Peach tree deaths and replacements

Hey folks! I’ve been MIA for most of the summer, otherwise known as the (very) rainy season!

In the last few years I have had maybe 5 different peach trees die, including 3 this year and I’m trying to figure out why. The soil here is very rocky which may have something to do with it. When I say rocky, think the top of a mountain covered with some dirt! In other words, there are some places that I can’t dig more then a couple inches because I hit solid rock. And it’s not just a matter of moving over a couple feet. Sometimes I have to move 10 or more feet before I’m able to get the shovel into the ground.

This year, the trees all started out fine. They bloomed, set fruit and leafed out just like normal, but in early June they lost most of their leaves and by early July they lost all of their leaves. (I’ll post photos in the next message).

One of them suffered from peach leaf curl for the last couple years, but the other two didn’t.

Three of my original plantings from 2006 are still there and doing fine, but these three that died were planted were planted in 2011 and 2013.

Any ideas what is happening here? And if I replant, should I use the same holes?

Part 2 of my question is what to do about the dead trees, replace them with the same varieties or try something new. As always, taste is the most important factor followed by extending the harvest on both ends.

Here’s what I have/had:

Rich May (dead)
Gold dust (dead)
Harrow Diamond
Red Haven
Sugar Giant (dead)
Belle of Georgia

Should I replace the dead ones with something the same or is there better stuff out there?


These are from June 2nd.

These are from July 2nd

Sorry to hear about your dead trees. I also lost couple of trees this year. One possible reason is ambrosia beetle.
You might want to read through this thread (lower half of it) and see if you see any similarities.
Try to figure it out with help from the forum so you can avoid it next year. I’d be heartbroken if more of my trees die next year.

Bart. That’s really unfortunate. Have you considered peach tree short life, aka nematodes as the problem? That is, as long as you don’t see any borer evidence Susu mentioned.

You are far enough south, you might consider Guardian rootstock.

So that is what is causing short life? Makes sense. My first thought was the roots, and with that rocky soil gophers or voles is not doing it, nematodes makes sense.
@Bart for the lack of soil you could help them with raised beds or mounds, use native soil if possible so they don’t become stuck in the good soil of the bed. What I do is harvest soil elsewhere, and fill the hole I made to harvest with top soil. Any trees you can’t get on Guardian, you could graft them unto existing trees, or Guardian rootstock. Just ask for scion here.

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I have to agree with Mark. That’s PTSL disease. Switch to
Guardian and you should be fine. Vaughn’s is an excellent

I have never heard of PTSL in the area where Bart is located. I thought that PTSL was primarily found in coastal areas and more southern areas. Are we sure PTSL is present where Bart is located?

Well now I am confused after reading this article -

How do you prevent PTSL?

The clue here is that early CA peaches were disproportionately the victims. Your peaches almost certainly suffered from weather related cambium freeze, IMO. The reason for the dramatically long death scene was the result of a destroyed vascular system while buds were still vital.

Those earlier peaches tend to come out of dormancy sooner than later ones. Harrow Diamond came out of the Canadian program, so was an exception.

Anecdotally, I’ve observed that shallow soil exacerbates “cambium kill” which occurs when liquid in vascular cells expand and rupture walls. The farther trees get from peak dormancy the more water in these cells.

I don’t know why the problem is worse in shallow soils, which throws a bit of a wrench in my entire prognosis, because it suggests freezing of the roots. However, I assume root tissue experiences a similar seasonal shuttling in and out of water, so maybe not quite so much a wrench as a curtain.

Bart is in VA. Did it get that cold in VA last winter for winter kill alone to take the trees out? Of course PTSL makes trees more sensitive to winter/late spring cambium kill, so in the end we could be talking about the same thing.

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Unfortunately, Its impossible to prevent PTSL. Guardian rootstock helps but does not prevent it. Its normal for commercial peach growers south of me to fumigate the planting rows before planting the peach trees. I was advised that a delay of pruning until early March will help some too.

I didn’t realize he was in VA, but I’m not sure about the frequency of PTSL in the hills there- I believe after looking it up he’s in 6B. We had a lot of cambium kill here from a Feb freeze that only got to about -12 on my relatively cold site. Warmer sites also had unusually high mortality, even with peaches.

I think he needs to look into both possibilities- and whether PTSL is an important issue at his precise location, but it is striking which varieties actually died. Could be a coincidence. Can’t a pathologist solve the mystery? Too late now, I guess. But if it’s PTSL it will likely affect other trees in the future, right? Next time maybe he should bring a sample to his cooperative extension so they can send it to a pathologist for positive ID.

It’s a fun and educational game to play “guessing diagnostics” but not very definitive.

When were the trees pruned?

The nematodes may not be present in every planting site
that he has. That’s why it effected only certain trees. I have
nematodes in certain areas, and just a few yards away, there
are none.

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The trees that also happen to come out of dormancy early. No, that’s not established to be “why”- it is another logical theory, just like mine. Perhaps the roots are still in the ground and can be diagnosed for nematode injury. They aren’t an issue here, as far as I know, so I can’t speak from experience about them. However, I have immense experience with freeze related cambium kill- probably more than even any commercial fruit grower because I manage so many orchards in so many different conditions.

Two heads are better than one- as long as they listen to each other.

Incidentally, his site is more climatically similar to mine than yours, I believe. Nematodes become a greater problem the higher you go in zone in the humid regions, or, at least, that is my understanding.

The Cambium freeze theory works for last year, but not so sure for other years for the OP? I have seen reports across the country this year on damage. Mine was to an early fall freeze, not a late spring freeze. I lost 3 peach tree seedling, 2 young mulberries, 2 figs, and dozens injured. It could happen again here, 2 days ago the high was 86 and we have frost warnings for tomorrow morning. Luckily above freezing frost warnings, Also my figs looked to have hardened off some although far from ready, just that the trees stopped growing, and bark is hardening to a brown color.

I’m close to VA and we often experience similar weather patterns and the same fronts. Because Bart is in the hills and not on the coast the similarities are amplified. He mentioned his very wet weather, which was the issue here this season as well. 100 miles or so upstate, they had early drought- our weather is closer to Bart’s than the weather there as a general rule. The winter before last the issue was very warm weather right up until a sub-zero freeze on Valentines day, I think it was- but in mid Feb for sure. Earliest varieties and species suffered most then as well.

From Virginia Tech -

“Tree Longevity
Virginia does not experience very low winter temperatures
that kill or weaken trees, and we do not have some
of the diseases and short-life problems of other regions.
Virginia is well suited to growing peach trees and, when
planted on a good site, a properly managed tree should
live 20 to 30 years.”

Of course the above statements shoots down PTSL and winter damage, I am south of Bart slightly further east aligned to the Blue Ridge Mountains and I have experienced the type of weather Alan describes - I have never lost a peach tree to weather. I cannot confirm if my temperature is as extreme as Bart’s and to Alan’s point early/California varieties were in play.

That statement does not address sudden changes in temps. It is often not unusually low temps that kill trees so much as unusually warm spells followed by more or less normal lows. I’ve had native dogwoods (from local seed) die on my property at zero degrees in early March, for example, which is certainly a common winter temp in VA hill country away from the coast I think universities don’t address this much because it is very difficult to research. Probably the literature tends to focus on the lows that consistently kill trees in full dormancy because it is so much easier to back with research. Some order is needed in the nursery business, even if it is actually a very limited guideline when they attach survivable zones to species.

I would not rule out PTSL or winter kill yet. The standard test for PTSL is to remove a slice of bark from the lower trunk of the tree close to the ground and smell it. PTSL produces bark with a sour smell and I believe bacterial canker does also. Probably too late for the smell test unless the trees are still alive

Early pruning makes the trees more sensitive to low temperatures. I never start pruning my peach trees before March 1 for that reason and I always prune the early bearing trees like Rich May last.


Thanks for the great responses folks! I’ve never even heard of PTSL! A new nemesis, wonderful!! :wink:

Alan’s point about the freeze is very interesting. I am in Northern VA, but I’m out west in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. We are typically 10 or more degrees cooler than typical Northern VA areas like Alexandria and Arlington.

Last year was especially interesting weather wise. We had a very early and severe cold spell in mid December. In 13 years on this site, that December cold spell was the lowest temperature I’ve ever recorded (not sure what the actual low was, (thermometer problems) but when I got there early that day, the temp was zero, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it went lower). Usually we don’t hit our low until sometime from mid Jan to mid Feb. In this case we had weather in the 40s and 50s leading up to a below zero cold spell.
I was talking to a local wine grower with over 30 years experience in the area and he was concerned about how quickly the very cold weather came on. He said that the vines could handle that temperature much better if they had a long slow cooling period instead of going from 40 to below zero in a day or two. I don’t know if the abrupt deep freeze affects peach trees the same way, but it got me thinking. Either way, it was still the coldest temperature I recorded in over a decade.

One thing I didn’t mention is that a few years ago I lost an Indian Free tree which as you know if a late season tree.