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Peach Tree Disease Management Diary

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I always dreamed of having a peach tree in my garden. When I was a child growing up on a farm, we didn’t have peaches, but I always wanted them. So, just after we bought our first home, I visited a local nursery to buy a tree for the new garden. I bought the tree even before we had moved into the house. We planned to make this tree a celebration of our new life in this house the moment we moved in.

2005_05_peach_bed_h.jpgPeaches belong to the genus Prunus. I planted a Prunus persica ‘Frost’ about 9 years ago. It was a very young tree that we sited in a protected location in our back garden. It was placed in a mid-sided bed on the north side of the property, between two buildings. It had plenty of room to spread and grow and received great morning (Easterly) light and mid-day light from the south. The tree was quite lovely — in some respects.

In its first year it developed Peach Leaf Curl. Because I was fairly naive about fruit tree care at the time, I took a sample of the deformed leaves to a Master Gardener Help desk at a local nursery. The rudest MG I’ve ever met scoffed at me saying, “I just don’t understand why home gardeners in Seattle think they should plant these trees here. They’re so disease prone.” She then explained that the tree had leaf curl and I needed to start spraying it regularly to control the disease. What she didn’t realize was that

  1. I had purchased the tree at the nursery where she was giving advice
  2. she was horribly rude and insulting
  3. The reason I grew the tree was because I love them and was told it would do well in my garden.
  4. There are alternative methods to controlling leaf curl!

2008_04_peach_dormant_h.jpgI decided to skip the spraying she was recommending and did some additional research on my own. I learned that if I picked the sick leaves off the plant and removed diseased debris from the ground around the tree I might control the disease through manual methods rather than chemical methods. For two growing seasons I followed this approach. I had some fear that I would defoliate the tree so much that it would starve, but the tree survived and as it became established, it no longer had the curled leaves. Occassionally, one or two leaves would exhibit signs of the problem, but it looked like the tree and I won out. (Also, I should note that I did do about 2 seasons of compost tea applications to the tree, which I believe, but cannot prove, helped strengthen the plant.)

Peach with FruitAfter the tree was about 3 years old and had defeated the curl problems, it began to flower nicely and begin producing significant fruit. Before I knew better, I did mal-prune the tree, essentially topping it. Later I was to learn that topping a tree is bad, but in the case of a peach it is sometimes done to encourage new growth on which fruiting occurs. So, a mistake somehow became okay. Over the next couple of years I began better pruning to correct or adjust my mistakes. And, I continued to harvest bumper crops of peaches. Family members came to love the peach jam that came at christmas. And we gorged ourselves on peach tart tatin, peach cobbler, grilled peaches on salads, fresh peaches and so forth. And then the real nasty stuff showed up!

2008_04_peach_ooze_v.jpgYes, my peach began showing signs of peach brown rot. Likely, it had the disease long before I knew to look for it. But, when I did learn what to look for, I recognized it right away. Twigs would start to leaf out and then die back, turning brown. Blossoms would cover the tree, and some would wither and turn brown. Brown ooze would show up in the crotches of the tree. And, finally, the fruit was affected by the disease and would mummify on the tree.2008_04_peach_mummy_v.jpg

I refused to do a lot of spraying on my tree, and I’ve heard that the spray methods often don’t help much anyway. Sure, I could have tried, but being a mostly organic gardener, I had no interest in going this route. So, I tried to pick the fruit a little green and use it before it turned into a mushy, nasty fuzzy grey mass. This worked a bit, but then the situation got even worse — rats decided this tree was their party banquet.

Rats! A sick tree! Inedible fruit! I was done.

2008_04_peach_stumpdug_h.jpgThe Seattle Times ran a piece on the various issues surrounding growing peaches and other fruit trees in our area. I suggest reading this article for additional information. (I will say here that in my experience ‘Frost’ does produce a very flavorful fruit, but if the fruit must be picked when young, due to disease issues, it gets a bit mealy and flavorless. Cooked or jammed it is just fine!) This article also discusses problems with growing cherries and apricots. Issues with apple and pear are an entirely other discussion.2008_04_peach_dug_h.jpg

So what’s next? Well, as you can see from the photos, our peach has been cut down and the stump has been dug out. Some suckers from the tree still exist, but they will be removed as we rework the entire area of the garden. (Yes, peaches sucker, which is another annoying thing about them in the residential garden.) The orange paint you see in the photos is part of our work in determining the flow of a new path we’ll install through the bed. azara_microphylla_haglund_1.jpg
The perennials will be moved and new trees added to provide them the shade they need. We’ve selected one tree, an Azara microphylla. And, I’ll be moving a Disanthus into this bed, but as for everything else, well I haven’t decided on everything just yet!

I guess I now know more about why the rude Master Gardener scoffed at a naive home gardener growning a peach. There really are better choices to be made. Still, I think the greatest lesson I learned from her attitude was to be kinder in teaching gardening lessons. None of us are born knowing everything, many of us learn through doing, and we look to our teachers for guidance and encouragement not ridicule.

February 2009 Update: If you’re interested in reading more about the renovation of this garden, here’s a bit on the Azara microphylla that went in. The beds are still evolving, so more to come later!

64 comments on “Peach Tree Disease Management Diary

  1. Brian on

    This forum has been very helpful. I am actually having a problem with my peach tree. My tree produced fruit for the first time since I planted it 10 yrs ago but the fruit was brown and not useable. This year I tried to do proper maintenance on the tree so I pruned limbs and branches (there was a fairly large one that had to be sawed off) that were not producing leaves after it finished blooming last month and I also sprayed it with Spectracide fungicide and also poured half cup of Bayer 12-18-6 fertilizer and insect control at the base of the drunk during the rain. It has started producing fruit (some the size of a golf ball so far) so I sprayed it again 3 weeks later to be safe and to make sure it would be ok. Well a week later, about 15% of the leaves are turning yellow, and are even turning brown and dying. I have some pictures, but I’m trying to diagnose what is wrong with the tree and to see what I can do to correct it and also give it proper care and maintenance going forward. Any help that you can provide will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  2. rhaglund on


    I’m not sure what the problem has been with your tree/why the fruit was turning brown. Have you taken samples to a lab or fruit tree society or a master gardener or arborist near you to to have the problem fully diagnosed? That’s where I’d go to start.

    Also, was the fertilizer you applied designed for fruit trees? It sounds awfully high in nitrogen for a fruit tree. It could be “burning” the tree out.

    And, personally, I try to stay away from anything that’s a blended fertilizer and insecticide. Heck, I stay away from fungicides as well.

    So, get a local diagnosis. Know what’s going on with the tree to know what program to follow to manage it.

    Good luck!

  3. Carol Jo on

    Hello, I was given 5 fruit trees for my birthday on the 22nd of april, 3 apple, 1 nectarine and a peach. All of the trees are still in the pots that they came in as I have not had the time to plant them yet. I live in the High Desert of California. I water them daily. Today I noticed that the peach tree seems to be wilting. It has been very windy here for the past week. I was wondering if I should be concerned? Also how much should I be watering them and how often?
    Thank you
    Carol Jo

  4. rhaglund on

    Watering is tougher than we think. Ideally, you water when the plant needs it. If you keep the soil too moist you can suffocate the roots of the trees. If you let it dry out too much, you can deprive it of much needed water. So, the answer is to water when the soil is no longer moist, but not fully dried out. Water thoroughly so that the soil saturates and then drains. If the soil is really dry or the plants are root bound or the trees are grown/packed in clay, you may need to water multiple times to saturate the soil. If the trees are rootbound, you may need to water multiple times a day to keep the roots moist. When they’re rootbound, the pots don’t hold as much water. Watering is tricky despite seeming to be an easy thing to do.

    Best bet, get those trees in the ground and keep them watered there. Then they’ll have the entire planet for their roots to explore.

  5. Marty Foote on

    I have two peach trees and of course when I planted them they had a few peaches on them. They are 2 1/2 years old now and I have yet to have peaches since I first planted them. I get the small peach after they bloom but they tend to dry up and fall off. What are they lacking?????

  6. rhaglund on

    Marty, It’s really hard to say based on this information, what’s happening with your peach tree. You might consider hiring a local horticulturist on site to evaluate the trees, soil, site and so forth to help you correctly determine the root of the issue. Best of luck.

  7. Mike D on

    I just had my garden done by a landscaper. I live in CO and wanted a fruit tree and he suggested a peach tree.

    It is a dwarf peach tree, which was just planted 2 weeks ago. It already had small peaches growing on the tree. Today I noticed quite a few of the peaches have a black spot with what looks like sap oozing from the spot.

    Does anyone know what this might be and what I should do?

  8. rhaglund on

    Could be brown rot. Contact your local fruit tree society or master gardeners for help identifying to be certain. Often knocking the fruit off a newly planted tree is a good idea. It takes a lot of energy for the plant to produce fruit, and in the first phase of its life in your garden you may want it to focus that energy on rooting in rather than production. Good luck!

  9. Gale Stryker on

    I haave a peach tree that was on the property when purchased 6 years ago it make fruit and then it begins to ooze clear sticky jelly like substace at the stem of the fruit at about golf ball size so far I have not seen the fruit mature is this brown rot

  10. Erich on

    In the reply to Brian “Also, was the fertilizer you applied designed for fruit trees? It sounds awfully high in nitrogen for a fruit tree. It could be “burning” the tree out.”

    What is a good recomendation for nitrogen content for fertilizer for a peach/apricot and cherry trees. I have a feeling that I might be doing that to my trees. I leave near Seattle (Gig Harbor), and my peach tree leaves show no signs of curl. But they yellow out, they turn orange and fall off. It looks like fall. IT has small brown spots on the leave that eventually fall off, but not on the others.

  11. rhaglund on

    Gale- could be brown rot; sure sounds like it. Take a sample to your local nursery, fruit tree society or master gardener for confirmation. Or, call in an arborist or local gardening consultant.

    Erich – I’d take a sample to your local nursery, fruit tree society or master gardener for confirmation on the leaf spotting. As well, before fertilizing, it’s a good idea to test your soil to see what’s available (or not available) to the tree already. Mature trees often do just fine without any added fertilizers. Here’s a link to the Seattle Fruit Tree society, which serves your area as well:

  12. Laura on

    I got a great deal on 2 peach trees. Planted in 5 gallon buckets. Some of the trees at
    the nursery were wilted, had yellow leaves that were dropping off, at least 1/3 of the upper stems were bare. the trunks were turning yellow with brown spots. I chose the
    trees that were all green but a little wilted and had dead ends that needed to be cut off. I figured I could keep them healthy. They do look better but still seem to wilt and now some of the leaves on my trees are turning yellow and falling off. They are about 3 feet tall. what can I do to save them?

  13. rhaglund on

    Sometimes a great deal on sick plants isn’t really a great deal; sometimes it is. So, to give them a fighting chance:
    Plant them.
    Prune out the dead using sterilized shears and sterilizing between cuts. Monitor for disease.
    Water as needed.
    Fertilize as needed.
    Talk to your trees.
    Spin a prayer wheel.
    Hope for the best.

    Good luck!

  14. Juniort Poling on

    I purchased 2 dwarf peach trees 7 years ago. It is apparent they are not dwarf. This year and most years, they have so many leaves, I cannot spray them properly. Most years they have huge crops of fruit of which we get about half because of brown rot. We try to keep the mummies off and pickd from the ground. Brown rot is not the problem I seek an answer for, how can I eliminate all the foliage so I can take care of the tree properly.

  15. rhaglund on

    Juniort, if you are fertilizing your trees you may be causing them to put on loads of green leafy growth. Holding back on that might reduce the foliage growth. Remember that your tree needs leaves to photosynthesize, so eliminating foliage isn’t really an option. And, I’m curious about what you’re spraying on your tree and when. It may be that you could be doing a dormant season care program when the leaves aren’t an issue. Good luck!

  16. elly miller on

    I have the opposite problem from Junior Poling My Babcock peach, which is about fifteen or twenty years old, produces many fine peaches, but this year there are few leaves. I did fertilize with the usual amount of nitrogin, could it be a lack of water?

  17. rhaglund on

    Elly, did it leaf out and then lose leaves or just not create leaves? Also, how are you fertilizing it? Have you tested the soil? Examined for pests?

  18. Eddie on

    I have 2 peach trees that get leaf curl early in the season but somehow recovers each year some years I get loads of peaches and some years very few is this common? Also are carpenter ants harmful to the trees? The trees are about 17 years old how long before they die or need to be cut down I really love the trees and would be heartbroken if they died. And I dont have the heart to cut them down. Sad in Chicago any advice?

  19. rhaglund on

    Eddie, if your tree is productive and relatively healthy, there’s no reason to cut it down. Just stay on top of the curl and enjoy it. If you feel you need an evaluation, look for an arborist or fruit tree society in your area to help you with your tree. Enjoy…those peaches must be close to harvest. I’m jealous!

  20. Linda on

    I live in CA central valley and have two peach trees, one we planted this year in May and the other is several years old. Last year after we harvested all the peaches from the mature tree, I noticed all the leaves on one of the main branches turning yellow and falling off even though it was only August and still very warm outside. The following spring it was obvious that the branch was dead since no leaves came back on it. So we cut it off when we pruned the tree, which we sort of pruned severely since we hadn’t pruned for two years since we are just learning about caring for fruit trees. We fertilized both in the spring and water about once a week mostly. Anyway, we just harvested all the peaches this year, and now we have leaves turning yellow and falling off all over both of our peach trees. Not sure what’s wrong. Would like to keep them from dying. Appreciate any suggestions. Thanks.

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