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Peach Leaf Curl: A complete treatment plan

Peach Leaf Curl

(Taphrina deformans)

 

Big Picture:

To prevent the damaging effects of peach leaf curl, you need to spray the branches or your tree before the buds open up. For many, this means spraying in the early spring.  However, in Southern California it is often in mid winter.

 

Flowering Florida Prince Peach

What is it?

Peach Leaf Curl is caused by a fungus that damages and deforms leaves.  The fungus is known by the name Taphrina deformans.  If severe, the infection can reduce crops and stunt trees growth.

Peach leaf curl.

Leaf Curl (picture courtesy of UC Davis Dept of Agriculture)

 

How do you get it?

The fungal spores are everywhere, (in the air and soil) so they cant be avoided.  In the winter the fungal spores can be seen with a microscope if you look at peach tree branches and fallen leaves.

 

What can you do about it?

You need to do two major things to help your peaches and nectarines fight this scourge.

  1. Remove all of the dead leaves around your tree(s) because they are coated with the fungus.
  2. Spray with antifungal spray in the dormant season.
    • ***The most important element for success is to spray the buds in the dormant season***  Spraying after bud break doesn’t reverse the damage.

My specific method to fight Peach Leaf Curl:

Additional info:

    • The oil helps the fungicide to stick to the branches and will also help to kill over-wintering insects and their eggs such as  scale, mealy bugs, whiteflies, etc.
    • Note of caution; repeated use of copper spray can build up in the soil over years and can become toxic to soil organisms.  Therefore, be careful to only use enough to cover the branches and not soak the soil.
    • Additional side note: I recommend that you get (and label) a separate garden sprayer for each of your different garden needs.  That way you don’t have to worry about spraying residue of something like an herbicide on a plant that you would actually like to keep around.  It is also nice to have a garden sprayer with an angled spray nozzle so you can easily get the bottoms of the leaves.

What else can you do about it?

In some wetter parts of the country, many people have reported success with strategic planting positioning to combat peach leaf curl.

  • The main idea is planting in a location that promotes dry leaves which makes them less susceptible to fungal infection.
  • One idea is to plant your tree under a protected eve to keep them dryer from rains.
  • On the same note,  training your tree as an espalier along a south facing wall may also  help to keep leaves dry.  However, at least in Southern California, planting along a south facing wall may be a location that becomes too intense in the hottest summer months.  Aggressive watering in the hottest parts of the year may help to overcome the problems of extra reflected light and heat from an adjacent south facing wall.

 

When do you spray?

  • In an ideal world, you spray in the dormant season after the leaves have fallen and before bud break.  You also don’t want to spray when the rains will just wash it away before bud break.  Timing can be a challenge.
  • If you don’t spray before new leaves emerge, you missed the window and the leaves will be infected.  At this point it really doesn’t matter how much you spray, it won’t do anything.

 

Southern California timing:

  • In Southern California, spray timing can be very tricky.
  • Many peaches down here in SoCal won’t lose their leaves until January and sometimes they don’t lose all of their leaves before new leaves emerge.
  • I have noticed that this is a particular challenge with Florida Prince Peach trees.  For example, in early January, my Florida Prince Peach trees will still have some leaves, and at the same time at the same time that buds swelling – ready to open.

For additional information; UC Davis goes a bit deeper into the disease. 

 

About Thomas Osborne, MD

Dr. Osborne is a Harvard trained Radiologist and Neuroradiologist who loves to share his insight about medicine and gardening.

11 comments

  1. Each year I have had minor infestations of Peach Leaf Curl on my dozen peach trees; in spite of spraying with Bonide and Oil. Must have missed the window of opportunity. This year I am spraying every week even before the buds appear. Another nuisance is Fireblight which have blighted my Barlett Pears and some of my Apple trees. Solution is to spray with horticultural oil and also bonide but once you get it, cut back the infected tree branches until way into the healthy part of the branch, then apply tar type patch to seal the cuts. Seems to work but these Peach leaf Curl and Fireblight spores ensure that a Gardener’s day is never over 😉

  2. Quick update. My peach trees seemed to have survived the peach leaf curl attacks. My 2 to 5 year olds are OK but I am sorry to say my recently planted 1 yr old Newhaven Peach, Red Baron, both succumbed to the disease and the drought. Also my 2 year old Black Tartarian Cherry died due to lack of water, I think. But my Ornamental Pear which is 12 years old and 50 feet tall is being attacked by Fireblight. The branches are healty and green but the tips turn brown and then black spreading downwards a foot or so. I see the tree fighting valiantly and have helped it with infusions of Bayer Disease Control,etc. I saw something about fireblight on my favourite site Amazon so I plan to buy it and try it out next Spring. The fireblight unfortunately won the battle against my Granny Smith 3 yr old apple tree which was doing great in Spring but over summer began to wilt and has now passed away RIP!! I am praying hard for a very wet winter to help us to survive this terrible drought. Best regards, Tom

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Sateesh
      What a terrible story.
      We are all suffering from this severe drought, I am sorry to hear that it has hit you so hard.
      Fireblight is also a real bummer… Ill have to do an article on that sometime soon.
      Lets hope for rain.
      Best,
      Tom

  3. My Florida prince peach is getting ready to open its flower buds. Can I let the flowers break open and spray before the leaves come on? Or is it best to spray before both flower and leaves buds break open?

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Seth
      Great question
      Florida Prince peaches break bud so early that it is easy to miss the opportunity to spray.
      I try to spray before anything opens up.
      Therefore, I would suggest that you spray as soon as possible.

  4. Dr. Osborne, could you please share any information you may on another common pest infesting peach trees – the oriental fruit moth. Most of the information I find on the internet applies to commercial orchards rather than home gardens.

  5. Hi my name is ted, I live in toms river, NJ it is now April 20 2017 and I notice on my peach tree some of the leaves have leaf curl. Is it to late to do anything, and what to use on them. Thank you Ted

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Ted
      Great question.
      Unfortunately, spraying the leaves after they have emerged/matured wont fix the problem.
      However, if you still have other leaves coming out now, you may be able to help them.

      Some people have suggested removing and discarding all the infected looking leaves and then spraying.
      I have not tried this, so I am not sure how effective it would be. However, if you have the time it might be worth trying.
      Since the infected leaves are literally coated with millions of spores, you also have the risk of spreading the infection around with your hands while you remove the ill parts. I would think that spraying immediately after would probably cover that issue though.

      Thanks
      Tom

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