We have many choices of fruit that can be grown in the Florida Panhandle. For us hobby or dooryard growers, fruit trees can be an interesting crop to manage and most find it to be a beautiful addition to home landscapes. However, temperature and variety selection are key.
Most fruit trees grown in the Panhandle are more temperate varieties, rather than tropical and subtropical fruits. Depending on the variety, winters in northern Florida may be too cold or may be too long for some fruit trees. Cold hardiness is a term used on fruit tree labels and reference guides. This refers to the plant’s ability to survive cooler or even freezing temperatures. In contrast, summer heat can also play a role in survivability. Some varieties are intolerant to excessive heat and humidity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed a Plant Hardiness Zone Map that is helpful in selecting a variety of fruit tree: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/. This is a standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants will thrive in their location. Northern Gulf County is in Zone 8b (15 to 20 degrees F), while coastal Gulf is in Zone 9a (20 to 25 degrees F).
Chilling requirement is another important topic when deciding on variety. Temperate zone fruit go through a “rest period” during the dormant months. For these fruit trees, a minimum length of time of cooler weather is needed for proper flowering to occur once favorable temperatures arrive. This rest period is essentially a reset. For the Panhandle, temperatures below 45 degrees F are known as chilling temperatures. The number of hours during the fall and winter that reach below this temperature equals the total chilling hours. For the Panhandle, this is rarely fewer than 500 hours. A plant that does not receive ample chilling will most likely be slow in bud and leaf development. Leaf expansion will be in increments throughout the year instead of in one period. On the other hand, colder, longer winters can cause fruit trees to end the rest stage early and begin to bud as soon as warmer temperatures arrive. This circumstance can cause cold injury later, as the Panhandle is historically known for late cold spells.
Citrus is a dooryard fruit, however it’s a subtropical fruit tree and not technically temperate. However, there are some varieties that thrive in the Panhandle. Another key to growing citrus, is to select varieties with different fruit maturity seasons. This way you can enjoy citrus year-round.
Some examples of dooryard fruit trees and varieties that are suitable for northern Florida are:
Apple: ‘TropicSweet’, ‘Anna’, ‘Dorsett Golden’
Blueberry: ‘Rabbiteye’, ‘Climax’, ‘Highbush’
Grapefruit: ‘Marsh’, ‘Ruby Red’
Orange/Mandarin: ‘Navel’, ‘Parson Brown’, ‘Valencia’, Satsuma
Peach: ‘Gulfcrest’, ‘Gulfking’, ‘Gulfprince’
Pear: ‘Ayers’, ‘Baldwin’, ‘Kieffer’
Pecan: ‘Elliot’, ‘Stuart’, ‘Moreland’
Information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: “Dooryard Fruit Varieties” by J. G. Williamson, J. H. Crane, R. E. Rouse, and M. A. Olmstead: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MG/MG24800.pdf
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