I’ve been considering adding a peach tree to the garden, but I’ve heard that some don’t survive the first few months or years. To help get ahead of this, I did some research to find out why peach trees die and how they can be saved. Here’s what I found.
Peach trees typically start to die because of improper watering, environmental stress, lack of nutrients, and disease. However, the two most common issues are under-watering and environmental stress—such as temperature swings or transplant shock. Once the source of stress is reduced, the tree should recover.
So, while peach trees can die for several reasons, how do you know if they can even be saved, and how can you identify which issue is affecting them? Let’s take a closer look.
Can Dying Peach Trees Be Saved?
Dying peach trees can be saved if you find the primary issue and use the right solution. Typically, it takes several weeks or months for a peach tree to completely die, depending on the issue. To see if your peach tree is still alive, prune the tip of a small branch and see if it has any green inside.
The best way to find out what’s wrong with peach trees is to use the process of elimination. Check one potential issue at a time and if it seems fine, move onto the next.
To help with this, let’s look at the top 4 reasons that lead to dying peach trees and how to fix them.
The Top 4 Reasons Why Peach Trees Die
1. Over or Under-Watering
Over and under-watering peach trees can stress them and lead to dropping fruit, flowers, and leaves. If this goes on long enough, the peach tree will start to die. For best results, only water when the first 2-4 inches of soil is dry and provide 2 inches of each compost and mulch on top of the soil.
Sometimes, peach trees can receive the proper amount of water, but their soil could be either too well-draining or not have enough drainage. Other times, the sun and wind can dry out the soil quickly, leaving little water for the plant.
Because of these factors, no two peach trees are the same. This is why checking the soil for its moisture is the best way to tell how much water the tree needs.
You can tell if your peach tree is over or under-watered by pushing a finger into the soil, up to the second knuckle. If the soil is dry, it needs water. If the soil is sopping wet 1 or more hours after watering, the soil likely needs to be amended.
By checking the soil this way before watering, the risk of over and under-watering will be greatly reduced.
Another way to confirm if the soil is well-draining is by digging a 1-foot by 1-foot hole nearby, filling it with water, and waiting for it to drain. If it’s still holding a puddle of water 1+ hours later, the soil needs to be amended.
If you do find your peach tree’s soil isn’t draining well, you can amend it by adding sand and compost on top of the soil. Over time, these smaller materials will find their way into the deeper soil and help break up the larger clumps of soil (typically compacted clay).
Generally, I would suggest not digging up the peach tree or repotting it, unless the soil’s drainage is too slow/fast and you find it necessary. Transplanting can lead to transplant shock which can cause more damage (more on this later).
Once the soil is well-draining, provide 2 inches of each compost and mulch on top of the soil, under the tree’s canopy.
Compost greatly improves the soil’s richness, which can boost the amount of water it can hold. Every 1% increase in the soil’s richness can hold an additional 20,000 gallons of water per acre.
Mulch protects the soil and the beneficial life (such as mycorrhizal fungi) by shielding them from the sun and keeping water in the soil. This water retention goes a long way, especially in hotter climates. Some good mulches to use on peach trees are leaves, bark, straw, pine needles, and grass clippings.
When applying either compost or mulch, avoid touching the materials to the tree to prevent mold or disease from spreading. Generally, keep them at least 3 inches away from the tree’s trunk.
However, if you’ve tried all of the above, and your peach tree is still declining in health, consider checking for environmental stress next.
2. Environmental Stress
If you’ve recently relocated or repotted your peach tree, and its leaves are drooping or falling off, it’s most likely affected by transplant shock. Peach trees can become stressed from the damage from moving and having to establish a new root system. For best results, avoid damaging the rootball and plant quickly.
It can take a while for peach trees to recover from transplant shock—sometimes up to one year. Because of this, it’s best not to transplant peach trees unless it’s necessary. For example, potted peach trees should be repotted every 3-5 years to avoid them from getting root-bound.
While transplanting trees can be tricky, there are some ways you can minimize the stress. For instance, I recently repotted my avocado tree, and luckily—it recovered almost immediately.
If you’d like, here are some steps that I commonly use to prevent transplant shock with my plants:
- Have the new ground (or pot) prepared
- Remove as much of the tree’s current topsoil as possible, without damaging the shallow roots
- Grab the base of the tree’s trunk and wiggle lightly
- Using your other hand, scoop up and support the rootball
- Lightly place the tree in the new ground (or pot) and fill it in
- Make sure the soil is at the same level on the trunk as before
- Apply 1-2 inches of compost and mulch to the top of the soil
- Water generously and add more soil as needed
Peach trees do best in USDA hardiness zones 6-8, but can still be grown in zones 4-9. Some varieties of peach trees can handle certain climates better than others.
However, even if you planted your peach tree in the proper climate, extreme weather can still happen and damage your tree.
Peach trees can handle temperatures as high as 95ºF, but this depends on the sun, humidity, soil moisture, and the variety of the tree. For best results, keep peach trees within 45ºF and 80ºF during the summer. To help keep peach trees cool, provide compost, mulch, and some afternoon shade.
Generally, if you live in a hotter or drier climate (such as Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and California), providing some cooling practices for your peach tree will go a long way.
Compost and mulch are some of the best ways to keep water in the soil and cool the roots of the tree. The roots can then use water to help cool the rest of the tree such as the trunk, branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit.
Additionally, providing some shade from the hot afternoon sun will be extremely helpful, especially if you get strong, direct sunlight. You can use an umbrella, shade sail, or other trees to cast shade. Generally, the morning sun is the coolest and the afternoon sun is the hottest. Because of this, try providing shade west of the tree.
If you have potted peach trees, you can move them indoors during heat waves, although make sure to do it gradually as to not shock the tree. A gradual move over 2 weeks is enough to avoid stressing the tree from the sudden temperature change.
Aim to plant peach trees in the spring. Springtime is best because the temperatures are mild, there’s lots of rain, and the tree is in a growth stage. This will help reduce stress and greatly assist the tree to adapt to its new environment quicker.
Many peach tree varieties can handle temperatures as low as -25ºF. In fact, peach trees need about 650 to 850 chill hours (4-5 weeks) to flower and fruit well. Chill hours occur when temperatures reach 45ºF and below.
Peach trees can tolerate cold temperatures fairly well due to their status of being deciduous trees. As deciduous trees, they shed their leaves in the fall and enter dormancy to survive through the cold winters (much like how bears hibernate).
On the other hand, evergreen trees, such as citrus trees, are native to the tropics and don’t need to become dormant due to the warmer weather. Therefore, they keep their leaves year-round (hence the name “evergreen”).
So, while in dormancy, peach trees can handle winter and frost fairly well.
However, if your peach tree “wakes up” from dormancy (also called “breaking dormancy”) while still in winter, any growth can get damaged from the frost. Generally, temperatures under 28ºF are cold enough to damage leaves, blossoms, and fruit. Dormancy can be broken from temperatures above 45ºF.
To avoid breaking dormancy, don’t bring potted peach trees indoors for the winter.
If the outside temperature gets too cold (generally below -20ºF), you can insulate potted peach trees by burying the pot or placing it in a box and packing the remaining space with mulch. Also, moving them indoors can expose them to the dry and hot air from the central heater. This can cause the tree to die even faster than from the cold (this started to happen with my potted Meyer lemon tree).
Planted peach trees can be insulated with bedsheets, cardboard, or plastic tarps. If wind chill is a concern, providing windbreaks and plastic tarps can go a long way.
Additionally, try not to pruning peach trees when there’s a chance of frost. Ideally, the best time to prune peach trees is in the spring, but they can be pruned 2 weeks before any threat of frost if necessary.
Similar to the summer, avoid planting peach trees in the winter. Most peach trees need to be dormant during the winter, and can’t afford the energy to heal or grow a new root system.
3. Lack of Nutrients
The best fertilizer for peach trees is either one with a balanced NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), or one with twice the nitrogen to phosphorus and potassium. Alternatively, you can use compost. Compost not only provides quality nutrients for the tree but also for beneficial soil life.
Whether you choose a balanced fertilizer (such as one with an NPK of 10-10-10), or one with twice the nitrogen (such as an NPK of 6-3-3), you can’t go wrong (source).
However, younger peach trees generally benefit from the extra nitrogen as it’s the primary nutrient for foliage growth.
As the peach tree reaches maturity, consider switching to a more balanced fertilizer to help assist with flower and fruit growth.
To see which peach tree fertilizers I recommend, you can check out my recommended fertilizer page.
However, nutrients aren’t the only thing that peach trees need. They also need a balanced soil pH. Without this, the peach tree will have a hard time absorbing the nutrients in the soil.
Peach trees prefer a slightly acidic soil pH of 6.0-7.0.
A good way to check for soil pH is by using pH strips or a pH meter. To see which pH meter I use and recommend, you can visit my recommended tools page.
If you find that your peach tree’s soil pH is too acidic, consider using alkaline materials like biochar, charcoal, or wood ash.
On the other hand, if your peach tree’s soil pH is too alkaline, use acidic amendments such as sand, peat moss, coffee grounds.
Peach trees can get many diseases such as root rot, peach tree short life (PTSL), leaf curl, and gummosis. Generally, peach trees die more often from improper watering and environmental stress, but diseases are still possible. For best results, avoid over-watering peach trees and check their leaves for any spots.
Root rot is a fungal disease that most commonly occurs in waterlogged soil. The fungus eats at the tree’s roots, which kills the tree. You can fix root rot if you catch it early enough and dry out the soil. Generally, providing fresh soil is better than waiting for it to dry out.
Some other symptoms of root rot are brown branches and leaves.
I once had root rot with my potted Kaffir lime tree. After seeing that the soil was sopping wet and smelled like a swamp, I repotted the tree with fresh soil. It quickly recovered and started fruit production shortly after.
Peach Tree Short Life (PTSL)
Peach tree short life (PTSL) is a condition in which peach trees don’t survive beyond 3-6 years old. It’s commonly caused by ring nematodes, canker, swings of cold temperature, and winter pruning. Generally, PTSL can be identified from sudden blossom and branch wilt, along with bark that’s cracked and leaking sap.
PTSL can be prevented by following proper horticultural practices such as not planting in the fall or winter, avoiding winter injury (including pruning), and only planting in loose, well-draining soils with a balanced pH (source).
To help prevent nematodes, you can plant peach tree companion plants such as marigolds around your peach trees. Additionally, using the peach tree variety “guardian” as the tree’s rootstock will provide natural resistance to nematodes (source).
Peach Leaf Curl
Peach tree leaf curl is caused by a fungus and affects many parts of the tree, which heavily reduces fruit production. Usually occurring in the spring, this fungus curls the flowers, fruit, and leaves and gives them a reddish tint. It most commonly affects ornamental peach trees and nectarines.
You can prevent leaf curl by using resistant rootstocks such as Frost, Indian Free, Muir, or by using organic fungicides. Prune any affected branches to reduce the spread, disinfecting the pruning shears after each cut to prevent spread through the pruning wounds. You can spray the shears with vinegar to disinfect them.
If you’d like more information on peach tree leaf curl, I’d suggest referencing this guide by the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program.
Gummosis is when trees leak a gummy sap from their trunk or branches. This can be caused by chemical, physical, pests, diseases, or stress. Following proper horticultural practices will greatly reduce the chance of gummosis on your peach tree.
There are many potential causes behind gummosis. Pests such as the peach tree borer can cause it, along with physical damage, and even watering (source).
If you find that your peach tree is oozing sap, take the time to check your tree.
Specifically, inspect your peach tree’s branches and trunk. If you see sap oozing, check for any signs of stress on the tree such as holes from borers or sopping wet soil.
Once you find the culprit and provide a relevant solution, the tree will likely recover.
How To Save a Dying Peach Tree
If you’ve tried following the above information for the most common peach tree issues, but don’t feel you’re any closer to saving your peach tree, there’s still hope.
Here are 3 steps you can use to save your peach tree, for just about any condition.
3 Quick Steps To Save a Dying Peach Tree
1. Identify the Possible Issues
The first step in reviving a dying peach tree is to identify the possible issues. After all, the process of elimination wouldn’t work if we didn’t know which options we were eliminating!
If you haven’t seen it yet, for more information on the most common peach tree issues, reference the above section.
2. Isolate the Actual Issue
Once you’ve checked the specific symptoms your peach tree has, you can now cross off potential issues from your list.
Try to get it down to 1-3 potential issues that best match the symptoms your peach tree is exhibiting. This will give you the best chances to provide the right solution for it (you don’t want to spray the tree with neem oil if the problem is a watering issue).
If you’re still not sure about the issue your peach tree has, that’s okay! Call up your local nursery and get their opinion on what’s happening. You may need to talk to a few people to get their experience, but there’s a strong chance they’ve seen it before and can point you in the right direction (or even provide you with the solution!).
Additionally, you can contact your local professional orchard or cooperative extension service.
3. Test Solutions
Now that you have a narrowed-down list of the potential issues, it’s time to try the solutions one at a time.
Start with the least invasive and work your way up to the most invasive (for example, providing less water is much easier than going through the process of repotting the tree. Try to save that option for last).
Continue testing the treatments you believe are most likely to fix the issue. Hopefully, one of them sticks.
Worst case scenario, start from step 1 and make a new list of possible issues. There’s a chance you might have missed something or notice something new the second time around.
Stay persistent! It’s easy to say, “Dumb plant, why don’t you want to live?”, but there’s always a reason why plants act the way they do. Keep the course and see if you can uncover it.
More Tips to Keep Your Peach Tree Alive
- Get a peach tree with a hardy rootstock. This will help with disease resistance and weather tolerance. Grafted trees also generally fruit sooner and better than trees that are grown from seed.
- Plant new peach trees in the springtime if possible. Fall, winter, and summer all generally have more extreme weather, making it harder for peach trees to adjust to their new environment and grow a new root system.
- Check on the peach tree (and its soil) at least once a week. Check on the tree more often if you’re experiencing extreme weather.
- Plant on elevated ground, such as a mound or raised bed to promote better drainage.
- Plant other peach trees between 25-50 feet away to avoid root competition and maximize cross-pollination efforts.