By: Jackie Rhoades
Everything was looking wonderful. Your peach tree was a spring delight covered in beautiful blossoms. You checked and re-checked as the blossoms began to fall and sure enough, after a few days, there they were! Your tree was covered with the tiny little swollen nubs of peaches to come. Then it happens. You look out your window and horror of horrors, you see your peach tree dropping fruit! Peach tree fruit drop has caused many a gardener worry and chances are they’ve worried for nothing. Immature fruit falling off a peach tree is usually a normal occurrence.
Reasons for Peach Fruit Falling Off Tree
There are three main category causes for fruit falling off a peach tree. The first is a natural occurrence, the second is environmental disturbances, and the third would be pest or disease related.
All fruit trees get rid of a portion of their immature fruit, so while watching peaches fall from the tree may be painful to see, it’s part of a natural process. There’s even a name for it: June drop. This actually helps the tree remain healthy and allows the remaining fruit to grow larger.
Most of the fruit falling off a peach tree in a natural shed were weaker specimens to begin with. The stronger specimens then have access to more of the nutrients and water the tree provides and have a better chance to reach the point of ripening.
A tree can naturally lose up to 80 percent of its immature fruit and still be considered normal.
Environmental causes would be the next likely culprits for peach fruit falling off a tree. Late frost or even unusually cold, but not freezing, temperatures can result in a peach tree dropping fruit.
High humidity as well as excessive spring heat can produce the same effect.
Lack of sunlight from too many cloudy days can cause peach tree fruit drop as well by depleting carbohydrate availability.
Inconsistent watering, days of rain followed by long dry spells and of course, nutrient deficiencies can all play a role in a tree’s ability to retain or shed its fruit and it might not be just one of these issues, but a combination of several.
Sadly, another environmental cause of immature fruit falling off a peach tree may be the lack of pollinators. Bee populations have suffered in recent years because of improper use of insecticides and natural causes.
Pests & Diseases
Insect pests and diseases are the third cause when peaches fall from trees. Various scabs, peach leaf curl, plum curculio, and bark cankers can all be a cause of peach tree fruit drop. Stink bugs and lygus bugs are sucking insects that attack young fruit and literally suck enough life from them to be rejected by the tree. Certain wasps lay eggs in fruit and the feeding larva will destroy the young fruit.
Control of Peach Fruit Falling Off Tree – Prevention
While many of the causes of a peach tree dropping fruit are unavoidable, there are things that you can do. Thin fruit by hand to reduce competition and ensure larger fruit. See that your trees receive consistently adequate water, hand watering when nature doesn’t provide enough. Begin a balanced fertilizer program to increase the availability of nutrients to both the tree and the fruit. Avoid herbicide drift and only apply insecticides as directed, spraying in the evenings after bees have returned to the hive.
Good fruit cultivating practices will help ensure that the only peach fruit falling off the tree are those that nature intended.
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How to Prevent the Jelly-Like Goo on a Peach Tree
Peach trees can suffer from a number of problems, from the insects known as borers to peach tree curl, a fungal disease. But if you spot something jelly-like on your tree, it's probably honeydew, the substance secreted by aphids. Honeydew not only serves as a danger sign of the other damage aphids can inflict, but also can serve as a breeding ground for sooty mold on the peaches. An integrated approach to controlling aphid populations will help reduce their numbers -- as well as the "goo."
Establish dill, catnip, yarrow or Queen Anne's lace near your peach tree to attract aphid-eating insects. These flat-topped flowers and flowering herbs encourage the presence of "good" bugs such as lacewings, aphid midges and Asia lady beetles, which feed on aphids.
Spray your peach tree with strong jets of water, especially where you see aphids. Aphid populations can be greatly reduced simply with the force of water. Do this in late morning on a sunny day to give the tree a chance to dry before nightfall since excess water on leaves can cause disease.
Blend two chopped hot peppers, six chopped garlic cloves and 1 quart water, then strain. Put the homemade mixture into a spray bottle or a larger orchard spray tank with a nozzle. Spray the mixture on your peach tree, focusing on the area with the most visible aphid populations. Garlic and/or hot pepper sprays repel aphids and other pests.
Dilute 2 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil and a drop of mild liquid soap in 1 cup water, then pour the mixture into a spray bottle. Homemade and commercial oil sprays smother immature aphids and prevent aphid eggs from hatching. Spray wherever you see aphids, and repeat several times during the growing season. If you prefer, multiply the recipe and put the oil in an orchard spray tank.
Drench the soil around the peach tree, as well as the foliage, with neem oil spray. Neem oil is kind to beneficial insects, but kills and repels damaging insects. Derived from the Indian tree Azadirachta indica, neem may also disrupt the breeding patterns of aphids, which lay eggs near the roots of trees.
Apply an insecticidal soap or heavy-duty oil spray if aphids continue to be a problem. These sprays may have more of an impact on beneficial insects than other measures, so buy as environmentally friendly one as possible. Follow package direction for timing and frequency of spraying.
Things You Will Need
Dill, catnip, yarrow or Queen Anne's lace
2 jalapenos or other hot peppers
Spray bottle or commercial orchard sprayer
Commercial insecticidal soap or oil sprays (as needed)
Always start with the least harmful measures when dealing with insect pests, especially if edible crops are involved. Give measures such as hosing off aphids and attracting aphid-eating insects to your garden a chance before moving on to commercial sprays, even those labeled organic.
Black peach aphids are less than one-tenth of an inch long and are either black or brick red depending on their age. Your peach tree may also host other aphid types, which are often white and equally small. Both winged and wingless types exist.
If your not sure a jelly-like substance is honeydew, look for the presence of ants. Ants herd aphids like cattle in order to gather honeydew. If you suspect the "goo" is something else, such as a fungus, call a tree expert or your local extension service.
- University of California The California Backyard Orchard: Pest & Diseases
- UC IPM Online: Black Peach Aphid
- Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening Fern Marshall Bradley, et al
Ellen Douglas has written on food, gardening, education and the arts since 1992. Douglas has worked as a staff reporter for the Lakeville Journal newspaper group. Previously, she served as a communication specialist in the nonprofit field. She received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Connecticut.
Powdery mildew, another common nectarine tree disease, causes a white, powdery mildew on the fruit. Agriculture experts with the Tree Fruit Research and Education Center at West Virginia University in Kearneysville say the disease, caused by a fungus, can reduce fruit quality, causing loss. Just like the peach leaf curl disease, powdery mildew can cause leaves on the nectarine tree to be deformed and fall off. In addition, twigs may become stunted and buds may die, according to the WVU Tree Fruit Research and Education Center article "Powdery Mildew." Growers can use fungicide sprays to eliminate the disease, and spraying at the "petal fall stage" every 10 to 14 days "until the pit hardening stage" can help, according to the Center article.
MSU Extension Fruit & Nuts
Damage from freezes depends on the development stage of the fruit crop. These tables allow you to quickly asses the risk for your tree fruit crops
Cut tart cherry flower bud. The brown tissues indicate the flowers were killed by a recent freeze. Photo by Mark Longstroth, MSU Extension.
Temperate fruits can tolerate very cold winter temperatures. As we move into the warmer weather in March, April and May in Michigan, tree and small fruits lose their winter hardiness. As buds swell and development begins, the ability to withstand cold temperature changes with the growth stage. Early swollen buds can often withstand temperatures in the teens (degrees Fahrenheit) without any damage. As buds develop and begin to open, temperatures in the low 20s can cause harm to fruit buds and perhaps developing leaves.
This range of damage coincides with the growth stages and fruit species and even the cultivar. Early in development, there is often a wide range between the temperatures that cause little damage and those that cause severe damage. Early in development, at first green and green tip stages, temperatures need to drop into the teens or lower to cause significant bud damage. As bloom nears, temperatures in the upper 20s can cause considerable harm to an early blooming species or variety and leave other fruit crops unaffected or with only slight damage. Near bloom, the range between slight and severe damage is very small. The stage of bud development determines how susceptible any given fruit crop is when freezes occur.
Michigan State University Extension has two tables for the critical temperatures of tree fruit during development. Tree Fruit Critical Temperatures is a table of common tree fruit with bud stage names and the critical temperature ranges that will cause between 10% and 90% injury to the flower buds, all on one page. Picture Table of Fruit Freeze Damage Thresholds includes the same information and includes pictures. This table is three pages long.
Unfortunately, spring freezes are almost a certainty in any given year. Fruit growers need to constantly assess the stage of development of their crops and the susceptibility to freeze injury.
This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit https://extension.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit https://extension.msu.edu/newsletters. To contact an expert in your area, visit https://extension.msu.edu/experts, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).
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