Growing peach trees organically is so challenging that many growers don’t attempt a completely organic program; rather, many peach tree growers adopt a “low-spray” program that minimizes toxic fungicides and pesticides. However, a determined home gardener can achieve an organic peach harvest armed with the knowledge and perseverance needed to control the most common peach tree pests and diseases.
Why Grow Organic Peaches
According to the Environmental Working Group, conventionally grown peaches are the second worst source of chemical pesticides in a consumer’s diet. In the summer, when ripe peaches are at their luscious peak, consumers who eat their five servings of produce a day from this and other high-pesticide load summer offerings like strawberries, cherries, and blueberries may unintentionally add 10 pesticides to their menu. Growing and eating organic peaches can reduce one’s exposure to toxic chemicals in the diet.
Choose Disease Resistant Peach Varieties
Planting disease resistant peaches is a key part of the organic growing strategy, especially in humid areas. Gardeners can contact their local county extension office to learn if brown rot is problematic in their area, and if it is, they can choose resistant peach tree varieties like ‘Elberta’ or ‘Babygold No. 5.’
Planting Peach Trees in the Organic Garden
The root system of peach trees is shallow and susceptible to drought and weeds, so the gardener should water newly planted trees each week and provide an organic mulch to control weeds. A winter cover crop like rye or vetch reduces weeds and enriches the soil. Prune the branches so that they exhibit a herringbone shape; this promotes healthy air circulation. When peach trees set fruit, the gardener should thin the fruit to approximately 10 peaches per branch for superior size and flavor.
Control Peach Tree Insect Pests
The peach tree borer is the most dreaded peach insect pest. These larvae can girdle and eventually kill peach trees. Symptoms of feeding include a gooey discharge around the base of the trunk. Kill borers by carefully digging them out of the trunk.
Stink bugs feed on juices from leaves and fruit throughout the summer. Gardeners can control stinkbugs by handpicking and with pyrethrins.
Tarnished plant bugs thrive in gardens that provide debris where the insects can spend the winter. Tidy gardens and companion plantings that attract natural predators discourage these pests.
Control Peach Tree Diseases
Peach tree brown rot is difficult to control in areas that experience a wet spring. The spores spread rapidly until the entire tree is dangling with shriveled, rotting fruit. Proper pruning reduces brown rot occurrences, but a sulfur spray application before bloom may be necessary in humid areas.
Peach leaf curl is a fungal disease that distorts leaves and causes early fruit drop. Gardeners can control it by spraying trees with a lime-sulfur mix in the fall and early spring. ‘Redskin’ peaches are resistant to leaf curl.
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