For south Georgia peach growers, the name "Attapulgus" seems sweeter lately. The "Gulf" series of peaches coming out of the fruitful breeding program there is changing the nature of peaches in the lower coastal plain.

The University of Georgia Attapulgus Research and Education Center is just above the Florida line. Through a joint breeding program there, the University of Florida, U.S. Department of Agriculture and UGA have released four new peach varieties: Gulfking, Gulfcrest, Gulfcrimson and Gulfprince.

These new peach trees are adapted to grow south of a line running from Charleston, S.C., to southeastern Texas and generally north of Interstate Highway 10. They all require moderate "chilling," as the hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit is called.

All of the new peaches have what's known as "non-melting" flesh. That means they're firmer peaches that soften much more slowly than the traditional Georgia fruits. The great value of this trait is that firmer peaches can fully ripen on the tree. Since peaches get sweeter the longer they're allowed to ripen, these new peaches can have both better quality and longer shelf life.

Gulfking trees require about 350 chilling hours. They bloom early, so they will fare better if planted on hilltops with good air drainage for frost protection. The trees resist bacterial spot and can be a good replacement for Flordaking.

The peaches of Gulfking are very firm with sweet, yellow flesh. They're symmetrical, attractive and large for the early-season peaches, up to 2.4 inches across and typically weighing 3.5 to 4.2 ounces.

They ripen in late April and early May. The ripe fruit has 80 percent to 90 percent red over a deep yellow to orange ground color.

Pick Gulfking peaches promptly when they ripen. They won't hang on the tree long after the ground color changes from green to orange-yellow.

Gulfcrest trees have been reliably producing very firm peaches with sweet, yellow flesh and a long shelf life. They require about 500 chilling hours, resist bacterial spot and may be a good replacement for Flordacrest.

The peaches of Gulfcrest are 2 to 2.4 inches across and weigh 2.8 to 4.2 ounces. Symmetrical and attractive, they ripen in mid-May and have nearly 100-percent red over a deep yellow ground color. Their early ripening, high quality and exceptional firmness more than make up for their tendency to produce smaller fruit (about 2 inches) in the last picking.

Gulfcrimson trees have been very reliable, producing very firm, sweet peaches with yellow flesh. They require 400 chilling hours and are resistant to bacterial spot. Ripening in late May, these trees may be a good replacement for Junegold.

The peaches are large, up to 2.6 inches in diameter and weighing 4.5 to 5.3 ounces. They're attractive fruits, with 80 percent red over a deep yellow to orange.

Gulfprince has had very consistent crops of very firm, sweet fruit with yellow flesh. The trees require about 400 chilling hours and are resistant to bacterial spot. It's been extremely reliable at Attapulgus, setting heavy crops.

The peaches are large, 2.5 to 2.75 inches across and 4.9 to 5.3 ounces. They're attractive, with 45 percent to 55 percent red over a deep yellow to orange ground. The fruit ripens in early June, so it can be a replacement for Juneprince.

The Gulf series is licensed through Florida Foundation Seed, where a list of licensed propagators is available. You can reach FFS at (850) 594-4721 or online at http://ffsp.net. Or write them at 3913 Hwy. 71 N., Greenwood, FL 32443.