Fertilizing apple trees and other fruit trees will keep your orchard healthy and productive. But knowing when to fertilize and how to do it organically can be confusing. These tips will give clarity.

When we first planted our zone 3 orchard things didn’t turn out the way we expected. We planted whips that were grafted on hardy Russian dwarf stock and expected to see fruit in about 5 years. But 8 years later we were still waiting. The trees hadn’t grown the way we expected. There were losses but not from hard winters. The losses came in wet springs. Often just as the blossoms were opening the tree would die back.

We consulted a friend with heritage apple trees and she advised us to use fruit tree spikes to fertilize our apple trees. But obtaining fruit tree spikes required a trip to a garden centre a 3 hour drive from home. A few years ago we started over with fresh apple trees and a lot more understanding of the unique needs of fruit trees growing in the hard northern climate. Unfortunately we lost 8 years in orchard production, although we gained several lessons.

Contents

Know what kind of growth to expect from your fruit trees

A healthy young fruit tree will grow 18 to 24 inches in a growing season. That’s about 4 to 6 inches between April 15 and June 1st. If you are seeing that kind of growth, you don’t need to fertilize. Your young fruit trees are getting what they need from the soil they’re in . If your fruit tree is 3 years old you will expect it to grow about 20 inches a year (50 cm.), or 5 inches between April 15 and June 1st.

But if you are seeing little growth on the tips of the branches this year, or if last year’s growth fell short of the expected 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 cm), your fruit trees need nitrogen.

Too much nitrogen isn’t better

If a little nitrogen promotes better growth and healthier apple trees, you may think that applying a lot of nitrogen is better. But that’s not necessarily the case. Too much nitrogen can damage your fruit trees just as much as too little nitrogen. Fruit trees, just like vegetables, need a balanced diet of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, plus a number of trace minerals to thrive. If they already have the right amount of fertility where they are planted, adding extra nitrogen can promote excessive soft growth that is easily damaged in winter, possibly killing the tree. Adding excess nitrogen can also cause nutrient deficiencies which can harm the tree. Getting the balance right is important.

Too much nitrogen can prevent fruiting and flowering and might even damage the roots of your trees.

Get the amount of nitrogen right

If your young tree had 24 inches of growth in the preceding year, there is no need to add additional fertilizer.

If your young tree had 12 to 15 inches of growth in the preceding year or 2 to 3 inches of growth between April 15 and June 1, adding a moderate amount of nitrogen will be helpful.

If your young tree has only 2 inches of growth in the preceding year, it needs a full dose of nitrogen at the beginning of the growing season. Use fertilizer package guidelines as your rule in this case.

Organic products for fertilizing apple trees

When you shop for fertilizer you don’t want a product that is 100% nitrogen. Instead you’ll choose an natural, organic fertilizer that is nitrogen rich but also contains other nutrients. Products sold as fertilizers have an N-P-K rating expressed in numbers. (N=Nitrogen, P=Phosphorus, and K=Potassium). If a product has a rating of 9-3-0, as fish meal does, it means it has 9% nitrogen, 3% phosphorus, and no potassium. Nitrogen promotes green, leafy growth. Phosphorus promotes root development and flowering. Potassium helps with fruiting and seed development.

Fish Fertilizer

As I already mentioned, fish fertilizer has a rating of 9-3-0. It is useful in young orchards where the trees are slow to grow, early in the season. I learned from my First Nation family to bury fish heads and entrails in the garden where I planted corn. Fish fertilizer is neater than raw fish heads, but just as smelly. It’s good to apply it just before a rain so that the smell is washed deeply into the soil and doesn’t bother the neighbors or attract stray cats or racoons.

Alfalfa Meal

Alfalfa meal can be found at the garden center and also at the feed store. It has a rating of (2-1-2). We mulch our garden and fruit trees with alfalfa hay, which breaks down over the growing season, feeding the trees and the vegetables with both nitrogen and potassium. Alfalfa meal releases nitrogen more quickly than the hay. Apply it in May, if your fruit trees are slow growing.

Blood Meal

Blood Meal can be found at the garden center. It has a rating of 12-0-0 and is a by product of the meat industry. Use it to give trees a nitrogen boost early in the season. Apply it just before a rain to wash it into the soil. Follow the directions on the package so that you don’t over apply it.

When to apply organic fertilizer to apple trees

Adding fertilizer to apple trees should be done 3 times during the growing season.

  • Make the first application in early spring, before flowering, around mid April in most areas temperate areas.
  • Make the second application about a month later, after flowering is completed around the end of May.
  • And the final application of fertilizer should be applied at the end of June, about a month after the second application.

Follow the directions on the fertilizer box. If the fertilizer gives an annual application rate, divide this by 3 to find out how much fertilizer to add with each application.

Don’t add any nitrogen rich fertilizer after July 1st

Adding nitrogen fertilizer later in the season can prevent the trees from going into dormancy as winter comes on. This can cause damage to the trees in the cold season. Instead wait till spring to apply the fertilizer if you missed the opportune window. You can still add mulch to the trees as the mulch breaks down slowly and won’t promote lush, tender growth later in the season.

Mulching when fertilizing apple trees

Mulch improves the soil by increasing organic matter, improving soil texture, and increasing soil micro-organisms. As the soil health improves the need for soil amendments like nitrogen fertilizers lessens. Mulching also retains moisture at the soil level, reducing the need for supplemental water. Mulch keeps competing weeds and grass away from the drip zone of fruit trees and makes maintaining the tree easier.

Adding 2 inches of nitrogen rich mulch in the early spring as a top dressing on all your fruit trees, give the tree a burst of nutrition just when they need it most. This is the best time to add alfalfa hay, compost, or well rotted manure.

When adding alfalfa hay, grass hay, well rotted manure, leaf mold, or bark mulch to the soil surface around young trees, it’s important to keep the mulch well away from the trunk of the tree. Air needs to get to trunk. Mulch in the shape of a donut, keeping the mulch at a distance from the trunk and mounding it in the drip zone.

Growing Urban Orchards

I found Susan Poizner’s book Growing Urban Orchards, How to Care for Fruit Trees in the City and Beyond very helpful in learning the tips and tricks for nurturing fruit trees in the colder areas of the country. Susan established fruit trees in urban Toronto (USDA zone 5) in 2009. Her book is focused on bring fruitfulness, reestablishing pollinators, and providing healthy food through establishing urban orchards.

Her information is easily accessible for the home gardener, homesteader, and permaculture gardener and covers the basics of fruit tree care from choosing trees that will do well in your hardiness zone, to preparing the planting hole, fertilizing fruit trees, and protecting them from pests and human marauders.

Susan is a community fruit tree expert and a leader in Growing for Green, a community group that plants orchards in and around the Toronto area. While her book focuses on her experience in Toronto, she includes suggestions on growing fruit trees in different regions and explains how to research solutions that will work for you, where you live.

My favorite part of the book was reading the stories of other urban orchard projects in zones 3 (Calgary, Alberta) to zone 8 (Richmond, BC and Seattle, Washington). The stories of community and partnership, between growing food and using food in community were inspirational.

The book though isn’t just for community groups who want to add fruit trees to community gardens, parks, and public lands. This book explains how to care for fruit trees in intimate detail and is valuable for the home gardener and homesteader as well.

Growing Urban Orchards won the 2014 Silver Award from the Garden Writers Association Media Awards.

You can get your copy here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes from “Book Publishing, Co”.

Fertilizing fruit trees

All healthy fruit trees are heavy feeders that remove large quantities of mineral nutrients from the soil. Even though all plants require 16 elements that are referred to as essential, fruit trees draw most heavily on macronutrients.

It is important to replace these macronutrients on a regular basis to keep trees vigorous and healthy. The macronutrients we should apply regularly are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulfur. Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are also needed in large quantities, but these are supplied by air, water and organic matter.

There are two categories of fertilizer that differentiate the source of the plant nutrients:

  • One category is referred to as organic fertilizer. These fertilizers originate from plant or animal sources and are naturally occurring. These include manures, composts, blood meal, bone meal, fish meal, alfalfa pellets and others.
  • The other category of fertilizer is chemical or conventional. These fertilizers are either processed minerals or chemical salts.

Whether you apply organic or conventional fertilizers to the soil, the important thing to remember is to apply only what your soil lacks and what your plant needs.

The timing of application is important to protect our waterways from unintentional contamination due to runoff and leaching. Apply fertilizer only at the time of year when the fruit tree will use it.

Apply fertilizer only at the time of year when the fruit tree will use it.

Fruit trees in western Oregon are able to grow on a wide variety of soils, but in most locations fertilization will improve plant vigor and health. To accurately determine what nutrients are present and what nutrients are lacking, take a soil sample. After you have your soil test results, you can supply just what nutrients your soil lacks. If your soil has sufficient levels of macronutrients, you may decide to apply just compost or aged manure to keep the soil healthy and porous.

Planting

If your soil lacks phosphorus, calcium or potassium, work these nutrients into the bottom of the planting hole with the soil, so that they will be available for the root system of the new tree. These elements do not move rapidly in the soil, so incorporating them at planting time makes them more quickly available to the tree.

Do not use nitrogen fertilizer in the planting hole; this can burn new roots. Instead, apply 1 pound of triple super phosphate per tree. Organic growers can use 3 pounds of bone meal per planting hole. If your soil’s pH is below 6 or your soil sample indicates a deficiency of calcium, add 1-2 pounds of lime per planting hole to sweeten the soil.

It is a good practice to hold off using any nitrogen fertilizer for several months in the first growing season. Once the root system becomes established, you can put a light application (one cup of sulfate of ammonium) around the drip line of the young tree. For a good organic alternative, apply 5-10 pounds of aged manure around the drip line of the tree.

Second year

Nitrogen or other macronutrients should be applied in the second year. Research indicates that applying fertilizers in August or early September maximizes nutrient uptake and is more efficient than late winter fertilization. Early season fertilization is often leached. Late summer to fall fertilization at the time of your last irrigation is taken more directly into the tree, helping to make healthy buds, spurs and shoots for the coming year without stimulating late growth.

So, how much nitrogen should you use for the first few years with your fruit trees? There is an easy rule to follow. Use about one-eighth of a pound of actual nitrogen per year of tree age. In the second year, that means to use a quarter-pound of actual nitrogen, 1.25 lbs of ammonium sulfate 21-0-0, or 1.75 lbs of 16-16-16, or 9 lbs of rabbit manure, or 17 lbs of steer manure.

Use about one-eighth of a pound of actual nitrogen per year of tree age.

For a tree that reaches 8 years old, add 1 lb of actual nitrogen, which would come from 5 lbs of 21-0-0, or 7 lbs of 16-16-16, or 35 lbs of rabbit manure or 70 lbs of steer manure. Once your tree has reached 8 years old, you no longer need to increase the amount of nitrogen fertilizer. Stay with 1 lb per year going forward.

Another way to gauge if your fertilization is adequate is to measure the amount of new wood your tree is making each year. If your apple or pear tree is under 8 years old and is making less than 12 inches of new shoot growth each year, you should apply more nitrogen. If your tree is making between 12 and 18 inches of new growth per year, you are fertilizing correctly.

If your tree is making over 18 inches of new growth per year, you can reduce your nitrogen inputs. A fruit tree that is overstimulated will be an insect magnet because of the succulent new growth. The fruit on apple trees with excessive nitrogen fertilization may also have a tendency to have bitter pit, an apple spotting disorder that is also linked to a calcium deficiency.

A fruit tree that is overstimulated will be an insect magnet because of the succulent new growth.

With trees in the genus prunus (cherry, plum, peach, apricot and nectarine), growth targets for new wood will be a little different from that of apples and pears. A young prunus tree should make about 2 feet of new shoot growth per year. If the growth is less than 18 inches, fertilize more. If the growth is more than 30 inches, reduce your nitrogen fertilization.

Remember to research your own areas for local fertility knowledge. Many soils in western Oregon are deficient in potassium, phosphorus and boron. Our local soils can also have excess amounts of magnesium.

A soil test is an important start in a good fertilization program.

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Fruit trees need the right nutrition to grow strong and healthy so they can produce beautiful, delicious fruit year after year.

Using the best fertilizer for fruit trees is the best way to make sure your trees are getting exactly what they need.

The 8 Best Fertilizers for Fruit Trees

There are a lot of options out there when it comes to fertilizers for fruit trees. Whether you’re looking for granules, liquids, or an easy-to-use spike. We found some great options to help you get the best harvest from your favorite fruit tree.

Pictures Fertilizers Fertilizer Analysis (NPK) Links
Jobe’s Organics Fruit & Citrus Fertilizer with Biozome 3-5-5
Jobe’s Fruit and Citrus Tree Fertilizer Spikes 9-12-12
Urban Farm Fertilizers Apples & Oranges Fruits and Citrus 4.5-2.0-4.2
Espoma CT4 Citrus-tone Plant Food 5-2-6
Southern Ag Chelated Citrus Nutritional Spray Fe 1.2%, Zn 1.7%, Mn 1.2%, Mg 1%, S 4.1%.
Liquid Kelp Organic Seaweed Fertilizer 1-0.23-6
JR Peters Inc 52524 Jacks Classic Citrus Food Fertilizer 20-10-20
Miracle-Gro Fruit & Citrus Fertilizer Spikes 10-15-15

Best Fertilizer for Fruit Trees Reviews

1. Jobe’s Organics Fruit & Citrus Fertilizer with Biozome

This fertilizer from Jobe’s Organic is a good choice for both new and established trees.

How does it work? It uses USDA certified organic ingredients that aggressively break down the material. This increases the uptake of nutrients, delivering faster results.

The secret ingredient is Jobe’s Biozome, a combination of beneficial bacteria, Mycorrhizal fungi, and Archaea. This blend doesn’t just deliver good results, it actually improves the long term quality of the soil so you’ll see benefits for a long time to come.

Not only does the soil improve, but trees can also resist illnesses and insects. Plus, it makes them more resilient to droughts and dry spells during the growing season. Jobe’s is specially formulated to help trees bear more fruit while being completely safe for the environment.

Each of the available sizes comes in an easy pour, resealable bag for convenience and easy storage. This fertilizer was designed for trees growing in the ground and should be reapplied every 2 to 3 weeks to ensure a continuous release of fertilizer.

2. Jobe’s Fruit and Citrus Tree Fertilizer Spikes

These fertilizer spikes from Jobe’s are designed to feed trees directly at the root which is right where they need it the most. Because you insert them directly into the ground at the tree’s dripline, they deliver a steady supply of nutrients right below the surface.

One of the great things about this slow-release fertilizer is that it lasts all season. There’s no need to reapply every few weeks, just stick them in the ground during the early spring and late fall and you’re done. Plus, there no wasteful runoff, hazards, or bad smells to worry about.

You can use these spikes with all fruit trees, including citrus. They deliver the nitrogen, phosphate, potash, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur trees need to make the most delicious, juicy fruits possible.

3. Urban Farm Fertilizers Apples & Oranges Fruits and Citrus Fertilizer

The cool thing about Urban Farms is that it micro-brew all of their liquid fertilizers by hand on a weekly basis. That not only means that the quality is unmatched but it also lets you know you’re getting the freshest possible product, every time.

This fertilizer is a hybrid, part organic, and part hydroponic grade material. It’s also super concentrated with a dilution ratio of 56:1. In other words, 1 quart makes 64 gallons of fertilizer.

Because this comes in liquid form, you can use it in a variety of ways including drip systems, hose ends, in soil, hydroponics, and hand-watering. It provides everything your fruit and citrus trees need for fast results, especially during the fruiting phase.

4. Espoma CT4 Citrus-tone Plant Food

Another great organic option is this plant food from Espoma. It’s 100% natural and doesn’t use any fillers or sludges. This fertilizer will help your plants produce larger, more flavorful fruit and can be used in fruit, citrus, and even avocado trees.

Since this is a slow-release formula, you only need a few applications. In fact, 3 a year should be enough. Do a pre-bloom application in later winter, a post-bloom application for more fruit production in late spring, and one in the early fall to help provide nourishment throughout the winter.

Of course, this product can be used on potted plants, too, but it should be applied more frequently. Because of frequent watering and draining with a potted tree, you lose the benefit of the slow release of nutrients. Apply more every 60 days in late winter and fall.

5. Southern Ag Chelated Citrus Nutritional Spray

Next up is this spray from Southern Ag is specifically formulated for tropical fruit trees like citrus, avocados, and mangos but can also be used effectively on other fruit trees as well.

This one is a little different because it’s meant to be sprayed on the leaves and is formulated to control minor element deficiencies that can lead to yellowing leaves. Minor problems like this are sometimes the first sign of something bigger so catching and correcting them is key.

So, what’s in it? It contains 5 essential nutrients that trees need to thrive: zinc, iron, manganese, magnesium, and sulfur. It can be mixed at 1 tablespoon per gallon and applied twice a year for preventive care.

Once you do notice a problem, though, mix 2 tablespoons per gallon and apply in 2-week intervals until the issue improves.

6. Liquid Kelp Organic Seaweed Fertilizer

Liquid Kelp from GS Plant Foods is a great option that takes advantage of all the natural goodness of kelp. This fertilizer is made from the finest varieties of the seaweed plant from Norway.

This fertilizer stimulates root growth and nutrient uptake for stronger, healthier trees. It also helps trees better respond to stress caused by extreme weather conditions, diseases, insects, and even frost.

There are a few ways to use this product. It’s really concentrated and the manufacturer recommends using 1 to 2 tablespoons in a gallon of water for spraying applications. Use 2 ounces in a gallon for regular watering.

7. JR Peters Inc 52524 Jacks Classic Citrus Food Fertilizer

Next is this citrus fertilizer from JR Peters. This formula has the best combination of nutrients for citrus trees including common plants like orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruits as well as mangos and kumquats.

There are 2 ways to use this fertilizer. First, you can use it as an everyday additive by watering with 1 teaspoon per gallon every time you water. Or, mix 1 tablespoon per gallon and use every 7 to 10 days.

This formula has been enhanced with the perfect balance of micronutrients to provide strong branches, green leaves, and more delicious fruit. It comes in a resealable container that contains 1.5 pounds of fertilizer and includes a spoon for easy measuring.

8. Miracle-Gro Fruit & Citrus Fertilizer Spikes

Last but not least are these fertilizer spikes from Miracle-Gro, one of the most trusted brands around when it comes to gardening. These spikes contain a slow-release formula that promotes lush foliage and more fruit.

All you have to do is insert these sticks into the ground around the drip line, once in the spring and again in the fall. Spring feeding is to help them push out flowers, leaves, and seeds while fall feeding provides what the plants need to produce more blooms the following year.

What Kind of Fertilizer for Fruit Trees?

Most tree fertilizers contain a blend of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, or NPK.

You will usually see the ratio of these ingredients printed on the bag. It’s usually 10-10-10 or 12-12-12. A balanced ratio of these 3 things makes the fertilizer safe to use on most trees.

There are some trace elements that trees need to help them develop properly. Let’s take a closer look at all of the essentials.

Nitrogen

Fruit trees really like fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. Nitrogen is one of the main nutrients in all plant growth because it helps give leaves their green color which is necessary for photosynthesis. It’s most important during general growth and leaf formation.

Nitrogen is readily available in most organic fertilizers and composts like blood meal or manure, though a fertilizer specifically designed for fruit trees is recommended because it takes into account all of the other mineral requirements, too.

Phosphorous

All plants need phosphorus to transfer energy from one part of the tree to another and helps develop strong roots and flowers. Phosphorous doesn’t spread through the ground very quickly which is why it should be an ingredient in every tree fertilizer.

Potassium

Potassium is important because it helps regulate water pressure inside and outside of the tree’s cells. It also helps with metabolism and is a key component of strong root development.

Other Major Nutrient

In addition to nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, plants also need calcium for strong cell walls and overall health, magnesium for seed formation and regulation, and sulfur which is necessary to create the chlorophyll needed for photosynthesis.

Trace Elements

Here are some of the trace elements essential for fruit trees and what they do:

  • Zinc – seed production
  • Manganese – chlorophyll production
  • Iron – chlorophyll production
  • Copper – helps metabolize nitrogen
  • Molybdenum – helps metabolize nitrogen
  • Chlorine – required for photosynthesis
  • Boron – promotes cellular growth and regulates nutrient uptake

If there’s a deficiency of any of these trace elements, you should be able to tell.

For example, you might notice that the leaves are turning yellow or pale. The best way to find out what the problem is to have your soil tested. That way, you know just what to replace.

When to Fertilize Fruit Trees?

The best time to fertilize fruit trees is in the late winter or early spring. This is right before the growing season and the perfect time to provide the extra nutrients that the plant needs to be prepared.

For older, established trees, you can also use a half-strength fertilizer in the fall. The idea is that the nutrients will slowly make their way into the soil so that, come spring, it will be rich with everything the trees need.

Generally, trees should not be fertilized in the fall unless they are showing signs of deficiencies. Winter is a dormant season which means there isn’t any growth happening. So, there’s no need to fertilize to prepare for winter.

Believe it or not, fertilizing trees in the fall can actually have a negative effect on newly planted young trees. Why? Because the extra nutrients encourage them to grow when they should be dormant. This makes them less durable and unlikely to survive a cold, icy winter.

The best time of day to feed your trees is in the morning, especially in the summer. It gives the trees a good opportunity to soak up any nutrients before the hot sun emerges and the temperature starts to increase.

How to Fertilize Fruit Trees?

There are different types of fertilizer. Each one is used differently.

Concentrated Liquid

Liquid fertilizer is usually pretty concentrated which means you have to dilute it with water before it’s ready to use. How much you use varies on the brand but it’s typically 1 to 2 ounces of fertilizer in a gallon of water.

Some liquid fertilizers can be used in a few different ways but the most common method is applying it directly to the ground around the tree’s drip line. What’s a drip line? It’s the place on the ground where water would drip off the longest branch.

Why is the drip line important? Because it’s also the best approximation you have for how far the roots have spread. When your water at the distance of the drip line, you’re presumably placing the fertilizer right where the roots can easily absorb it.

These fertilizers are sometimes applied weekly during spring and summer when mixed at a low concentration or once a month at higher concentrations.

Spray

There are some fertilizers that you’re meant to spray on the leaves of your fruit tree. This is typically done with citrus trees. Pay attention to the ingredients in the spray because this method is usually used to replenish the trace elements we mentioned earlier.

Spikes

Fertilizer spikes are the easiest kind to use. All you have to do is insert them around the drip line once or twice a year and that’s it. They use an extended-release formula so you don’t have to keep reapplying which is really convenient.

Granules

There are some fertilizers that come in granule form and they’re probably the easiest to apply other than spikes. All you have to do is distribute the right amount of fertilizer under the tree from the trunk to the drip line.

You should water the area right after application, especially if you’re not sure when the next rain is going to happen. Water starts to break down the fertilizer, carrying it into the soil where it can be utilized by the roots. Without water, it will just sit on the surface of the ground.

Read the Instruction Carefully

As we said, this information is pretty general. Each manufacturer has their own specific instructions as to how their product should be mixed and applied. Make sure you follow their recommendations to get the best results.

How often to Fertilize Fruit Trees?

How often you should fertilize fruit trees depends in part on the age of the tree. As we mentioned earlier, you should be very careful not to over-fertilize young trees. In fact, some experts recommend not fertilizing a new tree at all for the first year.

The reasoning for this is that new growth may not be as strong as it should be with young trees. Even the right amount of fertilizer at the wrong time can actually cause slower, weaker growth.

Established trees are a little harder but how often you fertilize depends on the type of fertilizer you use.

Liquid fertilizers can be used daily during prime growth periods if they’re diluted enough but are usually used only once or twice a month at a higher concentration. Spray fertilizers should be applied about once every 2 weeks and spikes and granules typically only once a season.

How much Fertilizer for Fruit Trees?

There are several schools of thought on this. Some give you a ballpark figure while others are quite precise.

Read the Package

First, you could just follow the package directions. After all, the manufacturer made the fertilizer so it makes sense to follow their recommendation.

Trial and Error

You can also do a trial and error method, starting with a diluted fertilizer or just a small amount and waiting to see how your trees react. Although the best time to feed your trees is late winter or early spring, you can add fertilizer until June so you do have time to experiment.

Adjust as Needed

The third method is to use the amount your trees need to actually grow. First, you have to know what the normal growth is for the type of tree you have so you have somewhat of a baseline to compare to.

For example, apple trees that are only a few years old should grow about a foot a year. If your tree is falling short, increase the amount of fertilizer by 50% during the next growth period.

Again, we should emphasize it’s important to know something about the variety of tree you’re growing as they all grow at different rates.

Do the Math

Finally, the best and most accurate way to decide how much fertilizer to use is to actually do the math. How much fertilizer a fruit tree needs depends on its age and size which will tell you how much nitrogen it needs. From there, you can better choose the right fertilizer.

The formula to figure out how much to use is this: one-tenth of a pound of nitrogen per each year of growth or inch of the tree trunk. To figure out exactly what that means as far as volume, divide this number by the amount of nitrogen in your fertilizer.

Here’s an example. Say you have a 5-year-old tree. Following this math, it needs 0.5 pounds of nitrogen per year.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to think about when choosing a good fertilizer for fruit trees. One of the best things you can do before you make a decision is to really research the kind of trees you’re growing and learn as much about them as you can.

Another thing to think about what type of fertilizer is most convenient. While you have more control over the application of concentrated liquids, mixing and application can be tedious. On the other hand, granules and spikes are relatively easy and don’t require a lot of follow up.

It’s important to choose the fertilizer that works best for both you and your trees.

See also:

8 Best Fertilizer for Strawberries – (2020 Reviews & Guide)

10 Best Fertilizer for Indoor Plants – (2020 Reviews & Guide)

The 6 Best Fertilizer for Blueberries – (2020 Reviews & Guide)

Fertilizing Fruit Trees

Fertilizing Fruit Trees

Before planting fruit trees, we recommend that gardeners test their soil before planting to de­termine the amount of lime and fertilizers needed. Soil testing can be done through a number of private and public labs. UNH Cooperative Extension offers this service. Forms and instructions are available on our website, or you can call our Info Line at 1-877-EXT-GROW (1-877-398-4769).

With or without a soil test, however, gardeners may follow these gen­eral rules of thumb for fertilizing fruit trees.

General recommendation for all fruits

Before planting: Maintain a soil pH between 6.0 – 6.5. Our native NH soils are usually acidic (pH 4.5-4.8), and lime or wood ash are often added to raise and maintain higher pH, as well as to supply calcium and magnesium. Lime works slowly, so should be applied the fall before planting if possible. Wood ash acts more quickly than lime, and it can be applied in the spring before planting. It is easy to apply too much: do not add lime or wood ash every year unless a soil test indicates the need.

When you plant: Do not add fertilizer. Most nurseries will not honor tree warranties if any fertilizer has been added to the planting hole. Three weeks after planting, once the soil has settled completely around roots, spread ½ pound of 10-10-10 in a circle 18” to 24” from trunk.

After the planting year: Every year, apply fertilizers in a split application: half at the end of April, and half at the end of May. Apply all fertilizers evenly beneath the dripline of the branches; at least 18” away from the trunk.

There are many fertilizer choices:

• 10-10-10 at the rate of one pound per inch of trunk diameter, measured one foot above the ground. Do not exceed 2½ lbs. 10-10-10 per year.

OR

OR

• Blended organic fertilizer such as 5-3-4 at a rate of 2 lbs per inch of trunk diameter. Do not exceed 5 lbs 5-3-4 per year.


When fertilizing trees, apply all fertilizers
evenly beneath the dripline of the branches,
staying at least 18” away from the trunk.
All trees should be fertilized in spring,
​​​​​​before June 1.

Apples

Young apple trees (1-3 years) should grow 12” or more per year. If they are growing less than that, increase the fertilizer in subsequent years by 50%. For trees 4 years and older, apply nitrogen according to growth: If there is less than 6” of growth, use rates as described above. If there is more than 12” of growth, apply sul-po-mag (and boron if needed) only. Do not apply 10-10-10 or calcium nitrate.

Apply boron every 3 years. Old fashioned borax is 11.1% boron. Check the percentage of boron in the product you buy, and see the table below to determine how much to apply. Weigh the material to be sure you do not overapply, as excessive boron can be toxic to trees.

For young trees that have just started bearing, apply 4 oz of borax (11.1% B). For medium-sized trees, apply 8 oz of borax; and for large trees, apply up to 12 oz. of borax.

Boron can also be applied as a spray to the leaves and flower buds when the flowers are at tight cluster, before individual blossoms open. Soluble boron formulations are available; apply a 20% soluble boron formulation at a rate of 1 lb per 100 gallons of water; or a rate of 0.4 oz per 2 ½ gallons of water.

Pears

Fertilize pear trees according to growth and soil testing. Fertilize trees that grew less than 6” the previous year with 1 pound of calcium nitrate in the spring. Have soil tested every three years to determine need for potassium and magnesium; apply sul-po-mag only if a soil or tissue test recommends it.

Too much growth increases susceptibility with fire blight. Do not apply nitrogen to pear trees older than 3 years old growing more than 12” per year; apply sul-po-mag to provide potassium and magnesium only if a soil or tissue test recommends it.

Stone fruits (peaches, plums, cherries, apricots)

If the tree did not set a crop the previous year, do not fertilize. If the tree set a good crop the previous year, fertilize with one pound calcium nitrate (15.5-0-0) per tree OR 1 ½ lb. 10-10-10 OR 3 lbs 5-3-4 or equivalent material.

Fertilizer Focus: Is Chicken Manure Good For Fruit Trees

Is Chicken Manure Good for Fruit Trees?

Growing delicious fruit is hard work and each spring, after emerging from dormancy, your hungry fruit trees will need a nutrient-rich boost to help fuel leaf growth, and blossom and fruit formation. But when it comes to fertilizer, is chicken manure the right choice?

In this blog we’ll explore the pros and cons of chicken poop and when it might be beneficial to use when mulching your fruit trees.

Hen and chicken manure isn’t always good for plants.

When Chicken Manure is Bad For Plants

“When it comes to fertilizing fruit trees, using raw and un-composted chicken manure is not a good idea.”

Chicken manure has been used to feed plants for centuries but part of what makes this fertilizer so powerful is also what makes it potentially damaging to plants. Fresh chicken manure is a wet, stinky combination of both poop and liquid that’s high in ammonia.

It’s the ammonia that can break down into nitrogen – and makes chicken manure so smelly. All plants need nitrogen as a growth booster. Too much nitrogen in fruit trees spurs the vigorous growth of branches at the expense of flowers. And with no flowers, there’s no delicious fruit.

So when it comes to fertilizing fruit trees, using raw and un-composted chicken manure is not a good idea.

When Chicken Manure is Good for Plants

The next option is perhaps using composted chicken manure which you can purchase from your local garden centre in bags, or get from a local farm.

If you’re composting your own chicken manure, you want to be sure that the fresh poop is composted with a generous amount of carbon-rich straw or other bedding. As with any composting you need a combination of carbon and nitrogen to create the perfect environment for soil microbes to get to work.

As the chicken manure sits for a while, the microbes in the soil break it down into nutrients our fruit trees can absorb and use. While this magical composting process happens, some of the excess nitrogen evaporates as ammonia gas. The compost needs to be turned several times and experts suggest the mixture age for at least six months before applying to fruit trees and plants.

After composting, the chicken manure will have small amounts of the three key nutrients all plants need including nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).

Chicken manure packs a bigger punch than composted manure from other animals. Here’s why: sheep, cow and other composted manure are about 1% N, 1% P and 1% K by weight. Chicken manure, on the other hand, can reach 5% N, 3% P and 2% K by weight.

As another bonus, manure from egg laying hens contains more calcium by weight thanks to the eggshell production process. Calcium strengthens the cells in fruit, shoots and roots for healthier and more tasty and juicy fruit.

So for a natural product, it seems you have a lot to gain and little to lose when spreading a small amount of composted chicken manure over the roots of your fruit trees.

Chicken and Hen Manure isn’t always good for plants.Chicken manure is higher in calcium than sheep and cow manure due to the calcium content of egg shells.

Dried Chicken Manure

Acti-sol produces dried chicken manure that is lower in ammonia and easier to transport.

Composted properly and used in moderation, chicken manure can be great for your fruit trees. But there is another option that’s been developed by an innovative Quebec-based company called Acti-Sol.

Acti-Sol produces dried hen manure fertilizers. Their fertilizers don’t smell because the manure is dried before it can form ammonia. Orchard People is proud to have this company as a sponsor for our information packed fruit tree care podcast “The Urban Forestry Radio Show”.

The Quebec-based company uses a unique dryer system – right at the henhouse—to quickly dehydrate fresh hen droppings. This stops smelly ammonia from forming, and leaves behind a high quality, natural fertilizer that won’t harm your plants.

Acti-Sol’s products are approved for organic agriculture. They only use manure from egg-laying hens that are not treated with hormones or antibiotics. As a result, farmers, as well as health conscious home gardeners, can sprinkle Acti-Sol hen manure on their organic crops.

So How Much Chicken Manure Should You Use on Your Trees

If you are using composted chicken manure, start with spreading just one inch of the fertilizer around the roots of your tree in the early spring and see how it affects your trees growth and production.

If you are using Acti-Sol, you may want to choose the formulation specifically for fruit trees that`s 4% nitrogen, 6% phosphorus and 8% potassium by weight (look for 4-6-8 and photos of fruit trees on the package). Acti-Sol added bone meal and natural potash to its multipurpose hen manure to meet the needs of hard working fruit trees. The extra boost of phosphorus and potassium helps with flower bud and fruit formation

Learn more about feeding your fruit trees

If you want to learn more about feeding your fruit trees and amending your soil, sign up for OrchardPeople.com’s Certificate In Beginner Fruit Tree Care at www.orchardpeople.com/workshops. It’s an award-winning home-study course that you can take anytime, using your computer or mobile device. In the 8-hour course you’ll learn how to prune your fruit trees, feed them and protect them from pests and disease. And for more free content, subscribe to OrchardPeople.com’s monthly newsletter or listen to our fruit tree care podcast at www.orchardpeople.com.

Andrea Bannister is a freelance communicator and lifelong gardener based in Toronto, Canada

You may also be interested in:

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When to Spread Compost Under Fruit Trees

Question from Mark:
I have many young fruit trees , many types of citrus (orange, blood orange, lemon, lime) AND pomegranit, Avacado, fig, apple and stone fruits (nectarine and peach are both fruiting)… I received some very high quality compost yesterday as gift – , is it okay to put on the trees that are NOT flowering or fruiting? Or too late to do this? Based on what i read in your book, it seems like it may be too late for now…. ?

Answer from Pat:
Compost is not the same as fertilizer. Compost is organic soil amendment. Adding compost to soil gradually builds up its humus content. Good, well-aged compost teams with beneficial organisms. As these organisms rot further in the soil they release natural nitrogen, but this is a long, slow process. it will not result in triggering growth at the wrong time of year. The conventional time to mulch fruit trees is in fall or winter, after pruning and dormant spraying and cleaning up the ground. Nonetheless, it’s fine to spread compost on the ground as mulch under the canopy of fruit trees at any time of year. I once knew a man who moved into a house on a flat mesa with hard clay soil into which the former owner planted many kinds of fruit trees as you have, but they never did well. There was a horse-owner living next door and the new owner went over to his neighbor’s house once a week for a wheelbarrow load of horse manure. He spread the horse manure on the ground as mulch year round. Within a few months, his fruit trees became remarkably healthy and productive and the ground teemed with earthworms. Before he moved into that house the clay soil had been bare and unproductive and the former owner had blamed the poor soil—even with a bonanza of manure next door! It was not poor soil, only neglected soil. All it needed was the addition of organic matter and the garden soon morphed into a little Eden.

A word of caution: Since you are placing this compost under fruit trees, do not dig or till it into the ground. It is a very bad practice to dig or till the ground inside the root zone of any fruit tree at any time of year since most fruit trees have many surface roots and any damage to these roots can make flowers, fruit, or leaves fall off. Last year my gardener who has worked for me for over fifty years saw a hoe leaning against a fence near my Meyer lemon tree that was covered with fruit of all sizes. I had left the hoe there by mistake, but he must have thought it was a hint to him to create irrigation holes. He used the hoe to dig under the lemon tree and make a watering basin. I just about died when I saw all the good organic mulch and fresh, white, young roots he had torn from the ground under the tree and piled up around the outer edges. All the green, young fruit had immediately fallen off and was littering the bare ground under the tree and all the tip growth died also and dropped its leaves, leaving bare green tips. It has taken me until now, months later, to get the tree to grow again and still it has not bloomed. I wanted to tell my gardener what he had done and show him what happened but I couldn’t. I’ve had experience in the past with trying to explain something like this and it always backfires. Good lesson to me not to leave tools lying around and to keep my gardener busy doing the things he is good at and knows how to do, like pruning all the hedges that surround my property.

Does chicken manure interfere with fruit trees?

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Citrus Care

Jerry Coleby-Williams

JERRY COLEBY-WILLIAMS: Citrus are wonderful fruit trees, but they’re very hungry. If you give them what they want, when they want it, then they’ll amply reward you for years, but if you don’t, they’ll quickly let you know that something’s wrong.

Now as a general purpose fertiliser, I like to use poultry manure. You won’t find a more complete fertiliser than this and I feed citrus every 6 weeks from spring, summer, through to autumn and I give them half a handful per square metre and you sprinkle this very thinly around the root zone.

Now if a tree is mulched, you put it underneath the mulch and then put the mulch back over it – just in case you get heavy rain, that stops any of the fertiliser from being washed away, but you don’t apply a poultry manure if they’re flowering – you wait until the fruit are this size. If you apply it while they’re flowering, they’ll drop their fruit.

Now citrus also need quite a lot of iron and they like a slightly acidic soil, so what I do is I use iron sulphate and I put one tablespoon in 4 and half litres of water and I apply that to each citrus – once in spring, once in summer and once in autumn.

Another thing that citrus need – particularly in Australian soils – is trace elements or micro-nutrients. These contain funny little things like boron, magnesium and molybdenum. Now these things are wonderful if you add a small amount, but if you add too much, it can be lethal – so just one pinch in 4 and half litres of water, per tree, per year.

And to make sure that the soil is well nourished, I love to use seaweed. Seaweed contains things like selenium and iodine * , plus it contains folic acid and that’s wonderful for your fungi and bacteria in the soil. It brings the soil in to life. Now that’s about 3 tablespoons in 4 and a half litres of water…and I’m going to give that a little bit of a mix and a bit of a stir before I apply it. There we go.

This sort of a fillip is something that I give to my citrus in spring. That’s a good time to start citrus into growth and you just water this in generously around the root zone.

Lastly, it’s important to prevent citrus from fruiting for the first 3 years. Now I know this hurts, but you’ve got to pinch off the fruit. This directs the energy into producing branches which are strong enough to support the abundant crops that will result from correct and consistent feeding.

COSTA GEORGIADIS: Well as the soil begins to heat up, so does activity in The Patch. Here’s Tino.

Fertilizing Citrus Trees – Best Practices For Citrus Fertilizing

Citrus trees, like all plants, need nutrients to grow. Because they can be heavy feeders, fertilizing citrus trees is sometimes necessary in order to have a healthy and fruit bearing tree. Learning how to fertilize a citrus fruit tree properly can make the difference between a bumper crop of fruit or a bummer crop of fruit.

When to Apply Citrus Fertilizer

In general, you should be doing your citrus fertilizing about once every one to two months during active growth (spring and summer) and once every two to three months during the tree’s dormant periods (fall and winter). As the tree gets older, you can skip dormant season fertilizing and increase the amount of time between active growth fertilizing to once every two to three months.

To find the best citrus fertilizing time frames for your tree, judge based on the tree’s physical appearance and growth. A tree that looks lush and dark green and is holding onto fruit does not need to be fertilized as often. Fertilizing too much when the tree has a healthy appearance may actually cause it to produce inferior fruit.

Citrus trees are most nutrient-hungry from the time they bloom until they have firmly set fruit, so make sure you apply citrus fertilizer when the tree is in bloom regardless of health so that it has enough nutrients to properly produce fruit.

How to Fertilize a Citrus Fruit Tree

Citrus tree fertilizing is either done through the leaves or through the ground. Following the directions on your chosen fertilizer, which will be to either spray the fertilizer onto the leaves of your citrus tree or spread it out around the base of the tree as far as the canopy reaches. Do not place fertilizer near the trunk of the tree.

What Kind of Citrus Fertilizer Does My Tree Need?

All citrus trees will benefit from a slightly nitrogen rich or balanced NPK fertilizer that also has some micro-nutrients in it like:

  • magnesium
  • manganese
  • iron
  • copper
  • zinc
  • boron

Citrus trees also like to have somewhat acidic soil, so an acidic fertilizer can also be beneficial in citrus tree fertilizing, though not required. The easiest citrus fertilizer to use is the kind made specifically for citrus trees.

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