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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. rhaglund on

    Linda — try getting a local ISA-certified arborist or fruit tree specialist out to look at your trees. Mine usually started yellowing and dropping leaves not too long after fruit harvest, but I didn’t have dieback that you’re describing. So…probably need to have an on-site evaluation done. Could be a systemic issue since it seems to be repeating and spreading. Good luck & enjoy those peaches! This is the time of year I miss my old tree!

  2. Bobby L. Davidson on

    I have two peach trees planted this past spring and one nectaurine and they all have small holes in the leaves. Every leaf is affecteed. I have sprayed weekly but it does not appear to be doing any good. Do you know what this could be and how to control it??


    Bobby Davidson

  3. rhaglund on

    Bobby, thanks for writing in. Hard to say what’s wrong with the tree. What are you spraying and why did you pick this spray? Was the tree problem diagnosed before a spray was applied? If not, you might be using the wrong tool for the job. Try taking samples of your tree to a Master Garden Workshop or to your local fruit tree society or hire an arborist to come to your site to give you a proper diagnosis and care protocol.

    Best of luck. Hope you got some fruit from these trees. Now’s the time!

  4. Judy L. on

    I planted a Red Haven Peach tree 10 years ago. It was a healthy looking tree, but did not have a single fruit on it for the first six years. On the 7th year it finally bloomed and had small but great tasting peaches.

    I put some fruit tree fertilizer stakes around the base of the trunk, and the 8th year it was covered with wonderful peaches. So many, in fact that they knocked other peaches off, as they grew, until there were piles of peach pits under the tree at the end of the season. The weight of all the peaches was so great that even large branches began to break off. Because of all these large broken branches, I had to severly prune and cut back branches and paint the open cuts.

    The 9th year only produced a couple of blooms and no peaches. Now the 10th year is here and there was not one bloom or peach on the tree. And on some of the pruned branches there is a scale, with some of the large branches, completely void of leaves. Also the sticky jelly substance is seen. Is it time to cut this tree down? Please advise.

  5. rhaglund on

    Judy, from your description, your tree may be on its way out already. Consider bringing in a fruit tree specialist or arborist to evaluate it in person for best recommendations or take a sample and photos to your local fruit tree society or a Master Gardener Workshop to have it evaluated. Good luck & thanks for writing in.

  6. jim on

    My peach tree is 9 years old, I have lived here 4. The first year the tree was loaded with peaches, but the leaves had the curl that I have been reading about on this site. I did not spray nor will I ever. The second year the frost got it, last year I had 5 peaches, squirrels got 4, wind got 1. This year it’s loaded with little peaches, but the branches are seeping large amounts of a clear sap and some of the leaves are turning brown and falling off. Is my tree dying of old age? For my second problem. I planted a new peach from seed, the first year it grew 20 inches, and then one of my dogs chewed the top 10 inches off. Now this year it has 15 new shoots making it look like an upside down umbrella. Will those branches hold up the weight of the peaches or will they snap, or should I replant n w ohio

  7. terri saelzer on

    i have a clear gel on my peaches. Is this some sort of disease? This is a mature tree that has had plenty of fruit with n problem



  9. Garden Mentors on

    Things to consider:

    Did you knock off some of the fruit?
    Did the tree drop some of the smaller fruit earlier this season?
    Have you read the article/have you ruled out or identified the disease problem?
    Have you taken samples to a specialist/arborist/extension agency/master gardener near you?

    I can’t say it often enough: without seeing the problem in person, its nearly impossible to verify what’s what.

    Sorry to hear the peach is declining; I’ve been there. Get a pro in to help.

  10. DJ on

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your peach tree. I’ve just begun growing them, and your experience and article are invaluable. Seeing that tree laying over is so sad. You gave it your best try though, and stayed organic, so that’s a very good thing. I hope you can get more peach trees later, and not have this problem.
    Blessings, DJ

  11. Garden Mentors on

    Thanks DJ. Fortunately, I can buy locally grown organic peaches at the local farmer’s market. Now, where the peach tree grew, I keep honeybees, and they’re working much better than that tree ever did!

  12. Laurel Slaninka on

    I have a peach tree that began oozing a huge amount of jelly-like substance about a month ago. I peeled back the bark and exposed a opening in the tree tissue and it was brown. Do I have brown rot? I had one peach this year and it was delicious so would like to save the tree. It is 5″ in dia. at base and about 15′ tall. I am on a rental farm property so cannot afford to spend $ on the tree. However, I would like to save it. I have put lime down around it so far. I’ve checked for borers but don’t see any holes. Help! Thanks.

  13. Garden Mentors on

    Laurel, the jelly ooze sounds like brown rot, but without seeing and testing your tree in person there’s no way to guarantee what’s what. Our peach gave delicious fruit for several years even with the infection. Avoid spreading the jelly stuff and don’t peel off the bark!

  14. Jessica Babb on

    I just moved and there a peach tree It looks like it hasnt been pruned in a couple years. It already has begun growing peaches but some of the leafs are curling up and looks like they have mold on them. Some look like bugs are eating it. Some parts of the tree have big brown things on it (looks like round balls). Are the peaches still gonna be good to eat or not? This is are first time dealing with a peach tree.

  15. Garden Mentors on

    Jessica, It sounds like your tree may have leaf curl and other issues, but it may still produce fruit. Best bet: bring in an arborist or tree fruit specialist in your area to do an in person evaluation.

  16. Crystal on

    Hey there. We have a saturn peach tree, new this year. Early on, the growth was great, leaves were full and green, etc. Now, we have dieback on the tips of branches, leaves wilted and dried and there is blackened and dried sap at many axils. We found a mention of boron deficiency on one blog. Any suggestions as to whether this is correct? Thanks!

  17. Garden Mentors on

    Crystal, it could be brown rot. Hard to say though. A lot of disease issues look alike. Try taking a sample to your local extension office or bring in an Arborist for complete diagnosis. Soil testing may reveal some answers as well.

  18. Ingrid Buxton on

    Frost is evidently one of the leaf curl resistant varieties, especially after they are 3 years old. Picking the leaves off doesnt really help the tree as it will push out new leaves which force the disease leaves off the tree. I had mine sprayed with a copper fungicide which I consider organic enough. This year I ordered the spray again but they didnt tell me they had discontinued using copper fungicides and sprayed with dormant oil and now my peach has leaf curl again. I have been told that peaches are just not very long lived. So if my peach doesnt make it I will be getting a Frost variety and just spray the tree myself.

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