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

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fresh white peach Charlotte
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. 

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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.

COPY CODE SNIPPET
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.

30 COMMENTS

  1. Have you had any experience with oregano oil for leaf curl? We have a newish reliance peach tree that only got curl in maybe 4 leaves this year and has fruit at the north end of the island. Planning to try oregano oil since we avoid spraying and copper too. Very cool you have space to put them under cover!

    • Wow, Lauren, that’s great to hear, especially if it did well this record-breakingly wet winter. I’ll check out the oregano oil.

      • We have not tried the oil yet (but did acquire a bottle). We are going to spray the tree to see if it helps in future years. I am excited to watch these little babies grow this summer and hopefully be delicious!

      • For leaf curl…spray with permanganate de potassium. You will have 100% result for fungus Taphrina deformans. I use it this year just one time and the tree was ok all summer. Use 3 gram / 5 L water and spray the tree well wend the fungus start. I plant my peach seeds outside in spring! Not in a pot!

  2. Hi Tom, did the Indian peach seeds I sent you sprout for you? The tree they came from got a desease in the base and had to be removed. It was planted from a seed 27 years ago. Sad to see it go. We have issues here in Redding CA with curl leaf and Beatles in peach and nectarines. Happy to hear you have a solution for your trees. Happy gardening.

    • Hi Betty, the wonderful peach seeds you sent, have yet to sprout, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I kept them in the fridge, as peach seeds need a chill period (from what I read), and they are planted and ready to go. Perhaps a watched pot never sprouts. I would be happy to send you a new start when a seedling emerges. Talk about a full circle. Take care and thanks for the seeds, and I’ll touch base again when they sprout. Cheers!

    • Betty, I thought the Beatles had disbanded. Sorry to hear they have returned and are causing trouble in California orchards. :)-

  3. Nothing quite so satisfying as a happy ending to an otherwise fraught orchard tale. (Also, nothing quite like that stubborn streak we gardeners are possessed of, is there.) In the fruit belt just north of me, along the southern shore of Lake Ontario, a lot of orchardists have had dismal luck these past couple of years….warm days in January, subzero weeks in mid-March, and not only have there been no peaches, but no blackberries and no sweet cherries, either. So some of them are adapting to this climate change by also beginning to put shelters around their trees and small berries. I don’t have a greenhouse here, but had one when I lived in New Hampshire, and in winter it always seemed Odyssean to somehow, a little temperate island in the midst of that frozen landscape. I’m glad your trees have landed safely on such shores.

    • Anne, what a lovely read this morning, with my own noisy punctuation provided by a crowing rooster and snoring bulldog. I love your reference; the greenhouse can indeed be a little escape just a short walk away (and no cyclops to worry about, either). Our weather pattern has been “goofy” over the last decade with super wet winters and prolonged summer droughts. So here’s to the cherries and peaches we can get when Mother Nature cuts us a break. Well wishes!

  4. Hello Tom and Buddy from V and the Furry Gang!

    “Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.” F Scott Fitzgerald

  5. Tom, Now that you’re growing peaches in a greenhouse, do you have to hand pollinate them (even though they’re self fertile)?

    • Susan, I’m surprised that I don’t need to hand pollinate, but there must be some invisible pollinators in the greenhouse that do the job handily. Fruit set didn’t seem to be a problem.

  6. Hi Tom
    I get a fatal buffering message w any tries on your headers………sometin weird goin on!

    Also weeks ago sent you an email w a dinner invite but had no response so I think you never got it…..

    • Happy to do so Vincent. I can’t believe it but I’m cutting down all my peach trees except Nanaimo, and only growing other varieties protected under cover in the greenhouse. Good luck!

  7. This is a pretty ironic question, but is there anywhere I can buy Nanaimo peach… in Nanaimo?? I’ve been through hell trying to get this thing in the place it was originally made. It seems like every vendor is in Washington!

    • Miles that is funny, and crazy! I tried to track one down for you, and to no avail. I read this on a Canadian garden forum< "It's ridiculous isn't it? Yes I came across Nanaimo at few US nurseries too, a cultivar clearly developed in Nanaimo about an hour from where I live. How is this cultivar not available locally!?? Drives me crazy. It's the CFIA rules that don't allow imports of fruits that are commercially produced here. It is nonsense. Diversity is the key to fighting disease, not isolation." It seems they may not be available in Canada, which is hard to believe. I'll keep you posted if I find out otherwise.

  8. Tom,
    Glad for the happy ending, but still quite devastated to hear the fate of your other trees! Having followed your blog (and peach saga) since before we moved to Bainbridge Island six years ago, we first planted Frost, then Charlotte, Nanaimo and Indian Free. The four Frost Peaches are planted near buildings, but not under the eaves; even after this past winter, we haven’t had a serious problem with peach leaf curl. The other trees are younger, out in the open, and struggling more — but the deer are the biggest problem! I hope it’s not just a matter of time until our trees meet the same fate that yours found.

    • Felix, It took all I had to fully admit my peach trees were doomed after struggling for years. Of course, that doesn’t mean yours are, and I so hope that is the case. I have one healthy Kreibich nectarine tree, but it produces no fruit, just healthy leaves, which for now is enough. I consider it a small shade tree (not a fruit tree) at this point. 😉

  9. Hi Tom. I stumbled on your fascinating website when doing a google search on garden gates – up came the picture of the one you hung the cowbell on. It’s lovely, am I right you made it yourself? And have you instructions?! Anyway, back to peaches. Could I ask what temperature your greenhouse gets to? Unlike your trees, mine has to be in large tub – greenhouse is heated to frost-free so I have to trundle it outside in winter to get frosted. But having reached 110 degrees even when vents and doors open (who knew that was possible in Highlands of Scotland!) my tree seems to be pretty heat-stressed with red and falling leaves. Yours look so incredibly green and healthy.

    • Hi Fiona, how lovely to hear from you all the way from beautiful Scotland. Yes, I made the gate myself. I must admit it was made easier by having borrowed a friend’s pneumatic nailer, for all the tricky angles. I wish I had instructions, but I don’t. My math whiz friend, Jon, helped me cut the angles, otherwise it would have been the most basic of designs. 😉

      As for the peach trees, when they were in pots for a couple years, I had to water them everyday in the summer, mainly to keep the soil cool, or so was my theory. My greenhouse gets up in the high 90s on hot days, but it is well vented. The entire length on both sides is rolled up in the summer and the end doors always open along with the upper vents. I am please with the results. My white nectarine produced lovely flavorful sweet fruit, and the peaches are about two weeks out from ripening. I also sited my greenhouse on the eastside of a forest as I think the big problem with most greenhouses is too much heat. With this placement, shadows cool things down from 3pm on when things really heat up. Hope this helps. Good luck!

      • Thanks, Tom, that’s so helpful. I can’t vent my greenhouse sufficiently, so next year I’ll try some shading and more watering. Meantime, outside it goes and hope it isn’t discovered by the deer (another issue we share!). Thanks also for info on the gate. That sounds far beyond my basic DIY skills, so I’ll just have to make something more basic and admire yours from a distance! Best wishes, Fiona.

  10. Hi: Your story was very helpful and well presented, thank you for sharing. One reader suggested oregano oil to prevent/combat leaf curl and that sounds great! Essential oils, organic food, fresh air and water free of chlorine and fluoride are my anthem. It’s very nice to read that I’m not alone regarding avoiding copper to treat leaf curl (where’s my hasmat suit?) because copper also kills beneficial fungus. Despite dire pruing to kill leaf curl, our 4 beloved northwest peach trees are cheerfully leafy and sporting delightful sunset-hued fruit. To thwart next years’ curl I thought of planting garlic around each one. Hopefully that and organic chicken manure will keep the trees healthy for many more than their 5 years. The idea of protecting the trees with a tunnel greenhouse is wonderful – the dear, succulent fruit deserves the best treatment year round.

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