Starting in the late spring, you’ll see local peaches being sold just about EVERYWHERE here in Austin, Texas. It turns out that peach trees grow nicely in this 8b zone. However, a common question that I hear is why peach trees get yellow and dropping leaves. So, I did a bit of research to find out more about this issue and how to fix it. Here’s what I found.
Peach trees commonly get yellow leaves from over or under-watering, poor nutrients, and disease. To fix this, only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry, use a balanced fertilizer, and check the leaves for spots. After addressing the issue, the peach tree should recover and grow new leaves in the spring.
So, while peach trees can get yellow leaves due to a few different issues, how can we identify what’s causing it, and how can we fix it? Let’s take a closer look.
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Is It Normal for Peach Trees To Have Yellow and Dropping Leaves?
Peach trees are deciduous trees, so it’s normal for their leaves to yellow and drop in the autumn. However, if their leaves are yellowing and dropping in the spring or summer, then it’s likely an issue with watering, nutrients, or disease. If the leaves have yellow spots, it’s likely a disease causing it.
Some fruit trees, such as citrus, are evergreen and keep their leaves year-round. Evergreen trees typically grow in climates without harsh winters or at least have developed other techniques to survive the cold. An example of this is pine trees, which have adapted to produce a type of anti-freeze in their needles.
Other trees, like apple, peach, and cherry trees, are deciduous and shed their leaves in the fall to help ensure the tree survives in winter. By shedding its less vital parts, the tree can conserve more resources for its trunk and roots.
Think of this like how bears hibernate during the winter.
Okay, so it’s normal for peach trees to get yellow leaves that drop in the winter, but what if your peach tree is losing its leaves in the spring or summer? What could be causing it and how can it be fixed?
Over or Under-Watering
Over and under-watering can stress peach trees, leading to yellow and dropping leaves. While under-watering is more common, over-watering can occur with clay soils and heavy rains. The best way to water peach trees is to only water when the first 2-4 inches of soil is dry. Provide compost and mulch for best results.
Under-watering, also called drought stress, is especially common in hot and dry regions. Like most fruit trees, peach trees prefer soil that is moist, but not sopping wet.
A good way to check if your peach tree needs water is to push a finger into the soil under the canopy, up to the second knuckle. If the soil is dry, water it. If it’s been at least an hour after watering, and the soil is still sopping wet, hold off on watering and improve the soil’s drainage.
If you find that you do need to improve your peach tree’s drainage, you can amend the soil with compost or sand. You can also relocate the tree to an area with better drainage. Elevating the tree by planting on a mound or raised bed can help too.
Potted peach trees can have more drainage by adding more holes to the bottom or by repotting the tree with fresh soil. However, avoid transplanting or repotting if possible as this can stress the tree even more. If the soil is waterlogged and root rot is beginning to set in, repotting or transplanting is likely a good idea.
Once the soil is well-draining, there are some practices to help it retain water and make the tree more self-sufficient.
Apply 2 inches of each compost and mulch on top of the soil, under the canopy to improve water retention and reduce evaporation. When applying, keep a distance of at least 3 inches from the tree’s trunk to prevent mold from spreading. Reapply compost every 1-2 months and mulch every 3-6 months.
Compost greatly improves the soil’s richness and water retention, and its nutrients can also reduce and remove the need for chemical fertilizers (more on this later).
Mulch dramatically reduces evaporation, soil erosion, and weed growth. In hot and dry climates, the strong sun combined with high winds can act similarly to a blow dryer, drying out the soil in a matter of hours. To combat this, mulch shields the soil and keeps the moisture in. Some good mulches to use for peach trees are leaves, bark, grass clippings, straw, and pine needles.
Compost and mulch not only help keep the peach tree’s roots cool, but they also protect the beneficial soil life.
If you live in a climate that gets hot and dry, you can also provide your peach trees with some shade. Some ways you can do this are to use umbrellas, shade sails, or other trees. Generally, it’s better to provide peach trees with partial shade from the afternoon sun since it’s much hotter than the morning sun. For this reason, aim to shade the tree from the west side.
So, to recap the best practices for watering peach trees:
- Check the soil’s moisture with a finger and water only when dry
- Apply 2 inches of compost and mulch
- (Optional) Provide some afternoon shade
Lack of Nutrients
An over or under-abundance of nutrients can stress peach trees, leading to issues such as leaves curling, yellowing, and dropping early. To help fix this, provide peach trees with a balanced fertilizer (such as a 10-10-10 NPK) 1-2 times per year, or compost every 1-2 months. Avoid fertilizing in the winter.
When peach trees don’t have enough nutrients or water to go around, they’ll start shedding the less vital parts of the tree. These less vital parts include fruit, blossoms, and leaves.
So, what’s the best way to provide peach trees with quality nutrients?
One of the best ways to provide your peach trees with nutrients is with compost. Not only does compost provide everything that peach trees need, but it also improves the richness of the soil. This in turn drastically helps to retain water and support the beneficial soil life.
Beneficial soil life such as mycorrhizal fungi provides the tree’s roots with nutrients that it normally couldn’t reach in exchange for sugars from the tree’s photosynthesis. This symbiotic relationship is extremely helpful for the health of trees.
This network between fungi and the trees can even warn neighboring trees of pests and supply struggling trees with nutrients and water.
Chemical fertilizers can often short circuit this nutrient exchange, making the beneficial soil life redundant to the trees, causing these helpful organisms to die off. Without them, the tree is more vulnerable to issues such as nutrient deficiency and disease.
So, healthy soil generally means healthy trees!
Still, nutrients are only part of the picture.
Even if a peach tree has plenty of nutrients in the soil, when the soil is either too alkaline or too acidic, the tree is unable to properly absorb nutrients.
This is why keeping a balanced soil pH is so important. So, what pH is best for peach trees?
Peach trees prefer a soil pH of 6.0-7.0.
It can be tricky to measure the soil’s pH, but two common ways are to either use pH strips or a pH meter. I prefer using a pH meter since they’re affordable and easy to use. To see which pH meter I use and recommend, check out my recommended tools page.
If you find that your peach tree’s soil is too alkaline (common with clay soils), you can amend it with acidic materials such as coffee grounds, sand, or peat moss.
On the other hand, if the soil is too acidic (common with sandy soils), you can use alkaline soil amendments such as charcoal, biochar, or wood ash. Avoid using treated charcoal or coal since they can have toxic substances and can negatively affect trees.
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 leaves and branches.
I once had root rot with my potted Kaffir lime tree. After seeing that its leaves were yellow, and the soil was sopping wet, smelling like a swamp, I repotted the tree with fresh soil. The tree quickly recovered and started producing fruit again 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).
If you believe your peach tree has yellow or dropping leaves from a disease, and you’d like more information to identify and treat it, this guide by Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service might help.
Since peach trees are deciduous trees, it’s normal for them to lose their leaves in the fall and winter. However, if your peach tree is losing its leaves in the spring or summer, then it’s likely affected by a condition.
Start by checking the watering, soil, and nutrients. If they all seem good, inspect the tree and see if you can identify any symptoms from a disease such as curled, reddish leaves (likely peach leaf curl) or any spots on the leaves.
If you need additional help identifying and treating your peach trees symptoms, feel free to 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 your cooperative extension service.
Is Your Fruit Tree Beyond Saving?
Generally, you can 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.
In the off chance it’s not alive, revisit what may have happened (ask yourself if it was the wrong climate, watering, nutrients, etc) and adjust as needed for any remaining plants.
If you’re looking 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. For example, I got my Fuji apple, brown turkey figs, and bing cherry tree from Fast Growing Trees, and they were all delivered quick, neat, and healthy (see below).