Get ready! It’s time to spray peach and nectarine trees for peach leaf curl! But first, a little story…
When I was a kid, I was in charge of watering the family peach tree, a freestone variety called O’Henry. It was a delicious, juice-dribbling-down-your-chin kind of peach. I still have fond memories of taking a drink from the garden hose and using it to rinse off my sticky face and fingers.
Unfortunately, one spring the tree had some odd symptoms. The leaves turned yellow and fell off. My dad accused me of neglecting his beloved tree and told me to water it more. So I did. After several seasons of this of this, that poor peach tree died.
Years later when I started working at a local nursery, I learned about peach leaf curl disease. I immediately informed my dad that I had not killed his tree, but that it had died from a combination of disease stress and overwatering. He was happy to hear this news as his current nectarine tree was suffering from the same symptoms!
What is Peach Leaf Curl?
Peach leaf curl is a fungal disease that infects peach and nectarine trees. Infected leaves have a reddish color, pucker, curl, die, and drop off. The tree then replaces them, which takes more energy and weakens the tree. In severe cases, fruit can also be affected.
How Does Peach Leaf Curl Infect My tree?
In late fall and winter, the wind blows fungal spores onto peach and nectarine tree branches. As the weather warms and the leaves begin to grow, the fungus infects them. The symptoms of peach leaf curl can show up in as little as two weeks!
How Can I Prevent Peach Leaf Curl?
In late fall or winter, prune peach and nectarine trees to reduce tree size and remove infected wood. Next, use a fungicide such as a copper based spray (organic), or a synthetic fungicide called chlorothalonil. Both products are found at nursery and garden centers. You can apply the product one of two ways; mixing it with water and using a sprayer, or using a hose-end sprayer that attaches to the end of your hose (I prefer the latter).
Whichever method you use, apply the fungicide thoroughly, spraying until the tree is dripping. If it rains after you spray, you’ll need to make a second application. This is why I wait until January to spray my trees.
In spring, after the beautiful pink blossoms drop, your peach or nectarine tree should produce a crop of green, shiny, healthy, leaves. Once in a while you may see a few infected leaves if you missed a spot, but not enough to cause a problem.
What should I do if I’m reading this article and my tree already has peach leaf curl? Should I pull off the leaves?
If your tree currently has peach leaf curl, it’s best not to do anything. Wait until the leaves drop in late fall or winter to spray your tree.