Peach trees are a tempting option for growers. Not only is their fruit delicious, but growers in many different regions have found success with peach trees. On the other hand, even when the conditions seem to be just right, peach trees can wither and fail.
There are several common causes of peach tree death, including diseases, pests, and cultural problems. In every case, prevention is the best cure.
The following are some of the most common deadly diseases for peaches:
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- Root and crown rot
- Oak root rot
- Peach tree short life (PTSL)
Root and Crown Rot
Root and crown rot are common killers of peach trees, especially if they are planted in soil that drains poorly. Sometimes, infected trees die slowly over several seasons, but root and crown rot can move very quickly and kill a tree within just a few weeks.
Common symptoms include stunted growth, yellow leaves, sunburned fruit, and limb dieback. You may also notice areas of black decay near the base of the tree along with gummy cankers (source).
Prevention is the only solution for root and crown rot. Plant peach trees in well-drained soil and avoid overwatering (source).
Oak Root Rot
Peach trees are also susceptible to the fungi from the Armillaria species which cause oak root rot. Oak root rot will actually eat away at a tree’s root structure, which can cause the tree to completely collapse (source).
Again, prevention is the only way to keep your peach tree safe from oak root rot. Avoid planting peach trees on a site where oak trees previously grew (source).
Peach Tree Short Life
Peach Tree Short Life is primarily caused by the bacterial parasite ring nematode, but improper pruning and cultural practices can aid the process. Generally, peach trees affected by ring nematode collapse just before or just after leafing in the spring (source).
Prevention is the best cure. Plant your peach trees on well-drained soil that has a pH level of 6.5. You may need to treat the soil with lime periodically to maintain a 6.5 pH.
Once your tree is established, prune it only between February and early March.
If you have already lost one peach tree to ring nematode, do not plant another peach tree in the same spot (source).
Gummosis is another fungal disease that may not appear until late fall or even early spring. The first symptom is small blisters on young bark. These may become gummy, cankerous, rough, and scaly.
Left unchecked, gummosis may kill branches or even entire trees (source).
Gummosis is often a sign of water stress, so the best solution is to maintain good watering practices. Pruning dead branches is also helpful. Gummosis lesions themselves may be treated with certain fungicides containing captan or myclobutanil (source).
Peach trees are attractive to a variety of pests. However, there is one pest that is particularly deadly to peach trees.
Peach Borers and Lesser Peach Borers
One of the biggest enemies of peach trees, as well as other stone fruit trees, is the peach tree borer. As adults, these pests are moths that closely resemble black wasps; the borer itself is a caterpillar.
Lesser peach borers are very similar in appearance, but smaller in size.
Borers are small, yellow-white, and usually make themselves at home near ground level. They burrow just underneath the peach tree’s bark and eat tissue from the tree’s cambium layer.
If you notice sap mixed with sawdust near the bottom of your peach tree’s trunk, you likely have a borer problem. When unchecked, borers will girdle trees, which cut the roots and leaves off from each other, leading to their death.
Even without a full infestation, borers can cause parts of your peach tree to die. If they eat away at just part of the cambium, you may notice branches dying one at a time (source).
There are pesticides that you can spray to kill borers; however, some of the most effective treatments aren’t available in all areas. Ask a local extension agent or horticulturalists to recommend a product that is legal and safe to use in your area.
In addition to the diseases and pests that affect peach trees, growers can unintentionally cause lethal problems through poor cultural practices, such as:
- Poor site selection
- Failing to guard against mechanical injury
It is natural to be concerned about droughts. However, if you over-correct by giving your peach tree too much water, root and crown rot may take hold. Once that happens, it can’t be reversed.
The same is true of planting a peach tree in soil that tends to retain water.
One way to tell if your soil drains well enough for peaches is to observe it after a heavy rain. If puddles are still on the ground’s surface, or just under it, for more than an hour after the rain, that spot is unlikely to be successful for peaches (source).
Poor Site Selection
Numerous problems can arise for peach trees that are simply not planted in the right place. They can wither and fail because of poor soil conditions and lack of sunlight, but there are other factors to consider as well.
The soil’s history can affect the future health of your peach tree. Soil-borne diseases, like oat root rot, may still be present in the soil for several seasons after an oak tree’s removal.
In general, peach trees aren’t likely to thrive in soil where an orchard or forest was cleared within the previous three years (source).
Injuries caused by lawnmowers, weed-eaters, or improper pruning can lead to a host of problems for your peach tree.
For one thing, an open wound on a tree can quickly become a safe haven for pests and fungi. Depending on the depth of the wound, these infestations can weaken your tree’s entire structure, leading to collapse.
For another thing, mechanical injuries may cut off the tree’s root-to-leaf transport of water and nutrients. This may cause small sections of the tree to die back, but if the wound is large enough, or encompasses the whole circumference of the trunk, the tree cannot survive (source).
It’s also possible for the tree’s roots to experience mechanical damage in the form of soil disturbance or compaction. This is usually due to new construction, even small construction projects like sheds or patios.
A tree’s root system extends far beyond its branches’ diameter. Even if you think you’re building a safe distance away, if your construction project requires you to move soil, drive heavy machines, or change the soil’s grade, you can unknowingly cause damage to your tree’s roots. (For more information, see our article on fruit tree root depth vs breadth).
Often this damage leads to decline; when the damage is severe enough, your peach tree may die altogether (source).
Pre-planting Preparation and Best Practices
There are several actions you can take to increase your chances of success with peach trees, including:
- rootstock selection
- proper site selection
- maintaining good soil conditions
If you plan to plant a bare-root tree, as opposed to planting from seed, look for a rootstock that is resistant to fungi and diseases. For example, the Nemaguard rootstock is resistant to ring nematode (source).
Other available rootstocks can increase a tree’s tolerance to wet soils, alkaline soils, or other less-than-ideal conditions. Consult your local extension agent or horticulturalists to see which rootstocks would best suit your needs.
Proper Site Selection
Soil and sunlight are two of the most important factors to consider when choosing a planting location.
Sandy loam with a pH level around 6.5 is ideal. Peach tree roots need excellent drainage, particularly in the top two feet of soil (source).
Peach trees require full sun (six to eight hours a day). Sunlight is especially important in the morning since it will dry the dew quickly, which reduces the risk of mildew and disease (source).
Maintaining Good Soil Conditions
Since peach trees are so susceptible to deadly soil-borne diseases, it is crucial for growers to have their soil tested before planting.
If your soil’s pH is below 6.0, you can treat the soil with lime before planting. Test the soil again after the tree is established to make sure the soil hasn’t become too acidic (source).
You can also maintain good soil conditions by avoiding construction projects or other tasks that may affect the soil’s grade.
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While there are many things that can go wrong for peach trees, you can avoid quite a few of those problems by choosing and preparing the planting site well. It bears repeating: when it comes to lethal problems for peach trees, prevention is the best cure.
Related Reading: Should You Plant Peach Trees in Fall?