Whether you have a small orchard or a smattering of fruit trees, it’s important to fertilize them in a routine manner. Knowing when to give your fruit trees nutrients will ensure you have a robust crop full of delicious fruit.
When to fertilize fruit trees: Caring for your fruit trees can be a real labor of love and one step you don’t want to skip is fertilizing them. If your fruit tree is not growing much each year, it is a sign it doesn’t have access to enough nutrients. Use a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, either in a natural state or one that is pre-made. Spread it on the ground, in the area under your tree branches once a year. Do this step in the spring so that when your tree grows fruit in the summer and fall, it will be a large, bountiful crop.
Benefits of Fertilizing Fruit Trees
You want to bite into a crispy, juicy apple that is a decent size. More nutrients mean more resources can go to the fruit on a tree.
Each part of a tree will benefit from fertilizer, including the roots. With a stronger root structure, your fruit tree is less susceptible to storm damage.
Fewer pests and diseases
Even though you will still need to spray for pests with a fruit tree, if it has fertilizer it will be that much healthier and so will be better able to fight off pests and diseases.
How do you fertilize fruit trees?
First, know when the best time to fertilize your fruit trees. This is the spring, just as your trees start to grow again after being dormant in the winter.
If you’re not too sure about the timing, the trees should not have produced their buds yet. While you can keep fertilizing through the summer, you should stop by July.
Test to determine if you need to fertilize
Now that you know the right timing to fertilize fruit trees, it’s all about if your trees actually need extra nutrients. Most fertilizers for fruit trees are high in nitrogen and if the soil around your trees is already rich in this element, then it is not needed.
There are some easy steps you can take to determine if you need to fertilize your tree in a particular year. Be sure to follow these steps every year as soil nutrients can change quickly.
Find the growth rings from last year’s growth. This area will be on a branch and will be a different color at the end, essentially telling you what new part of the tree grew in the current year.
Then, measure the distance of new growth. You will want to measure multiple branches of new growth in order to get a wide selection of data
Measure the distances and then divide by the number of branches you used. Then, compare the growth to an annual target growth rate, depending on the species of tree. If your tree is in the mid to high range of growth, then there is no need to fertilize.
- Peaches and nectarines (young): 18 to 24 inches
- Peaches and nectarines (mature): 12 to 18 inches
- Apples and pears (young): 18 to 30 inches
- Apples and pears (mature): 12 to 18 inches
- Plums, apricots, and cherries (young): 22 to 36 inches
- Plums, apricots, and cherries (mature): 8 to 10 inches
Choose your fertilizer
For fruit trees, you need to select a fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen. There are many options you can use that are great for all types of fruit trees.
Common options include chicken manure, blood meal, cottonseed meal, and soybean meal. You can also purchase fruit tree fertilizers that are pre-made composite materials.
If you are worried that your fruit trees need extra nutrients, you can always perform a quick soil test that will reveal if you need to add more macro and micronutrients.
Apply your fertilizer
If you aren’t sure how much fertilizer to use, always err on a larger quantity. You can always check the label of a pre-made fertilizer to find the best amount.
You will want to spread the fertilizer over a wide area of ground as the roots of a fruit tree can spread out quite wide. Start from about a foot away from the trunk and spread the fertilizer over the ground so that anywhere there are branches overhead, there is fertilizer underneath.
For those worried about quick absorption, you can always dig small holes in the soil so that the fertilizer can start working more quickly. This may be a good idea if you have a thick covering of grass under your fruit tree.
To help the fertilizer penetrate deep into the soil, it’s best to give the area good watering. Even if you don’t normally water your fruit trees, this is a crucial step to soften the ground.
How often should you fertilize fruit trees?
You should only fertilize your fruit tree once a year, in the springtime. However, there may be some years when your fruit tree doesn’t need any fertilizer so you should monitor the past year’s growth to determine if this step is needed.
Signs of over-fertilizing fruit trees
Sign 1 – Thick leaves and small fruit
Unfortunately, one of the side effects of too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer is a small fruit. While the foliage will be large and bushy, any fruit will be small in size.
Sign 2 – Crust on the ground
Watering after fertilizing your fruit trees is an important step as it allows the nutrients to penetrate into the soil. If this step isn’t done or your soil simply doesn’t need more nutrients, you may see a crust on the ground below your tree.
When is it too late to fertilize fruit trees?
Fruit trees bear fruit in the summer and fall, and you want to fertilize before this happens so they can get all the nutrients they need. It’s best to fertilize in the spring before any buds start to form.
It can take a lot of work for fruit trees to grow and develop fruit, which is why you can give them a bit of help by fertilizing. Add a nitrogen-rich fertilizer in the spring so that you have a large, healthy crop.