I’ve recently been looking into getting a peach tree, but I heard they commonly get brown leaves. I wanted to find out more, so I did some research. Here’s what I found about brown leaves on peach trees and how to fix them.
Peach tree leaves usually turn brown from improper watering, weather stress, or diseases such as root rot or brown rot. To identify what’s causing the brown leaves, check if they’re a solid or spotted color. If they’re solid brown, it’s likely water or weather stress. If they’re spotted brown, it’s likely a disease.
So, while there are a few common reasons why peach trees get brown leaves, how can you tell which issue is causing it, and what exactly can we do to fix it? Let’s take a closer look.
Over and Under-Watering
Over and under-watering are common reasons why peach trees get brown leaves. Compared to other causes, watering is also the easiest to test. For best results, only water peach trees when the first 2-4 inches of their soil gets dry and apply 2 inches of compost and mulch.
Under-watering is a fairly common issue for many trees and can happen in a matter of hours in dry and hot weather.
When peach trees don’t have enough water in their soil, their roots can’t send the required moisture to help cool the leaves. As a result, the peach tree’s leaves curl to conserve moisture. If not watered soon, the leaves will dry and potentially turn brown before falling off.
Some best practices to prevent under-watering is to provide 2 inches of both compost and mulch to the top of the peach tree’s soil. Keep the compost and mulch at least 3 inches from the tree’s trunk to prevent mold and disease from spreading.
Compost greatly increases the soil’s richness—every 1% increase can help hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre. While mulch dramatically reduces evaporation from the soil. Good mulches for peach trees include leaves, grass clippings, and straw.
On the other hand, over-watering typically happens with too much water or not enough soil drainage. When this happens, the peach tree’s roots become waterlogged, drowning the roots and allowing fungus such as root rot to take over (more on this later). This commonly results in brown leaves.
The best way to water peach trees is to only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry. You can check this is by pushing a finger into the soil, up to the second knuckle. If the soil is dry, water it. If it’s sopping wet 1 or more hours after watering, the soil needs to be amended for better drainage.
If you do find that your peach tree doesn’t have enough drainage (common for clay soils), you can amend its soil by applying 2 inches of both sand and compost on top of the soil, under the canopy. These materials will work their way into the soil over time and help break up the clumps of soil.
If you have a potted peach tree with poor drainage, you can amend its soil by drilling more holes in the pot or by adding sand and compost.
Avoid repotting or relocating your peach tree unless it’s waterlogged and it’s the only option left. Replanting your peach tree can create transplant shock and cause even more issues.
Peach trees can get transplant shock if they’ve recently been relocated or repotted. This stress occurs from the tree having to adapt to the new environment and establish a new root system. If bad enough, the tree’s leaves, blossoms, and fruit can droop, brown, and fall off. Full recovery can take up to one year.
If you haven’t transplanted your peach tree recently, you shouldn’t have to worry about transplant shock.
However, if you have recently transplanted your peach tree, give it some time to heal. Provide sufficient water, nutrients, and shelter until it’s able to make a full recovery. This can take up to one year depending on the severity of the shock.
To help prevent transplant shock, here are some steps that I commonly use when relocating or repotting 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 can quickly develop brown leaves from sunburn and frost. Generally, peach trees prefer USDA growing zones 6-8 but do well in zones 4-9. They like climates with cold winters, moderate summers, and medium to high humidity. However, peach trees are fairly flexible and can tolerate temperatures ranging from -30ºF to 100ºF.
Since peach trees are deciduous trees, it’s normal for them to lose their leaves in the fall and winter. They also require about 800 chill hours per year. Chill hours are when temperatures reach 45ºF and below. This creates a dormancy for peach trees, allowing them to survive the winter and go through a growth spurt in the spring.
However, a peach tree’s dormancy will break if they are exposed to temperatures above 45ºF during the winter. When this happens, the tree will start growing again and develop new leaves and blossoms. This can pose a problem as any future frosts in the season can quickly kill the young leaves and blossoms, stunting the tree.
In extremely hot weather, you can cool peach trees by providing:
Applying 2 inches of both compost and mulch to the top of the peach tree’s soil and providing 2-4 hours of afternoon shade will go a long way in cooling peach trees. You can create shade from umbrellas, shade sails, or other trees. Generally, the afternoon sun is much hotter than the morning sun, so try creating shading from the west side.
In extremely cold weather, compost and mulch will also help to insulate peach trees. Additionally, you can wrap the tree’s canopy with bedsheets or their trunk with cardboard.
Potted peach trees can be brought indoors during excessively hot weather. But in cold weather, it’s best not to bring the tree indoors as it will likely prevent the tree from receiving any chill hours. Instead, you can bury the pot in the ground, or put the pot into a box and insulate the remaining space with mulch such as straw. In either case, you can also provide 1-2 feet of mulch to provide even more insulation.
Lack of Nutrients
A lack or excess of nutrients is not too likely to cause brown leaves on peach trees, but it shouldn’t be ruled out. Improper nutrients can cause several growing issues, such as brown leaves, and fruit and leaf drop. Peach trees should be fed a fertilizer once per growing season or compost every 1-2 months.
Generally, peach trees prefer a balanced NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) or one with double the nitrogen to phosphorus and potassium, such as a 10-10-10 or a 6-3-3 NPK. Alternatively, you can feed them compost every 1-2 months (also helping the soil’s water retention and beneficial soil life).
Avoid feeding peach trees nutrients in the winter when they’re dormant and don’t need many nutrients. Like hibernating bears, they typically store the nutrients they need before the winter.
If you do feed peach trees while they’re dormant, the nutrients can sit in the soil, potentially causing chemical burns to the tree’s roots. This is especially true for fast-release and high-nitrogen fertilizers.
If you’d like a recommendation on good peach tree fertilizers, check out my recommended fertilizer page.
However, even if the peach tree’s soil has sufficient nutrients, if it doesn’t have a balanced pH, the tree will be unable to absorb nutrients.
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.
Companion plants are also a good way to promote more nutrients, water retention, and pollination for your peach trees.
Root rot, also called Phytophthora Root & Crown Rot, is a root fungus that causes leaves, blossoms, and fruit to droop, yellow, and brown. This disease typically occurs in areas with poor drainage. To prevent and treat root rot, promote well-draining soils and transplant the tree with fresh soil if necessary.
There is no chemical control available for crown and root rot in the home garden. The most important control strategy is careful water management.Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service
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.
Brown rot is a common peach tree fungus that typically occurs when the tree is blooming. Open flowers are infected easily and begin to wilt and brown. This can spread to the leaves and fruit, eventually killing the tree. To prevent and treat this disease, prune the infected branches and provide organic fungicides.
Another way to help prevent brown rot is by planting rootstocks that are naturally resistant such as Contender.
However, most peach varieties can contract this disease, with nectarines being especially susceptible (source).
Peach Tree Rust
Peach rust is a fungal disease that affects peach, nectarine, almonds, plum, apricot, and cherry trees. Symptoms include leaves and fruit with yellow and brown spots and branches with cankers or lesions. This fungus is especially common in the summer and fall when there’s more humidity and rainfall.
Since peach rust is a fungal disease, it’s managed by pruning infected leaves, branches, and fruit and applying organic fungicides. This is best done early on, before the fungus spreads far.
It can be difficult to find organic fungicides, but Stefan Sobkowiak – The Permaculture Orchard has a great video on a safe, homemade, and most importantly—effective fungicide (hint: the secret ingredient is whey).
Peach Tree 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 brown, 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.
For any other symptoms or help with your peach tree, consider referencing my recent post: How To Revive a Dying Peach Tree (3 Quick Steps) or consult your local nursery, professional orchard, or cooperative extension service.