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Garden Help Desk: Accidental herbicide exposure to peaches? That’s the pits

By Meredith Seaver - | Aug 28, 2021
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These peaches were on a tree with severe 2,4-D exposure. The fruit, twigs and leaves all show the damage. (Courtesy Meredith Seaver)
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The sutures and ends of these peaches show 2,4-D damage. The ends of the peaches ripened more quickly and were soft enough for insect to cause more damage. (Courtesy Meredith Seaver)
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Lettuce planted this late in the season may need to be harvested at smaller or younger stages, but will still make delicious salads. (Courtesy Meredith Seaver)
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You can see in this chart that different vegetables can have different pre-harvest intervals even though the same product is being applied. (Courtesy Meredith Seaver)

What happened to my peaches?  The peaches on two of my peach trees have oval shapes and bumps on them and the skin on the bumps is darker. Some parts of the peaches look old.

This looks like some peaches that were brought to our office a few years ago. The peach trees had been exposed to 2,4-D. Just like your peaches, there was swelling along the sutures (the little seam on the side of the peaches). 

With 2,4-D exposure, the swelling on peaches can also be near the stem end or farther down on the fruit. Where the swelling occurs, the flesh has grown more quickly and ripened much, much earlier than the rest of the fruit. Another symptom is twisted stems or leaves that are curled up but firm, not wilted. Sometimes there may also be a lot of very small fruit that has stopped developing.  

To avoid problems like this, follow the first rule of pesticide application: read the label! Take the time to make sure the product you’ve picked up is the right one for the job. Does the label say it will do what you want it to do? Does the label say you can use it on or around your peach trees? 

Check the weather before you spray. Pesticides have temperature limits and often have wind speed limits. Spraying at the wrong time or under the wrong conditions can lead to problems. Those limits help you avoid pesticide accidents.

This year’s peaches won’t be useable because of the uneven ripening, but depending on how severe the herbicide exposure was, things could look better next year. For now, the best thing to do now is give your trees good care and time to recover from the accidental exposure. 

Is it too late to plant fall crops?

You’re cutting it pretty close, but you might still be successful with some of the cool-season vegetables that have shorter days-to-harvest listed in their descriptions.

We have about 45 days of frost-free weather if we use our average last frost date of Oct. 15, and then we could have another week or two of weather with only light frost overnight. Most of those days will be cooler days, not suitable for our warm season crops but perfect for some of the things we grow in the spring. Check the seed packets for your cool-season vegetables like radishes and lettuce. If you have varieties that will reach harvest size within that window, you can go ahead and plant. If you can also provide some frost protection with a low tunnel, floating row cover or something similar, you might be able to extend your season even a little longer.

When can I pick my vegetables after I spray the bugs in my garden?

The waiting period between spraying and harvesting, called the pre-harvest interval (PHI) or days to harvest, will depend on what you sprayed and which vegetables you want to pick.

Why do pesticides have a pre-harvest interval? Over time, pesticides will break down when exposed to the elements. Some require more time than others. The waiting period ensures there won’t be unsafe pesticide levels on your fruits and vegetables when you want to eat them.

The pre-harvest interval for one kind of vegetable may be different than the PHI for other vegetables in your garden, even though you’re using the same product for all of them.  

There are a few pesticides that can be applied on the day of harvest, but most require more time than that. Read the label before you spray and find the PHI for your vegetable. Will the pre-harvest interval expire before your veggies are ready for harvest? If not, you’ll want to skip spraying or find a different product with a shorter PHI so that your vegetables don’t go to waste while you wait. 

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