A question I hear often 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 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.
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.
An example of this is pine trees, which have adapted to produce a type of anti-freeze in their needles.
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-watering stresses peach trees, leading to yellow and dropping leaves. It most commonly occurs with clay soils and poor drainage.
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.
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.
How to Fix Poor Drainage
- Amend Soil
- Relocate Tree
- Plant on Mound or Raised Bed
If you find that you need to improve your peach tree’s drainage, amend the soil with 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months. Compost not only breaks up clumps of soil but provides the proper water retention.
Another method is to relocate the tree to an area with better drainage. I recommend only doing this for young trees as mature trees can get more transplant shock.
Planting on a mound or raised bed helps too. Hugelkultur mounds are a great way to provide more drainage (and nutrients).
Raised beds are often the most expensive item in the garden, but a little secret is there are some nice, affordable ones on Amazon.
You can add more drainage to potted peach trees by drilling more holes to the bottom or by repotting the tree with fresh soil. 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.
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
- Provide more drainage if possible
However, if you checked your peach tree and it’s not over-watered, what do we look at next?
3. Lack of Nutrients
|Nutrient Deficiency||Leaf Symptom|
|Nitrogen||Entire leaf is pale or yellow|
|Iron||Dark green veins, rest of the leaf is yellowing|
|Manganese||Broadly pale leaves, foliage color looks mottled or smeared|
A lack of 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.
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
Without them, the tree is more vulnerable to issues such as nutrient deficiency and disease.
So, healthy soil generally means healthy trees!
However, nutrients are only part of the picture.
Improper Soil pH
Even if a peach tree has plenty of nutrients in the soil, when the soil is either too alkaline or too acidic, the tree can’t 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 (above 7.0), 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 (below 6.0), 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.
4. Transplant Shock
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 tree 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:
- Have the new ground (or pot) prepared
- Remove as much of the plant’s current topsoil as possible, without damaging the shallow roots
- Grab the base of the plant’s stem and wiggle lightly
- Using your other hand, scoop up and support the rootball
- Lightly place the plant in the new ground (or pot) and fill it in
- Make sure the soil is at the same level on the plant as before
- Apply 2 inches of compost and 4-12 inches of mulch to the top of the soil
- Water generously and add more soil as needed
Root rot is a fungal disease that most commonly occurs in waterlogged soil. The fungus eats at the tree’s roots, killing the peach tree. You can fix root rot if you catch it early enough and dry out the soil.
Generally, providing fresh, dry 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.
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.
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, there’s likely an issue that needs to be addressed.
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).
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. Check out this list to see your local services.
- Permaculture Consultation: Need help with a bigger project? Send us a message.
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