Growing Peach Trees in the Pacific Northwest: It’s the Pits{28}

Avalon Pride peach cut in two on plate

Avalon Pride peach: good and tasty, but few and far between

Growing peach trees in the maritime Pacific Northwest is the pits. There I said it, because for thirteen long, relatively futile and fruitless years, I’ve tended almost every known peach-leaf-curl-resistant peach tree variety on the market with negligible results. The first couple of years seemed promising, but then insect borers, peach-leaf-curl disease, bark-gnawing vermin, and thatch ants with an appetite for flower buds and fruit did them (and my desire to continue) in. While I try to never say “die,” the peach trees said it for me.

Frost peach consumed by peach leaf curl disease. No fruit set.

Frost peach consumed by peach leaf curl disease. No fruit set.

Oregon Curl Free peach tree struggling to leaf out.

Oregon Curl Free peach tree struggling to leaf out.

Denial was my disingenuous playmate, always trying to convince me that next year would be different, that I just needed to give Prunus persica a chance to take root, and gain strength and disease resistance. Well, let me just say that never happened. In fact this year, Seattle’s rainiest winter on record, provided the perfect storm (so to speak) for all of my peach trees to succumb to severe and debilitating peach leaf curl disease, Taphrina deformans. 

joh

John Muir peach tree: a very poor choice for the Pacific Northwest. I’ve lost two to disease.

The only peach-leaf-curl-resistant tree I am keeping in the orchard is Nanaimo peach, because it is the only peach tree that consistently produces good-tasting peaches while remaining healthy-ish.

The Nanaimo peach tree sets fruit in wet springs unlike most other of my peach cultivars.

This year I will remove the other peach trees. It takes a lot for me to cut down a tree, especially one I planted, but every time I walk by a gnarly, suffering anemic peach tree, it’s a painful reminder that my favorite fruit is being forced to endure a slow and ugly death. And because I don’t spray chemicals on my trees, there’s little I can do…or is there?

three diseased and dying peach trees

Struggling peach trees: Charlotte, Salish Sea (Q-1-8), and Indian Free

Growing Peach Trees in the Pacific Northwest

But Wait…There’s a Happy Ending

Not one to give up when it comes to growing the fleshy nectar-drenched orb of the gods, I opted for Plan B, and planted my new peach trees under a cover – greenhouse cover that is. And because they are sheltered from the nonstop winter rains in a protective, heat-retentive tunnel, peach leaf curl no longer plays a dastardly role in the tree’s demise.

super dwarf peach tree in greenhouse

Genetic dwarf peach right at home in the greenhouse.

The results of growing peach trees under cover surprised me. My first three trees responded to added heat and dryness like Seattleites visiting Palm Springs in February: happy, happy, happy to be there.  These first trees I planted were dwarf.  I had kept them in large pots for quite some time, and they resembled robust topiaries at only five feet tall. Once released from their pots, they filled out, greened up, and produced a prodigious amount of peaches for trees their size—plus they were absolutely beautiful in bloom. As for what peach trees are now planted in my greenhouse, varieties include: Polly, Galaxy, El Dorado, Snow Queen and Baby Crawford.

snow queen nectarine leaves

Snow queen nectarine living the lush life undercover.

While not everyone has a greenhouse at their disposal, let me offer this advice.  If you want to plant a peach tree in the Pacific Northwest, plant Nanaimo for the best results and skip the rest, including Frost. If you’d like other another peach-leaf-curl-resistant variety, then I suggest you plant it under a south-facing eave where it gets added heat and protection from incessant winter rains, which cause leaf curl. You just have to make sure the roots get well-watered.

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White peaches well on their way to growing and ripening in the greenhouse.

If I didn’t have my greenhouse, I would see that every structure on my property enjoyed an espaliered peach tree or two on its south-facing wall. And again, Nanaimo peach seems to be self-fertile and can stand on its own unprotected and still produce fine peaches.

growing peaches tree nanaimo peach

Nanaimo peach: In my humble opinion, the best peach-leaf-curl-resistant variety to grow in the Pacific Northwest.

So my peach-pals, keep fighting the good fight; there is hope for growing peach trees in the Pacific Northwest, but only with proper care and consideration for variety, and if all else fails, undercover.