I’ve been researching peach trees for my homestead and I saw others mention early leaf loss is a fairly common occurrence. I wanted to learn more to help prevent this issue in the future, so I did some research. Here’s what I found.
Peach trees commonly drop their leaves early due to a change in watering, environment, or nutrients. Additionally, diseases such as root rot, peach tree short life, and leaf curl can cause peach trees to lose their leaves in the summer. After resolving the issue, the tree should regrow its leaves.
So, while peach trees drop their leaves early for several reasons (sometimes as early as June and July), how do we know which issue is causing it, and how can we fix it? Let’s take a closer look.
Over or Under-Watering
Over and under-watering is one of the most common and preventable reasons why peach tree leaves drop early. When watered improperly, the tree becomes stressed and will shed its leaves, flowers, and fruit to reserve its energy for its trunk and branches to survive.
While it can be difficult to tell how much and how often to water your peach tree, there’s a good trick that can help.
How to Fix
The best way to water your peach tree is to first check the soil’s dryness. You can do this by pushing a finger into the soil, up to the second knuckle. The goal is to only water when the soil is dry. Additionally, apply 2 inches of both compost and mulch to help the soil retain water and reduce evaporation.
Before you water your peach tree, check its soil to determine its current moisture. If the soil is dry, water it. If the soil is sopping wet 1 or more hours after watering it, it likely needs to be amended.
You can amend your peach tree’s soil with sand and compost to improve drainage. Potted peach trees that are waterlogged can be repotted with fresh soil as a last resort.
Once your peach tree has well-draining soil, apply 2 inches of each compost and mulch. These two practices are key in helping the tree become more water-sufficient and surviving extreme weather.
Compost greatly improves the soil’s richness, which increases water retention. Every 1% increase in the soil’s richness can hold an additional 20,000 gallons of water per acre. It also provides amazing nutrients for the tree, to the point that it can remove the need for chemical fertilizers.
Mulch dramatically reduces evaporation and protects the soil (and the beneficial soil life) from drying out in the sun and wind. Covering the soil is key to helping the soil hold water. Some good mulches to use for peach trees include leaves, bark, straw, pine needles, and grass clippings.
Hot sunlight and a strong wind can act as a blow dryer, drying out the soil in less than an hour. This in turn dries out the roots, which don’t have moisture to send to the leaves. As a result, the leaves dry, curl, and fall off.
But with compost and mulch, the tree stands a much better chance of surviving. These two practices also mimic the tree’s native environment—forests that commonly dropped scores of branches and leaves, providing abundant nutrients and mulch.
Generally, peach trees can handle temperatures between -25ºF and 100ºF but can get stressed when there’s an early frost, extreme heat, or a swing in weather. This stress causes early shedding of the tree’s leaves, blossoms, and fruit. To prevent this, monitor swings in weather and shelter the tree if possible.
For best results, keep your peach trees between 45ºF and 80ºF during the spring and summer.
When peach trees get too hot, their leaves start to burn and the soil will likely dry. Dry soil makes the issue even worse as the tree’s roots can’t send moisture to its leaves and help cool them.
On the other hand, peach trees can tolerate cold temperatures fairly well due to 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).
Because of this, peach trees do best in USDA hardiness zones 6-8, but most varieties can survive in zones 4-9. Also, like other deciduous trees, peach trees require a certain amount of chill hours per year to grow and fruit properly—about 650-850 hours.
However, too much cold will kill peach trees by freezing the plant cells. Typically, peach trees will be dormant for the winter and have a good chance of surviving it, but an unexpected frost outside of dormancy can damage the tree.
For example, peach trees that are woken from dormancy mid-winter will start growing again, only to suffer from frost. This can stunt the tree for a season or kill it if severe enough. Peach trees will have their dormancy broken when temperatures reach 45ºF or higher.
If your climate gets too hot or cold for your variety of peach trees (typically outside of -25ºF to 100ºF), there are some steps you can use to help protect your tree.
How to Fix
Since every garden has a different climate (even your neighbor has a different microclimate than you), there’s no one fix to keep peach trees alive. However, in my research, I’ve found some ninja tips that can be game-changers for anyone growing peach trees in tough climates.
Hot Weather Tips
- Provide 2 inches of compost and mulch. Reapply compost every 1-2 months and mulch every 3-6 months.
- Shade peach trees from the afternoon sun. Since the afternoon sun is much hotter than the morning sun, shade for a least a few hours from the west side. You can use umbrellas, shade sails, or other trees.
- Move potted peach trees indoors during heat waves. Try to move them gradually over two weeks as to not stress them out from the swing in temperature.
Cold Weather Tips
- Insulate the tree with cardboard or bedsheets during times of frost. Plastic tarps also work well, especially at preventing ice from building up.
- Bury the pot or provide a mound for planted trees. Potted peach trees can be buried outside in the ground for more insulation. You can also place the pot in a box and pack in the space with mulch. Planted peach trees can benefit from a 1-2 foot high mound of mulch during the winter.
- Place peach trees along a southern-facing wall for maximum sunlight and warmth, even into the night.
- Avoid bringing potted peach trees indoors during the winter as they require chill hours. Indoor temperatures, including basements, rarely fall and stay below 45ºF necessary for chilling.
If you’ve recently relocated or repotted your peach tree, and noticed it started losing leaves, it’s likely due to transplant shock.
Transplant shock stresses peach trees and can cause their leaves to curl and drop early. Generally, transplant shock occurs when peach trees go through a stressful relocation or repotting. The effects of transplant shock can be reduced by doing a swift move and preventing damage to the rootball.
Depending on the severity of the transplant shock, some plants can be stressed for up to one year before starting to recover and establish a new root system. This is why transplanting isn’t recommended unless it’s necessary.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to make sure that your peach tree has an easier time adjusting to its new soil and environment.
How to Fix
Here are some steps that I use to prevent transplant shock with my fruit trees:
- 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
Lack of Nutrients
An over or under-abundance of nutrients can cause peach tree leaves to drop early. Without the proper nutrients, peach trees will become stressed and begin to shed their leaves. For best results, use fertilizer once or twice per year or 1-2 inches of compost every 1-2 months during the growing season.
As you can imagine, peach trees require nutrients for every function it has—growing leaves, blossoms, fruit, photosynthesizing, disease and pest resistance, absorbing water, and more.
Like us, without quality nutrients, peach trees wouldn’t be able to thrive or survive for long.
Because of this, let’s take a look at which type of nutrients and fertilizers peach trees prefer and how we can keep healthy, fruiting peach trees.
How to Fix
Generally, peach trees do best with a fertilizer with a balanced NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). For example, a 10-10-10 would work well.
The best time to fertilize peach trees is in the early spring, before the first frost. This provides the peach tree with plenty of nutrients before it starts its growing season.
Avoid fertilizing peach trees in the winter when they’re dormant and won’t use many of the nutrients. This is especially true of chemical fertilizers as the potent nutrients will sit, unused, and likely chemically burning the tree’s roots.
If you’d like my recommendation on which peach tree fertilizer to use, feel free to visit my recommended fertilizer page.
As an alternative to chemical fertilizers, use 2 inches of organic compost every 1-2 months.
Also, keep in mind that soil pH is just as important, if not more important than nutrients.
Without a balanced soil pH, the tree’s roots will be unable to absorb the nutrients in the soil.
The best soil pH for peach trees is between 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.
Pests and Diseases
While peach trees lose their leaves more often from improper watering and environmental stress, pests and diseases such as aphids, root rot, peach tree short life (PTSL), and leaf curl can also cause it. For best results, water peach trees properly and check their leaves for any spots or signs of pests such as holes.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common pests and diseases that cause peach tree leaf loss.
Aphids are small bugs that suck the sap from under the peach tree’s leaves. This loss of moisture causes the leaves to curl, yellow, and fall off. Aphids come in multiple colors and can appear as white, yellow, or black specs, usually underneath the leaves. They can be treated by using water, neem oil, or ladybugs.
Aphids can really be pests, but they’re not too hard to get rid of. The most effective ways to get rid of aphids on peach trees are:
- Spraying with water
- Spraying with neem oil
- Releasing ladybugs
When my potted Kaffir lime tree recently had aphids, I wasn’t sure how to get rid of them. After some research and testing, I found that a simple jet of water from a hose was enough to knock them off of the leaves.
All I did was remove the nozzle from the hose and fit my thumb over the opening to create a stronger blast of water. It was strong enough to remove the aphids, but not strong enough to damage the leaves. To this day, the aphids haven’t returned.
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. Some other symptoms of root rot on peach trees are brown leaves.
My potted Kaffir lime tree also had root rot at one point. After seeing 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.
You can fix root rot if you catch it early enough and dry out the soil, but generally, providing fresh soil that helps absorb the excess moisture is better than waiting for the waterlogged soil to dry out.
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.
If you’d like more information on peach tree leaf curl, I wrote a whole post about it here: How to Identify and Treat Peach Leaf Curl.
Will Peach Trees Regrow Leaves?
If a peach tree doesn’t have a current disease or growing condition, its leaves will regrow in the early spring. The speed of growth depends on the tree’s water, nutrients, climate, and soil pH. For the best chance of regrowth, reduce the stress of the peach tree and provide proper amounts of water and nutrients.
How Do You Know if a Peach Tree Is Dying?
You can tell if a peach tree is dying is if it’s losing its leaves, blossoms, or fruit during the spring and summer. If the peach tree doesn’t have any leaves, you can check that it’s alive by pruning a small branch and checking for any green inside.
If you’d like more help saving a dying peach tree, check out my recent post: How To Revive a Dying Peach Tree (3 Quick Steps).
You can also consult your local nursery, professional orchard, or cooperative extension service.
Is Your Fruit Tree Beyond Saving?
You can generally tell if a fruit tree is still alive by either pruning or lightly scratching off some bark from a small branch. If there’s any green inside, the plant is still alive.
If it’s not alive, revisit what may have happened (was the wrong climate, watering, nutrients, etc?) and adjust as needed for your other affected plants.
If it’s time to replace your fruit tree, or add more to your orchard, the best places to get them are your local nursery, or an online nursery. They’ll have a good selection and offer varieties that grow well in your area.
For example, I get my fruit trees from the online nursery Fast Growing Trees, and all of them have been delivered quick, neat, and healthy.
After repotting, and providing them with plenty of water and compost, they quickly recovered from the minor transplant shock and started growing nicely!