Beginner Gardening Series: Chill Hours

Have you ever looked to purchase a fruit tree?  Let us take a peach, for example, google peach tree; you get hundreds of sites selling thousands of varieties.  First, you need to know your gardening zone, and what's this thing about chill hours?

Chill hours are defined as any temperature below 45F.  Depending on who you talk to, some will tell you the temperatures have to be between 45-34F.  Sometimes people make things more complicated than they need to be. 

Why are chill hours critical?  For some plants to produce flowers and fruit, they need a dormant period.  This dormant period is achieved whenever the plant is subjected to colder temperatures known as chill hours.  Fruit trees, berries, and nut trees all need these dormant periods to help regulate the growth.  Without sufficient dormant periods, some plants are not able to flower or fruit.

When you begin to look at the fruit trees, you see there are different varieties of high chill and low chill.  Low chill needs less than 300, and high chill requires more than 500 chill hours.  Now there are low chill requirements for a lot of the most common fruits.  Careful, though, do not be tempted to plant a low chill variety in an area that gets high chill hours.  Although it seems like a gardening hack, you run the risk of the plant breaking dormancy too early.  There is always a catch.  If your plant breaks dormancy too soon, the flowers or blooms will fall off.  No flowers mean no fruit.

Your local agriculture extension agency will have chill hour resources, where you can find out the average amount of chill hours your area receives.  Remember, this is linked to the weather, so it is hard to be exact, but the average will get you started correctly.  Equipped with this knowledge as well as your gardening zone, you are now ready to venture out to a nursery or website and order a fruit or nut tree or bush.

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