Sudden peach tree disaster

I don’t know what happened to my Frost peach tree. It was blooming beautifully all over, and looked ready to leaf out nicely as well, but within the space of a few days, all the leaves browned and died, except a few scraggly leaves at the tips of branches. The tree has been in the ground about 5 years, and has never had a really good peach year. I thought this would be the year.
I’m not sure what to do. Should I cut it way back so that it’s not trying to support a lot of branches? Or should I leave it be, due to the fact that the few green leaves it still has are on the tips? Does anyone have any idea what it could be? The two possibilities I can think of are that it rained quite a bit around bloom time, and even though this is California, and has been very dry, maybe its roots got too wet for a week or two. The other possibility is that I gave it some fertilization, a very mild mix (I always use a lower concentration than it says on the bottle) which I can look up. Does it look like it got burned by fertilizer? The few remaining green leaves have reddish tips. I gave the same liquid mix to my other peach tree, and it’s fine, but maybe that tree is more rugged because it was grown from a seed. Here is a before picture:

and here are two after pictures:

It had a good, healthy, leafy year last year, but the year before that, it looked peaked halfway through summer. If it’s going to be nothing but trouble, I guess I’d like to give up on it sooner rather than waiting and waiting for it to get better. I guess this is all moot if it’s dead already, but I can’t make that determination. Any comments welcome! Thanks.

Lizzy, it’s too bad about your peach- but I think this kind of decline in stone fruit generally has a disappointing outcome. Wait for better informed opinions before removing it, because I don’t know for a certainty, but dern! that don’t look good. I doubt it has anything to do with your fertilizer, don’t know about the water but I kind of doubt it. I have to say that it looks sick to me.

It was a very pretty tree and I know you’d like to keep it. We can hope.


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I can’t really tell from the picture, but is the tree in some kind of indent on the ground? In Berkeley, we’ve gotten pretty water logged several times this year and that hole is collecting water.

I’m really not an expert, but I’ve got poor draining soil and sick leaves have meant over watering for me on the past. Hasn’t happened to stone fruit though… Mostly citrus and some California natives that don’t like too much water.


Yeah, looks like the tree was planted incorrectly. The root ball needs to be elevated not sunk. And pull the mulch away from the trunk.

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This might sound like an off the wall answer, but can you check to see if something ate or destroyed the roots, or strangled your tree from below that mulch line? Perhaps the root system or hidden trunk area had already been compromised, causing the tree to collapse once it used up the energy stored above that point. Termites could even be happily munching away in the moist environment under the mulch. I found some of those critters in my newest batch of mulch.

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Last year I had a Honeycrisp apple that I purchased from Lowes show similar symptoms. The tree bloomed out beautifully and appeared to be doing very well and then all of a sudden the leaves started wilting and shriveling up. It ended up dying. When I pulled it out of the ground and sprayed off the root ball with a garden hose I found a piece of plastic had girdled the roots about 4 inches below the graft. I’m not saying that same thing happened to you because your tree appears much older, but Muddy might be on the right track in that something has happened to the root system of your tree.

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I had a cot-n-candy i got bare root do something similar. Granted the tree was a 2-2.5 tall stump , but it had a few flowers that bloomed followed by 5-6 buds that had leaves. The leaves got about 1-2 inches long before they just dried up. Pulled the tree to find the roots were dead. Top of the tree still scratched green though.

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Ok, here are my 10 cents. I don’t think termites are the culprits as they only eat dead wood. Some possibilities:

  1. Phytophthora root rot could have been induced by excessive moisture in the soil (Armillaria root rot is also possible but less likely since it probably would have manifested itself earlier in the tree’s life; also the symptoms in your case are more similar to those associated with Phytophthora). Lovell and Nemaguard rootstocks have low resistance against both types of root rot.

  2. Peachtree Borer. Not very likely in your case since the tree decline would be slower, and also your photo does not show any gum exuding from around the base of the trunk. Still, gum can be hidden below the mulch. If you pull the mulch away and don’t see any gummosis, then it’s not borer.

  3. Brown Rot Blossom and Twig Blight (aka Moniliose or European Brown Rot). It’s more often associated with apricots and cherries, but may affect any Prunus species including peaches. Also, it’s not common in California, but still happens, and weather conditions this year (a lot of rain during bloom time) have been especially conducive to this disease.

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Lizzy hi

I don’t have much growing experience about peaches, but I have read quite a bit of peaches. I have suggestion which have not mentioned here what disease your peach tree might have. You said you live in California, this is quite dry usually compared to eastern U.S.A. You said you had quite a bit rain during bloom. I thought you might have bacterial canker pseudomonas syringae. That can cause leaves to dry, but i think it needs cold weather so peach get cold damage. I don’t know where in California you are, but if we think something like San Diego then it is not likely you had this disease. I meant if we think you probably didn’t have enough low temperature to get cold damage for peaches, so that way it bacterial canker seems less likely disease for you.

i think you might have verticillium vilt Verticillium dahlia. Your image show flowers coming yellow and dying. Take a look at this California site about this disease for
peaches :

It looks like quite a lot like your peach tree situation. Look it says " Verticillium wilt becomes apparent when leaves on one or more branches, often on only one side of the tree, turn yellow and/or wilt early in the growing season". Your leaves has turned yellow and wilted. You said your tree is about 5th growing season, site says it occurs second to fourth leaf which is not far from your peach tree age. Earlier messages said something about happening roots.

Let’s look also James book peaches, plums and nectarines : growing and handling for fresh market :

see page 128 for this disease, above should go directly to this disease. See it says " as the fungus progresses upwards, the water-conducting tissues are damaged. The affected limb wilts suddenly and defoliates following the onset of hot weather". Did you have hot weather recently? I have feeling you might had, enough warm weather. You said you had rainy weather, this disease might damaged water conducting part of root and when you get rain peach tree leaves wilted. This sounds a lot what has happened to you.

Look also this site :

It says peaches are particularly suspectible to this disease.

Here is another link which says about treatment for this disease :

Looks like this disease is difficult to control. Above mentioned California site says even low numbers of those parthogen can adverserly affect orchard.

It looks to me a lot of things matches your peach tree situation for this verticillium wilt disease. You have wilted leaves as in this disease, your peach tree age is close above mentioned age, you had rain during bloom which might get this disease symptoms appear and you might also had now warmer weather which has above also mentioned. I think this sounds a lot you have this disease. What you think about this after reading those links i gave to you? Regarding what to do now, i can’t say much. Those links don’t give too much hope for recovery or something good about your situation. You can read those links and search internet about this disease. I think i can’t give you recommendation what to do based on this. Maybe someone give you advice regarding your situation after they have read those links which i gave you. Hopefully this was helpful and you probably might know what disease you have on your peach tree. Maybe some other can give you some advice of what to do now for your peach tree.



Bacterial canker is actually very common in California, but it looks nothing like Lizzy’s pictures. Canker is local, i.e., it attacks a specific spot on a branch (usually where cambium was exposed due to a cut or mechanical damage) and manifests itself by gummosis. If not treated, it would expand, but it would take years for bacterial canker to have this effect on the entire tree of this size.

Verticillium wilt kills much, much slower, usually one branch at a time. In many cases, one side of a tree would be affected while the other would stay alive for months. Also, Verticillium wilt is either present in the soil or not. If it were, this tree would probably have shown symptoms years ago.

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I had a peach tree last year do the same thing. The tree bloomed, then started leafing well. A couple days later it was all brown and dead. Poor tree had grown well for at least 5 years and showed no sign of disease or insect damage. I dug the tree up and examined the roots. The roots were full of fungus looking white junk. I guess all the spring rains we had did it in. My tree was growing on a gradual slope but the ground was still very moist. Mine was an Elberta, if that matters. I hope you have a better outcome than mine. So sorry for your loss.

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Thanks, all, A lot of good tips here. I will pull the mulch away from the trunk and examine it tonight. Yeah, it shouldn’t be in a hole like that. It was in the first bunch of trees I ever planted and we didn’t expect the soil to sink down so much. I should have just pulled it out and planted it higher back then. Probably made it more vulnerable to all sorts of problems. More soon.

I think you’re right that phytophthora is a strong suspect.

Dennis, thanks for all this info and great links!

We’ve dug the thing up and I took some photos. The roots themselves look good–or at least they did before we had to cut them so we could get it out of the ground. The cambium was still green, so I’ve saved the truncated tree and have it heeled in on a tarp. I’m keeping the dirt quarantined in case there’s some pathogen that isn’t already in the rest of the garden. There wasn’t any obvious fungus anywhere. There were some little white bugs eating the bark under the mulch (pictures underneath the root pics) but I looked them up and they are probably “springtails,” which feast on decaying wood but apparently don’t kill trees themselves. Is the greenish black stuff at the root crown normal? These photos are from after I washed the trunk and roots off with the hose, so the greenish black stuff seems like a permanent part of the roots. I’m going to research phytophthora further.

BTW I have now made sure that the mulch doesn’t come anywhere near the trunks of my other trees!

Lizzy hi

Good to see you liked information what i gave to you. It looks like you have found possible disease for your peach tree. You said you should have planted it higher earlier. Was your peach tree on lovell rootstock which is peach rootstock? Generally lovell and peach rootstock don’t like being wet soil. You said you think phytophthora which is root rot or crown rot.

On this California link :

of this disease it says " Generally, crown rots advance rapidly and trees collapse and die soon after the first warm weather of spring. Leaves of such tress wilt, dry, and remain attached to the tree." You said you have rainy weather in California, i don’t know how long your soil has been saturated, that site says " Periods of 24 hours or more of saturated soil favor Phytophthora infections"

The Peach : Botany, Production, and Uses book says :

“Trees can be affected at all ages and infections often results in tree death.”

On this Georgia site :

it says " Infected trees appear wilted and yellow. Leaves drop prematurely (Figure 1) and trees often die.". It also says " affected bark is brown-black and water-soaked". If we look your image which gave in your message, it loos quite dark to me in one of those image. That color makes thinking it was quite water soaked sometime, as that text say so. It looks like you might be right you have this disease.

As you have asked what to do in your situation, i can’t give you advice about that but i can give you some information about this disease situation.

May i ask you have sprayed your peach tree with fungicide? I looked about this those fungicide are, i guess so meant to used as preventative measure so that way this is little late for your situation as you already have symptoms of this disease. Have you used agri-fos fungicide?

On this link :

section 4 p it have ridomil fungicide for that disease, but it has high risk of fungicide resistance development, which i think mean over longer time fungicide is less effective.

On this link :

it says ridomil is highly effective fungicide and Agri-fos is moderately effective.

You can search google using search managing phytophtora within almond orchards words, you can see results site that have information for almond, but peaches and almond closely related so it might also might useful for peaches. It have information about growing information, irrigation and soil thing about this disease.

One site says tree which shows moderate symptoms may recover with soil application of ridomi gold. Although it says on non bearing trees only. It also said asymptomatic trees adjacent to phytophtora killed trees should given foliar treatment with phosphorus acid, which will help trees, develop tolerance to future infection. One site says ridomi gold is effective reducing soil population of phytophtora.

About agri-fos it just came mind, it says it can be used as curative treatment as well, does it help you your situation if you use it? Have you sprayed any fungicide for your peach tree? Maybe it is too late for your situation, i don’t know. It came just mind if you want try it, if you can recover it from your situation. This is something information which i found about this disease, hopefully this gives you some information about your situation. I don’t know what you should do your situation, i just give you some information. Your situation doesn’t look quite good in my opinion, but maybe those fungicide might be some help for your situation, but i don’t know. Maybe some other give you more advice for your situation.

I used Agri-Fos as an attempted cure for phytophthora crown rot on an apple. No impact, tree died. It was a bad case, though, by the time I treated it.

It’s definitely too late for the peach tree, but I will do the preventative steps for a first year cherry tree that’s close by!