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Nothing peachy about this problem

Leaf curl distorts foliage, but usually doesn't infect the fruit. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)
Sacramento spring created ideal conditions for leaf curl

“What’s wrong with my peach tree?”

Right now that question is as rampant as its cause: Leaf curl.

This fungal disease is twisting peach and nectarine leaves into knots. Red splotches appear among the crinkles. Eventually, the foliage develops a pale fuzzy coating, then falls off the tree.

What can you do about it? Right now, not much. The time to tackle leaf curl is long before it appears.

Those red splotches are a telltale sign of leaf curl.
Peach leaf curl happens almost every spring, but some years are worse than others. Our March and April rain coupled with relatively cool spring weather helped bring on this outbreak.

According to the UC Cooperative Extension master gardeners and University of California research, leaf curl appears about two weeks after leaves emerge from buds. If the conditions are rainy during that period, look out. Two consecutive days or more of wet weather can bring on a maximum infection.

In addition, this fungal disease loves temperatures in the 60s. Although a tree may be infected, symptoms won’t appear if temperatures remain above 69 degrees and weather stays dry.

And this fungus is everywhere in Sacramento. Taphrina deformans overwinters on the tree or on fallen leaves. It’s also capable of withstanding intense summer heat.

Copper spray, applied in November or December, can cut down on its impact. For particularly bad infections, a second application in late January may be necessary.

Very bad infections can cut down on fruit production, weaken limbs and shorten the life of the tree. The fungus can infect young twigs and shoots, causing them to die back.

But right now, the leaves will just keep curling until they fall. Then, new leaves will appear. Due to heat and dry weather, that second round of foliage is usually healthy and uninfected.

Leaf curl rarely infects the fruit itself. Peaches and nectarines will still develop, although they may be small. More likely, they will show some sunburn or other blemishes, due to lack of protection from leaves. Those problems are cosmetic; the fruit will still be edible.

When planting a new peach tree, look for leaf curl-resistant varieties.

If you have leaf curl this spring, make a note on your calendar to apply copper spray in November. You’ll thank yourself next spring.

For more information on peach leaf curl:

Infected leaves will eventually fall off. In warm and dry weather,
healthy leaves will replace the damaged foliage.
deformed foliage


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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