Winter Defoliation for Florida Peaches

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By Breanna Kendrick

According to Ali Sarkhosh, assistant professor of tree fruit at the University of Florida, peach growers in Florida should consider the leaves on their peach trees during two times of the year. The first time is after harvesting the fruit in June, July and August. He says it’s important to keep the leaves on trees during this time because there are a lot of diseases that can occur, like peach leaf rot and bacterial spot. Failure to control these diseases will cause defoliation.

“That’s the first thing that growers need to keep in mind; keep the leaves as much as you can after harvest,” says Sarkhosh. “We don’t want to have any defoliation because of diseases at that time of the year.”

The second time of year growers should think about defoliation is in November/December. Growers don’t want to have early defoliation, but “it is important to defoliate your trees in November or in the early weeks of December, depending on where you are located,” explains Sarkhosh. Growers should defoliate their peach trees when they’re in frost temperatures. According to Sarkhosh, this can happen in the middle of October or the first part of November in North/North Central Florida. “Growers can defoliate the peach trees in October or early November in North Florida, but we cannot do that in South and Central Florida because the cooler temperatures in that area won’t start until December. Because of this, using zinc sulfate on the tree around Thanksgiving could work for most peach-growing regions in Florida,” he says.

The main reason for defoliation in the cold months is to make the fruit on the branches more receptive to the cool temperatures. Without defoliation, trees will need more chilling units, which will cause late flowering and late harvesting. “We don’t want that to happen in Florida because if it happens, our fruit production will overlap with Georgia and South Carolina, and it’s not easy to compete with them,” explains Sarkhosh. “That’s why we like to defoliate peaches this time of the year to have flowering in January and to start harvesting fruit in the first or second week of April.”

Growers can use zinc sulfate or copper sulfate to defoliate their trees. “We recommend zinc sulfate because there is some deficiency on the sandy soil here, so zinc sulfate is a better recommendation to use for peach defoliation,” says Sarkhosh. “The rates can really depend on how many leaves we have on the trees, so something around 8 to 10 pounds per 100 gallons would defoliate the peach tree in Florida.”

Sarkhosh stresses that it’s critical for growers to defoliate their peach trees at the right time to have flowering at the right time and harvesting of fruit during the Florida production window.

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