neither is a good choice for Florida.

Instead, we grow apple varieties such as Anna and Tropic Sweet, and peaches with names like Flordaking for north Florida, and Flordaprince for central Florida. To avoid purchasing the wrong tree for your area, do some local research and seek out the advice of people who know. Check with your county Extension Office or speak to an experienced local grower or nursery operator.

One of the deciding factors in selecting the right fruit tree is its chilling requirement. All deciduous fruit trees lose their leaves and go into a period of dormancy each year. In order to produce fruit buds and fruit in the spring, the tree must be exposed to a certain number of chill hours during the dormancy period, or hours between 32° and 45° F.

Norwest Florida receives about 400 to 650 chill hours during a normal winter. A Red Delicious apple tree requires about 1400 chill hours to produce fruit. A Tropic Sweet apple requires only 250 chilling hours.

The number of annual chill hours experienced in our state is less as we move east and south. North central Florida has about 400-500 chilling hours; central Florida 300-400; south central Florida 200-300; and the southern part of the state has between 50 and 100 chilling hours during a normal year. The lack of cold is why such fruits as apples and blueberries do not grow well in South Florida, just as the colder temperatures experienced in the panhandle is why exotic fruits do not perform well in northwest Florida.

With so many stores selling fruit trees, one might expect to see fruit-laden apple, peach, pear, plum and nectarine trees growing in every neighborhood.  But it is not something you see often.

Perhaps the amount of attention deciduous fruit trees require has something to do with that. Most require an abundance of care, with highly rigid feeding and spraying regiments. Without proper care and maintenance fruit will quickly fall prey to insects and rot. Most will be lost long before it is ready to be harvested. When choosing which fruit trees to grow in your yard, make sure you understand how much care they will need before you make the purchase.

In my case, I have had an interest in growing fruit since my first mouthful of Froot Loops. But after several years of growing and caring for a small dooryard orchid of apple, pear, peach, nectarine and plum trees at my home, I now opt for fruit that requires less attention. Lower maintenance fruits growing in my yard include persimmons, loquats, figs, and blueberries.  It is not the same fruit I grew up eating, but I enjoy it even more because I grew it myself – and it just doesn’t get any better than that.

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