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When and how to fertilize your fruit trees—use our online calculator

Mar 28, 2013 -
   
  When and how to fertilize your fruit trees—use our online calculator
'Arkansas Black Spur' apples on a robust, well-fertilized tree.
 
   

Make your organic orchard bountiful by fertilizing your fruit trees.

In our latest, research-based video, Tricia explains IF, when, and how much to fertilize your fruit trees. Keep reading here to learn more, and use our online fertilizer calculator.

Tricia with a Peach Tree

When to fertilize fruit trees

Right before bud break is the perfect time to fertilize your fruit trees. If you miss the moment and the trees have begun to bloom, you can still fertilize until June.

Don’t fertilize in late summer or fall, though, because the new growth put on by the tree can be damaged by frost.

The earliest time to fertilize? One month prior to spring growth.

Measure Annual Growth

Measure fruit trees to see if they need fertilizing

Not all fruit trees need fertilizer every year and they don’t need it in the same amounts.

Too much fertilizer means lots of leaves and shoots, and not a lot of fruit.

Luckily, fruit trees are pretty good at telling you what they need.

If the tree was pruned more than it typically is pruned in one year, don’t fertilize.

Begin your assessment of a tree by locating last year’s growth rings. The growth ring is the point on the branch where the tree started growing the previous year.

Measure from the growth ring all the way out to the end of the branch. Repeat these measurements at several spots around the tree, and average them as the previous year’s “annual growth” of the tree.

Annual Growth Rates

Use this chart to evaluate your tree’s annual growth. If the tree’s number is at the low end of growth, then you should fertilize the tree this year.

* Non-bearing peaches and nectarines should grow 18”-24”.
* Bearing peaches and nectarines should grow 12”-18”.
* Non-bearing apples and pears should grow 18”-30”.
* Bearing pears and bearing non-spur type apples should grow 12”-18”.
* Bearing spur apples should grow 6”-10”.
* Non-bearing plums and sweet cherries should grow 22”-36”.
* Bearing plums and sweet cherries should grow 8”.
* Non-bearing, tart cherries should grow 12”-24”.
* Bearing tart cherries should grow 8”.

Organic Nitrogen Fertilizers

How to choose fertilizer

Use an organic, high nitrogen fertilizer. Blood meal, soybean meal, composted chicken manure, cottonseed meal, and feather meal are good, organic nitrogen sources.

There are also specially formulated organic fruit tree fertilizers.

To provide micronutrients for your trees, add compost.

Back to math class—calculate how much fertilizer your fruit tree needs with our online calculator

For those of us who did not excel in math—fear not—we will walk you through the fertilizer calculations AND we have an online calculator for you.

So stop worrying that this is one of those awful Math Word Problems.

Rule of thumb: The amount of fertilizer is based on the age or size of the tree.

Trees need 1/10th of a pound of actual nitrogen per year of age, or per inch of trunk diameter (measured 1 foot above the ground). The maximum you should give a fruit tree in a year is 1 lb. of actual nitrogen.

The NPK numbers on fertilizer show the percentage of nutrients per pound of fertilizer. N, P and K refer to actual nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

For example: If the N is 10 then there is 1/10th of a pound of actual nitrogen for every pound of fertilizer.

To calculate how much fertilizer to apply: divide the amount of actual nitrogen the tree needs by the percentage of nitrogen in the fertilizer.

In the video, for example, Tricia’s five-year-old apple tree needs a half a pound of nitrogen. The E.B. Stone Fruit Tree Fertilizer has a 7 for N. Half a pound or .5 divided by .07 equals 7 lbs, which is the amount of fertilizer to apply to get the proper amount of nitrogen.

We make it EASY for you to calculate the fertilizer for each tree. Our online calculator does the math for you.

Measure from Trunk

How to apply fertilizer to fruit trees

There are two ways to apply fertilizer to your trees.

The easiest way is just to spread the fertilizer on the ground, rake it in, and then water.

Don’t start fertilizing next to the trunk. Start a foot from the trunk and spread fertilizer evenly all the way out to the drip line.

The drip line is at the perimeter of the tree’s furthest reaching branches.

Digging a series of small holes is another method of applying fertilizer. It is a bit more work, but it ensures the fertilizer is getting to the tree roots.

To make the digging job easy you can use an auger attachment with a cordless drill.

Dig the holes six inches down and 12”-18” apart. Start drilling the holes a foot outward from the trunk and continue on to the drip line.

Take the fertilizer you’ve measured out according to the recommended rates and sprinkle a little in each hole until it is used up.

This is great for making sure less water soluble nutrients like phosphorus or beneficial mychorhizae in the fertilizer make it to the tree roots.

Once you have finished fertilizing, spread an inch of compost over the top and water well.

For more information on all aspects of fruit trees—choosing, planting, controlling pests, using your harvest—browse our storehouse of research-based videos and articles in Fruit Tree Central. Staff favorite books on fruit trees are The Home Orchard from UC Davis, along with The Fruit Grower’s Bible and Landscaping With Fruit.

Keep on living the dream with your organic orchard, now that you know when and how to fertilize your fruit trees.


Categories: Fruit Trees, Apple Trees, Pomegranate Trees, Pluot Trees, Plum Trees, Persimmon Trees, Pear Trees, Peach Trees, Nectarine Trees, Multi-Graft Trees, Mulberry Trees, Jujube Trees, Fig Trees, Cherry Trees, Apricot Trees, Quince Trees, Soil Amendments, Soil Conditioner, Organic Garden Compost, Pelleted Fertilizer, Powdered Fertilizer, Organic Fertilizer, Liquid Fertilizer, Pelleted Fertilizer, Powdered Fertilizer, Liquid Fish, Foliar Fertilizer, Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer, Water Soluble Fertilizer, Fertilizer Tablets, Fruits & Berries, Edible Landscaping, Organic Gardening 101, Urban Gardening & farming


miguel ucopvich Says:
Mar 29th, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Great info on how to fertilize a fruit tree. Al lthis time I thought you fertilized in tghe Fall

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Mar 30th, 2013 at 8:39 am

Miguel, Good to hear that this was helpful info! Thanks!

John Says:
Mar 30th, 2013 at 8:51 am

Thank you, very helpful.  I have trees about 12 years old but trunk diameter is only about 5”.  For the nitrogen calculation which takes precedence, age or diameter?

Gregg Young, CPAg Says:
Mar 30th, 2013 at 8:57 am

There are several points that are wrong. 1st, you use fertilizer to mean nitrogen, which contributes to the myth that fertilization only involves N.
2nd the recommendations result in far too much N fertilizer being applied - a 10 year old orchard with 200 trees/acre would need 200 pounds. I have over 100 studies ( I can send a list) that show relations of excess N and increased pest/disease problems.
3rd the time to fertilize deciduous trees is in the fall, not in the spring. The growth in the spring is from stored N in the form or proteins; spring N will over fertilize at the wrong time, resulting in increased fire blight, brown rot, etc. See: www,qfirst.net. The UC, or whatever source you are using is wrong. Fruit trees need nutrients in the following quantities (1-3): K, N, Ca, then all the others.

Judi Wigren Says:
Mar 30th, 2013 at 9:06 am

I have pruned our trees so how can I measure how long the branches grew? Very informative. Thank you.

elizabeth perot Says:
Mar 30th, 2013 at 9:20 am

Do you have a formula for blueberry and raspberry bushes ?

Bud Says:
Mar 30th, 2013 at 11:48 am

My bare-root fruit trees (apple, peach, pear, and apricot) were planted late spring of last year.  They show no significant first year growth.  Should I follow the instructions of the video and feed at the maximum rate or wait until next year?

alicia spears Says:
Mar 30th, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Thank you so much for this info !!! I am new to gardening and had no idea you shouldn’t fertilize near the trunk !  This is gonna help me out ALOT

Mary Pat Palmer Says:
Mar 31st, 2013 at 8:27 am

Many thanks - one can never get too much good information about caring for fruit trees!

George Moergeli, Jr. Says:
Mar 31st, 2013 at 10:31 am

I have been using a fruit tree fertilizer from a farm supple with 0-8-17.
It also has Magnesium,8%,Sulfur,17% and Boron,1%.

Should I be adding Nitrogen?  So far I have had bumper crops of apples and must thin every spring.

kathy haugh Says:
Mar 31st, 2013 at 12:37 pm

enjoyed your information.  new to fruit growing.  find the formule helpful.  have enjoyed some of your other videos also.

Myrna Greene Says:
Mar 31st, 2013 at 2:44 pm

If 7 pounds of fertilizer is needed, why is Tricia only applying 3 pounds?

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 1st, 2013 at 2:03 pm

John, Use the diameter instead of the tree age since the tree is not large for its age. You might over-fertilize if you used the age as the basis.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 1st, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Gregg, Thank you for your feedback. You are correct that excessive N can cause all those issues; that is why we suggest measuring the annual growth and only fertilizing when the trees fall at the low end or below the target growth. The reason our calculations are based on N for fruit trees is that N is the most growth-limiting factor. The universities suggest fertilizing in spring not fall to avoid a flush of tender growth that would be killed by frost.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 1st, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Judi, Were there ANY branches that were not headed? If so, measure them.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 1st, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Bud, You could have soil, irrigation or sun issues—but we suggest trying the fertilizer first. Go ahead and fertilize at the maximum rate.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 1st, 2013 at 2:14 pm

George, Congratulations on your good harvests. We think you have high N in your soil, possibly from being near turf grass/lawn, or naturally occurring. If fruit trees are planted near a lawn or other fertilized garden plots, the fruit tree roots can reach out and get N from those areas.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 1st, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Elizabeth, Here is info about fertilizing blueberries http://groworganic.com/organic-gardening/articles/blueberry-questions-abound and raspberries Raspberries want soil high in organic matter, so work in some compost; you can also add a balanced organic fertilizer in early spring.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 1st, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Kathy, We are very happy to hear you are enjoying our videos! Thank you!

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 1st, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Alicia and Mary Pat, Thanks for your kind words!

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 1st, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Myrna, You have sharp eyes! We used the apple tree as a hypothetical example and the actual tree fertilized in the video was a younger, smaller apricot tree.

Bridget Says:
Apr 2nd, 2013 at 7:03 am

How about Walnut?

Indira Says:
Apr 2nd, 2013 at 7:32 am

What do your recommend for fertilizer and schedule citrus and avocados?

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 3rd, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Bridget, As long as your walnut tree looks healthy and is producing a crop, do not fertilize it.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 4th, 2013 at 10:16 am

Indira, Citrus and avocados are very similar in requiring a higher nitrogen than phosphate or potassium (minimum 2-1-1). 
The feeding schedule will vary depending on the age of the tree, with more frequency when younger.  Following directions of the product label will designate frequency and age or truck diameter requirements.  Usually both require fertilizing 3 to 4 times a year. 

In addition, citrus and avocados require trace minerals.  Lack of these will result in a lack of sweetness in citrus - if fertilizer does not include trace minerals, they should be added twice a year as a supplement.  For this reason, EB Stone Citrus & Fruit Tree Food 7-3-3 http://www.groworganic.com/citrus-and-fruit-tree-food-7-3-3-4-lb-box.html  is a good match for these trees requirements since it has both macro and micro- nutrients .

Symptoms of nutrient deficiencies are as follows:

Pale green leaves verging to yellow, can be low nitrogen.
Green veins with pronounced yellow between, can be low iron (trace mineral).
Mottled green and yellow starting at the outside of the leaves, can be low zinc (trace mineral) - especially on avocados.
Yellow leaves on citrus, can be either over watering or lack of nitrogen.
Burnt tips on green leaves, can be a sign of over fertilizing.

A well-balanced fertilizer including trace minerals, fed at the appropriate amounts and intervals should avert deficiences.  Environmental stresses can cause other issues for citrus, but with proper nutrition they will be healthier and less likely to fail.

D L Reynolds Says:
Apr 28th, 2013 at 8:36 am

Do the growth measurements indicated apply to dwarf fruit trees, standards, or all sizes? Many thanks.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 29th, 2013 at 11:15 am

D.L., The university discussions of growth measurements do not distinguish between dwarf, semi-dwarf, and standard fruit trees. Please note that the trunk size of the dwarf tree will be smaller, the semi-dwarf and standard trunk sizes will be similar.

Donna Says:
May 7th, 2013 at 8:56 am

I have “Stella” Cherry Tree, i bought in 2009. it doesn’t produce that much fruits. what do i need to do?

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
May 8th, 2013 at 10:31 am

Donna, Go ahead and do the measurements in this article and see if your Stella cherry tree needs to be fertilized. Since Stella is known for fruitfulness I think you should also do a soil test near the tree and see if any nutrients are lacking.

Jean Says:
Oct 2nd, 2013 at 11:34 am

I got two bare root jujube trees this Feb, and so far they have a very slow growth.  Didn’t see any new leafs for a while. And one of them start to turn a little bit yellow now. Should I fertilize them and water them more often now? Or I should wait until nxet spring? Thank you!

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Oct 3rd, 2013 at 11:17 am

Jean, The yellowing of the leaves is due to the season change and the tree getting ready to drop its leaves for the winter. Do wait until spring to fertilize, as we say in the article here. Jujubes do well in Texas and here is additional info about them from Texas A&M University (they also say to fertilize only in the spring) https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/fruit-nut/fact-sheets/jujube/ Jujubes don’t want to be soaked, so extra water is unlikely to be needed. Did you have a particularly dry summer and fall so far?

katherine Says:
Nov 12th, 2013 at 8:13 am

what about areas where it snows. Sometimes there is still a foot of snow on the ground in spring and the trees are already starting to bud and bloom. I don’t have the energy to dig up snow just to apply fertilizer (50+trees).

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Nov 12th, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Katherine, If your trees have begun to bloom while there is snow on the ground, don’t dig! Wait until the snow melts and you can still fertilize until June. Don’t fertilize in late summer or fall, though, because the new growth put on by the tree can be damaged by frost.

Rose Moon Says:
Nov 22nd, 2013 at 10:44 am

my peach tree has sap coming out on the branches.  it was also on the peaches this summer.  the trees are about 6 years old.  The branches do not seen to be damaged.  what can I do.

Stephanie Brown Says:
Dec 19th, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Rose Moon, The first step is to identify what’s wrong with the tree. There are about three common things that can be. If you can find small dark holes in the branches where the sap is coming from that is peach tree borer. If there are no holes and you’re seeing limb dieback and amber colored gum, it’s probably bacterial canker. If it is a dwarf peach tree the answer is sometimes the roots suck up more water than the tree needs and it bleeds out the top. Good luck with diagnosis, I hope you find the answer.

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