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Sandhills Peaches Fazed by mid-March Freeze

An unusually cold March raised some eyebrows when it comes to fruit tree production in eastern North Carolina. Yesterday, we heard that the apple crop in the western part of the state is largely unaffected, but most of the state’s peach orchards are from the Sandhills to the coast…a different matter entirely. Mike Parker, tree fruit extension specialist with NC State University:

“It was an unseasonably cold March, and it was an issue for the fruit trees in the eastern part of the state. The cold weather actually benefited the trees in the western part of the state – delaying the bloom on those trees. It was March 19-20 when we went down to 19 degrees.”

Parker explains that some of the early producing varieties were affected by that mid-March freeze:

“The problem is that not all of the peach trees were hurt by that. The lower chilling and earlier blooming varieties were in full bloom at that time. I’m sure we did lose flowers during that spell and the later blooming varieties- they were still not significantly affected.”

Therefore, that late freeze could mean that some of the early maturing varieties could be a little light this year:

“We still have to wait and see. On a peach tree we only need 12-15% of the blossoms for a full crop. One of the major expenses is hand thinning. So there is a good chance that the earlier maturing peaches might be light this year.”

Parker explains that it will be a few months before we know for sure the affects of that March freeze on the Sandhills crop:

We still need another month to see what kind of fruit will set on the trees and what has been damaged.”

But, the western fruit trees, which historically bloom later, are in good shape:

“Peaches in the western part of the state seem to be in good shape, they are in full bloom.”

North Carolina averages 4,200 tons of peaches a year.

NC State Extension Fruit Tree Specialist Mike Parker is dedicated to serving the agricultural industry in the Carolinas and Virginia with the latest ag news, exclusive regional weather station readings, and key crop market information. The website is a companion of the Southern Farm Network, provider of daily agricultural radio programming to the Carolinas since 1974. presents radio programs, interviews and news relevant to crop and livestock production and research throughout the mid-Atlantic agricultural community.