Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Peach Leaf Curl - how to cure it

Urgh, Peach leaf curl, a horrible ugly disease which Peaches are prone to: it's a fungal disease, it manifests in spring, and it causes the leaves on new, young shoots to produce ugly red blisters, then to curl up and look all warty and disgusting.

It doesn't kill the tree directly - the diseased leaves will die and fall off, and the tree will produce new ones, but this is a tremendous strain on the plant, and eventually it will be worn down, and will die.

If you don't know what this disease is, then lucky you! If you can't remember the exact details, check out the RHS page about it (why should I do all the work? Go and look it up for yourself!) , or just google it, and you will quickly find out that there are no sprays which cure it, which can be devastating news.

However, most of the articles on the subject will tell you that the disease appears in spring, and is spread by dampness: "Wet conditions are needed for the spring infections to occur" is the phrase. So if you can keep your new shoots dry through this period, your tree will recover. Best of all, if you can break the cycle of infection and re-infection, then you might be able to completely "cure" your tree.

I tried this last year: one of my occasional Clients showed me a very poorly Peach tree, which was originally fan-trained against a wall, but which was now mostly dead, totally unproductive, and whose few remaining branches were being trashed by leaf curl every year.

Typically, I forgot to take "before" photos... sorry! 

Anyway, the first job was to remove all the dead wood, with loppers and pruning saw. This might well leave you with an unbalanced, lopsided, peculiar-looking tree, but there is no point leaving dead wood on a tree, as it is a home to infection of all sorts, and because it looks really ugly.

So, out with the dead stuff.

Next job, snip off every single leaf with the slightest sign of leaf curl disease. That left it pretty bare, I can tell you.

Next, rake up all debris below the tree - every single scrap of dead leaf must be removed and burned, and definitely not put on the compost. This is to prevent re-infection.

I also took the opportunity to remove all weeds at the base of the tree, to add some pelleted chicken manure and a bucket of organic matter, just to give the poor thing a bit of a helping hand. Being at the base of a wall, it was very poor soil, so a bit of improvement is a good thing: and as it is also in rain shadow,  I gave it a good watering as well.

Once all that was done, I described very carefully, with arm gestures, what was needed: a translucent plastic "roof" on a wooden frame, bolted to the wall above the tree, wide enough to cover all the tree, not very deep, just enough to keep the rain off the foliage. 

Now, I know this might sound contradictory: I'm complaining about it being in rain shadow, and now I'm telling the owner to put a lid over it? Yes, and the full explanation is that either the lid gets to be removed in May each year, and replaced in November: or you leave it in place, and have to water the tree through the middle of summer. In this case, there's a handy water butt right around the corner, so it was decided by the owner, that they would leave the shelter in place.

I was back there recently (which is why I'm writing about it now), and was thrilled to see that their handyman had built exactly what I described:

What could be nicer? I love it when I describe something, and someone else understands exactly what I meant!

So here it is, a stout wooden frame, bolted to the wall, with corrugated plastic to keep the rain off and to allow the light through.


You can see here, how abbreviated the poor tree is now, but at least it has a good covering of leaves on what remains of the branches!

Best of all, those leaves are absolutely perfect, not a sign of blistering or curling on them, so the Client is delighted - and there were even, apparently, three fruits on the tree this year!

The wooden frame allows us to hang plastic sheeting down at the front as well, if we need to: so far, the tree is untouched by leaf curl but if it recurs, we can extend the protection by hanging some clear plastic down from the front, leaving the sides open for pollination. I'm hoping this won't be necessary, as it is a bit of a faff, and visually quite unpleasant, whereas this frame is not so bad.

And if it were mine, as a finishing touch (apart from staining the wood dark brown to match the cladding above it, but that's because I like things to be "nice") I would have attached narrow guttering to the front edge, leading down to a water butt to one side: I am absolutely evangelical on the subject of water harvesting, and I hate wasting rainwater!

 So there you have it, how to protect your wall-trained Peach trees against peach leaf curl, without the use of noxious chemicals (not that there are any which help, though).


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