Here at Gardening Know How we know the importance of arming yourself with easy answers to questions about your precious plants. Our experts are on the trail of the most useful tips and tricks to help you keep your garden looking its best. Problems with peach trees run the gamut from disease issues to basic care. Here are some answers to our top 10 questions about these wonderful fruiting trees.
The when and how regarding peach tree pruning are common queries at our site. The best time of the year to prune most fruit trees is late winter, well before the plants have started to leaf out. On average, that would be February in most zones. Training starts when the tree is 2 years old. The first cuts will develop a strong leader and an open scaffold to support future fruit. Mature trees simply require old or diseased wood to be removed and suckers cut away. You can also keep the plant as short as you need for easy harvesting. Just remember fruit develops off new wood.
Peach trees must be mature before they begin fruiting. Often, this is when they are 3 to 4 years of age. Many causes can be contributing to mature plants that won’t fruit. Among these is pruning. Shaded branches will not form those juicy peaches, so it is important to keep the center of the tree open to light and air. If you have turf grass around the tree and fertilize annually, that could also be a cause. Excess nitrogen from the grass will interrupt fruit production. Other factors may be lack of chilling hours, low heat index during flowering and heavy yields the previous year.
Unfortunately, once the signs of peach leaf curl are on the tree, there is little you can do about it that year. However, it is very easy to control with annual spraying of fungicide in late winter to early spring. This will ensure that fungal spores are not able to take root in the foliage and produce the gnarled leaves. Once you have the disease, take care to remove and destroy all infected plant matter, as the fungus will over winter in soil. Use a fixed copper fungicide and follow all application instructions. It is fairly easy to use and safe in the home landscape.
Boring insects plague many types of trees and shrubs, but peach tree borer is a specific pest to nectarine and peach trees. The signs are often subtle, but the appearance of gummy sap oozing from the tree’s bark mixed with sawdust are a clue to the pest. Most attacks are near the soil line and, occasionally, the small white grubs will be visible. Control by spraying in early summer with a preventative insecticide containing either permethrin or esfenvalerate. Spray again in August to September, taking care to avoid getting spray on fruit and leaves. Follow all product instructions for proper application.
Spraying fruit trees must be done with caution to avoid contaminating the edibles. Spraying peach trees for pests and disease should be done before the buds have begun to swell in late winter to early spring. This will generally catch any overwintered insects and hatching eggs. One of the safest and most non-toxic sprays is neem oil. It comes from a plant and leaves no harmful residue on food. The oil is useful to combat many insects as well as powdery mildew. You can either spray the oil or use it as a systemic soil drench. Neem oil is considered safe to any insect that does not chew leaves, making it harmless to most beneficial insects.
Brown rot most frequently occurs in stone fruits. It can decimate fruit production and eventually get into stems and limbs, causing cankers. Fruit will develop fuzzy gray rot and eventually fall off the tree. To prevent brown rot, a system of dormant oil and sulfur spray should be used. Begin treatment before buds open and every 2 to 3 weeks during flowering. Once fruit is getting ready to ripen, treat the tree again to prevent fungal spores from ruining the crop. To prevent annual issues with the fungus, pick up and destroy and dropped fruit and remove any material that has developed cankers.
Just like people, plants need good nutrition, which is often not completely found in soil. For the first 3 years, annual feeding can increase vigor, help plant’s fend off pests and disease, and increase the beauty and bounty of flowers and fruit. Feed, or fertilize your peach trees in early spring and again at the beginning of summer. A balanced plant food such as 10-10-10 is a good formula. Once trees are mature, slow down their growth by only feeding in early spring. Use 1 pound of nitrogen per tree as a good average. You can apply either by spraying or using a granular formula worked into soil and watered in well.
Cankers on fruit trees can be caused by borer insect activity, fungal or bacterial diseases. Spray for borers in early summer with neem oil. Cytospora fruit canker is a fungus that often affects peach trees and attacks the wood and cambium of the tree. It is usually introduced through some sort of injury to the wood. The best defense against the disease is fostering healthy trees and keeping old plant material cleaned away from the tree. Bacterial canker shows up as dark lesions with foul-smelling sap and cambium that is a sickly dried blood red. Copper fungicides may have some benefits, but the best treatment is removing any diseased limbs and giving the tree excellent care.
There are several reasons fruit drops off a peach tree. Some of this aborting is natural as the plant releases the weakest fruit in order to focus energy on the stronger, larger specimens. This prevents overcrowding and produces the best fruit. Some environmental conditions can cause fruit drop. Among these are freezes, high humidity, too much shade, nutritional deficiencies, lack of water and wind gusts. The final causes of fruit drop are disease or pest related. Cankers, peach leaf curl and other common diseases damage tree health to the extent that the plant aborts its fruit. Insects such as scale, stink bugs, lygus bugs and other sucking insects reduce plant vigor, causing fruit drop.
Most fruit trees are not carbon copies of the wild ancestors from which they came but man-made improvements. To enhance fruit production, flavor and yield, minimize disease and improve hardiness, fruit trees are grafted onto a rootstock and scion to produce a superior tree. Simply planting a seed will result in a plant, but that tree may not bear or, if it does, may not bear fruit identical to the parent. That is because the same traits are not passed down without the stock-scion union. That being said, to plant a peach pit, soak it for an hour in water and insert it 3 to 4 inches deep in a good potting mix. The best time to plant is in fall where the pit will receive natural stratification and release dormancy and sprout in spring.
We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.