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What is Peach Leaf Curl (Taphrina Deformans)?

Leaf curl is a common fungal disease that mainly affects certain trees that produce stone fruit.

Featured Image: Taphrina deformans (Peach Leaf Curl) / Photo by Duarte Frade / Inaturalist / CC BY 4.0

It can be quite devastating when you look at your stone fruit trees and notice that a lot of the leaves are pimpled and deformed. This damage to the leaves is commonly called peach leaf curl.

If left untreated, it can reduce fruit yield and get worse in years to come.

What is peach leaf curl?

Taphrina deformans peach leaf curl | Fruit & Vegetables
Taphrina deformans (Peach Leaf Curl) / Photo by Petr korda / Inaturalist / CC BY 4.0

Leaf curl is a common fungal disease that mainly affects certain trees that produce stone fruit. It is the result of a fungus known as Taphrina deformans.

The spores of this fungus lie dormant over winter on the stems, buds, and branches of your stone fruit trees. 

Once the weather starts to warm up and new growth begins, the fungal spores will infect the leaves and buds that are starting to form. This causes red pimpling on the leaves and these will become curled and deformed.

Ultimately, this fungus will reduce the vigour of your tree as the leaves are unable to photosynthesize. As the disease progresses, the leaves will change colour and eventually brown off before they drop off the tree.

The same happens to the flower buds as they start to form. This will reduce how much fruit your tree is able to bear.

Even developing fruit can be infected with the disease and this can cause it to fall off the tree prematurely.

It’s important to effectively control this disease, otherwise, the infection will become worse each subsequent year.

What plants are affected?

This fungal disease mainly affects stone fruit trees such as peaches and nectarines. It is also known to sometimes infect apricot and almond trees.

How to effectively control peach leaf curl 

Taphrina deformans 1 | Fruit & Vegetables
Taphrina deformans (Peach Leaf Curl) / Photo by Wilhelm Zimmerling / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

The only effective way to control this fungal disease is to apply a copper-based fungicide as a preventative measure.

Once the tree is infected, it’s virtually impossible to kill the disease that has already infected the foliage and the fruiting buds.

Fungicides as a preventative treatment

In order to protect your stone fruit trees from this fungal disease, you should spray them with a copper-based fungicide such as lime sulphur just before the new growth is about to start. 

Lime sulphur is the preferred fungicide to treat leaf curl on stone fruit because it doesn’t cause a build-up of copper in the soil.

Natural methods to deal with leaf curl

It’s important to use good cultural practices in your fight against this fungal disease.

These include:

  • Removing any fallen leaves and putting them in the rubbish
  • Cutting off any infected leaves and fruit and destroying them
  • Choosing tree varieties that have a lower susceptibility to the fungus
  • Feeding and watering your tree regularly to ensure it is healthy

Using garlic extract to treat leaf curl

For all the years I’ve been growing stone fruit, I’ve only ever used lime sulphur as a preventative spray in winter.

If for some reason, I have forgotten to spray, I would simply remove the damaged leaves and growth buds and hope that the tree would still produce some fruit.

However, in my research, I’ve come across an article from a commercial fruit tree farm in the US who have successfully been able to treat the fungal disease using a concentrated spray made from garlic extract. 

This spray is totally natural and is sold as an insect repellent for plants and trees. This commercial fruit tree farm swears that they have had success by spraying their trees with this natural product and the trees recover fully.

All they do is mix up the concentrated garlic product with water and some liquid soap and spray the infected trees all over thoroughly either late in the day or early during the morning. They also spray the soil around the base of the tree. 

In the article, they report that some years they only have to spray the trees once while in other years they may have to apply the concentrated garlic spray several times.

I’ve not tried this treatment myself and don’t know of it being used in Australia but it’s definitely worth a try.

When to spray for leaf curl

Taphrina deformans | Fruit & Vegetables
Taphrina deformans (Peach Leaf Curl) / Photo by Giancarlo Dessì / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s important to spray fruit trees for leaf curl before you see any signs of the disease. Primarily, stone fruit trees should be sprayed in winter just before the new growth buds start to emerge.

Make sure that you spray the tree all over including cracks in the bark where the fungal spores are likely to hide.

If the tree was heavily infected with the disease last season, it might be a good idea to apply another application of the copper-based fungicide in autumn as the leaves drop off the tree.

Do epsom salts help with peach leaf curl?

Taphrina deformans 3 | Fruit & Vegetables
Taphrina deformans (Peach Leaf Curl) / Photo by Daniel Das
/ Inaturalist / CC0 1.0

Although epsom salts cannot treat the fungus that has already infected your tree, they can give your tree a boost as they add magnesium to the soil.

This will ultimately help your tree to recover from an infection and trees that are growing vigorously are less likely to suffer permanent damage from the disease.

FAQ

Should I remove peach leaf curl leaves?

Yes, you definitely should as this will stop the disease from spreading. I’ve done this myself numerous times on dwarf trees that I had forgotten to spray in winter and I still managed to get some fruit.

Will my peach tree recover from leaf curl?

If you treat the tree with a preventative fungicide in autumn and again in winter before bud burst, you should have a nice healthy tree come spring and summer.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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