We recently noticed our peach tree is getting a few yellow leaves. While I had an idea of what was causing it, I wanted to do more research to be sure. Here’s what I found.

Peach trees get yellow leaves from over-watering, poor nutrients, transplant shock, and disease. Ideally, only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry, use a balanced fertilizer, and check the leaves for signs of disease. After addressing the issue, the peach tree should recover and grow new leaves in the spring.

So, while peach trees 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.

our peach tree with yellow leaves
Our peach tree dropping some yellow leaves

Fun Fact: Peach and nectarine trees are identical, except for their fruit. Nectarines are actually peaches with an active recessive gene (similar to red hair in humans).

1. Seasonal

Peach trees are deciduous trees (along with apple, pear, and cherry trees), so it’s normal for their leaves to yellow and drop in the autumn. This is a survival response for the trees to go dormant and survive the winter. By shedding its less vital parts, the tree conserves more resources for its trunk and roots.

On the other hand, some fruit trees (such as citrus trees) 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.

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?

Tip: It’s normal for around 10% of a peach tree’s leaves to turn yellow and drop from the tree. This is usually a natural shedding of old leaves. However, if you’re seeing 20% or more of the leaves dropping, and it’s not autumn, there’s likely an issue.

2. Over-Watering

Over-watering stresses peach trees, which commonly leads to yellow and dropping leaves. Watering too much is typically due to soil with poor drainage, such as heavy clay soil.

The best way to water peach trees is to only water when the first 2-4 inches of soil is dry. You can check this by pushing a finger into the soil. If the soil is dry, water it. If it’s wet, hold off on watering. The goal should be soil moisture similar to a wrung-out sponge.

Test for Drainage

If you do the finger test mentioned above, and find your peach tree’s soil is staying sopping wet for 24+ hours, it likely has poor drainage.

You can also test drainage by doing a percolation test.

doing a soil percolation test in our backyard
Doing a percolation test in our backyard

Here’s how to do a percolation test:

  1. Dig a 1-foot by 1-foot hole
  2. Place a yardstick in the hole and fill it with water
  3. Wait 1 hour and measure how far the water line fell

Ideally, water should drain at about 2 inches per hour. However, this is a guideline and not a rule, so don’t worry if yours is off.

How to Fix Poor Drainage

If you do find your peach tree’s soil has poor drainage, the best way to amend it is to mix in at least 2 inches of compost with the soil. Compost not only breaks up clumps of soil but provides ideal water retention.

Potted peach trees with poor drainage can simply be repotted with fresh potting soil. You can also promote better drainage by drilling more holes to the bottom of the pot. However, if the soil is waterlogged and root rot is beginning to set in (more on this later), repotting or transplanting is likely a good idea.

On the other hand, planted peach trees that are mature should not be dug up unless necessary as transplant shock can cause more damage to the plant. In this case, simply apply 2 or more inches of compost on top of the soil and reapply every 1-2 months.

Another method is to relocate the tree to an area with better drainage, such as on a mound of soil. Again, I recommend only transplanting young trees as mature trees often get transplant shock and take at least 1 year to recover.

Tip: Avoid mulching peach trees until their soil has proper drainage. Mulch reduces evaporation and makes poorly draining soil worse. After the soil is well-draining, apply 4 inches of mulch under the canopy.

So, to recap the best practices for watering peach trees:

  1. Check the soil’s moisture with a finger and water only when dry
  2. Apply 2 inches of compost
  3. Provide more drainage if needed

However, if you checked your peach tree and it’s not over-watered, what do we look at next?

an organic companion planting guide ebook square

    3. Improper Nutrients

    Tyler holding Down to Earth fruit tree fertilizer
    The fertilizer I use and recommend for peach trees
    Nutrient DeficiencyLeaf Symptom
    NitrogenEntire leaf is pale or yellow
    IronDark green veins, rest of the leaf is yellowing
    ZincYellow blotches
    ManganeseBroadly pale leaves, foliage color looks mottled or smeared
    Source: The University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources

    Too few or too many nutrients stresses peach trees, leading to issues such as leaves curling, yellowing, and dropping early. To fix this, provide peach trees with a balanced fertilizer (such as a 10-10-10 NPK) 1-2 times per year, or 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months. Avoid fertilizing in the winter.

    A lack of nutrients is typically caused by over-watering, exhausted soil nutrients, or poor soil. On the other hand, excess nutrients are from over-fertilizing. Usually, this is from chemical and fast-release fertilizers. These excess nutrients then chemically burn the fruit tree’s roots.

    While chemical fertilizers can be helpful in the short-term, they often have long-term effects such as drying out the soil and killing off beneficial soil life such as earthworms and mycorrhizal fungi.

    Mycorrhizal fungi promote many aspects of plant life, in particular improved nutrition, better growth, stress tolerance, and disease resistance.

    Department of Biology, University of Fribourg, Switzerland

    If you’d like to see which peach tree fertilizers I use and recommend, see my recommended fertilizer page.

    However, nutrients are only part of the picture.

    Improper Soil pH

    ph scale couch to homestead

    Peach trees prefer a soil pH of 6.0-7.0.

    Peach trees (and most plants) require a slightly acidic soil pH for the soil nutrients to dissolve properly and be used by the plant’s finer roots. Without this, the nutrients are “locked” in the soil and the peach tree can die.

    Two good ways to check your soil’s pH are either by using a pH strip 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 (above 7.0) you can add acidic amendments such as coffee grounds, sand, and peat moss. On the other hand, if your peach tree’s soil is too acidic (below 6.0), add alkaline materials such as wood ash, charcoal, or lime.

    Additionally, cold and/or wet soils are not good at promoting nutrient uptake as the peach tree will either be dormant during the cold or too stressed in wet soils.

    4. Transplant Shock

    placing the fruit tree in the hole in our backyard

    If your peach tree was recently planted or repotted, and its leaves are starting to curl, yellow, or brown, it’s likely due to transplant shock. Transplant shock occurs when a plant is exposed to a new environment and has to establish a new root system.

    Avoid transplanting peach trees unless necessary as it can take up to 1 year for recovery.

    To help avoid transplant shock, I like to plant with the following steps in mind:

    1. Have the new ground (or pot) prepared
    2. Remove as much of the plant’s current topsoil as possible, without damaging the shallow roots
    3. Grab the base of the plant’s stem and wiggle lightly
    4. Using your other hand, scoop up and support the rootball
    5. Lightly place the plant in the new ground (or pot) and fill it in
    6. Make sure the soil is at the same level on the plant as before
    7. Apply 2 inches of compost and 4-12 inches of mulch to the top of the soil
    8. Water generously and add more soil as needed

    5. Diseases

    Root Rot

    tomato plant with Phytophthora root and crown rot
    A tomato plant with root rot

    Root rot kills off the peach tree roots, which stresses the plant and causes symptoms such as fruit, flowers, and leaves yellowing, browning, and dropping. If not addressed, it leads to stunted growth or a dying peach tree.

    You can typically tell if your peach tree has root rot if the soil is staying sopping wet and starts smelling like a swamp. Allowing the soil to dry out or repotting peach trees with fresh potting soil are the best ways to amend this disease.

    For example, I noticed my potted Kaffir lime tree had root rot as its soil smelled swampy and was staying wet for many days at a time. In this case, I repotted it with fresh potting soil, and the tree quickly recovered.

    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, cankers, 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.

    Prevent PTSL 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, 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, this guide by Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service might help.

    Final Thoughts

    After feeling the soil for over-watering, we found that our peach tree’s yellow leaves were a natural occurrence.

    For example, only 5% or so of the leaves were turning yellow and the leaves affected were closest to the trunk. Because the canopy was so thick, the lack of sunlight and airflow meant the leaves couldn’t survive.

    However, after pruning the peach tree a bit, we allowed more sunlight and airflow to reach the leaves and we stopped seeing yellow leaves.

    For your peach tree, start by checking the watering, soil, and nutrients. If they all seem good, inspect the tree and see if you can identify any symptoms of 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 tree’s symptoms, feel free to check out my recent post: How To Revive a Dying Peach Tree (3 Quick Steps).

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