Fruit Tree Fertilization

Fruit Tree Fertilization

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Great plants grow best in healthy garden soil. After all, plants need nutrients and trace elements for robust root growth, healthy foliage and abundant flowers. Throw in fruit as well and your trees and shrubs need extra water and bonus nutrients!

Are you jumping right into a full-scale backyard orchard or just a starter container-gardening culture to feed your family with homegrown fruiting plants? Just getting started with a tiny Victory Garden or Salsa Garden on your balcony or deck? Or, are you a first-time homeowner with established plantings and a *gulp* … lawn?

No matter what kind of gardener you are, just like us, you'll love watching your plants grow and enjoying the literal and figurative fruits of your labor! And never before have there been so many innovative choices for gardeners!  Garden

So, what happens when you are just getting started? It’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed! Don’t worry! is here to the rescue!

Fertilizer Support For Fruit Trees

Feed your plants what they need when they need it!

You want the best fruit your fruit tree can give, right? Good fruit comes from fertile soil, so the key is to maintain soil health. Sometimes, this means adding fertilizer, but also knowing how to prevent over-fertilizing. Fertilizer in excess can be more damaging than no fertilizer at all!  plant in soil

The most practical way of checking soil fertility is by investigating the annual growth of the tree. If you inspect the branches and follow the branch from the tip to the previous year's growth, you can measure how much the fruiting tree grew in a season. New growth is flexible and green, while last year's growth is darker (often brown) and more rigid. A mature, fruit-producing tree should have 6-8 inches of vegetative growth each year. Immature fruit trees grow more quickly, but don't produce fruit.

As you continue in your journey as a gardener, you’ll have more in-depth questions on crops or plant species. Search the #ProPlantTips Garden Blog and #ProPlantTips on each plant's individual product pages for specific advice on your chosen plants. Every product page on our website has Plant Highlights listed. You’ll learn the optimal growing conditions for your plants, including sun exposure, water, and soil requirements.

Location Location Location!

All the fertilizer in the world will not help a plant that’s not growing where it belongs:

  1. Start by making the right plant choices for your landscape but just as vital is the right location for your plant! Or choose the plant based on what location you have available. A desert plant will Fruit Tree likely rot in a damp wetland. An acid-loving plant will suffer in alkaline soil. Sun-lovers won’t bloom in deep shade nor will you get fruit. If a plant is in the wrong location, fertilizer isn’t going to help it survive!
  2. All fruiting trees and shrubs need full sun, at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. There are a few exceptions, but you’ll always get a bigger, healthier and tastier harvest in the sun! The right start and proper care can make or break your successful fruit harvest. 
  3. Check for drainage. If you have an area that’s always soggy or water pools there often, you may consider choosing a new location. Or berming the area to raise the roots above the suffocating and rotting water table. Add 18-24 inches of native soil or topsoil to the planting site in a mound, and plant into that mound.  Blueberries

Choose plants that work in your hardiness zone. You can also use raised beds or containers, where you can more easily control the soil conditions, or work around problem areas with much more ease. For all other plants, shrub and tree care, tips, tricks and pruning techniques, head over to our Garden Blog!

Soil Testing & pH

Get your soil tested to understand the levels of nutrients already present in your soil. Buy a soil test kit, or ask your States County Ag Extension office for more complete testing. There is no need to amend your soil if you don’t need to. In fact, you can also do more harm than good by overdoing it with synthetic soil amendments.

You will definitely want to know your soil pH, which ranges from 1 – 14. Anything below 7 is considered acidic. Some plants prefer acidic soil. As an example, Blueberries fruit best in acidic soil around 4.5 on the scale. But vegetables need more neutral soil.  Testing Soil

States in the North and Southeastern United States generally have more acidic soil. Western states usually feature alkaline soil, which is above 7. Sweeten up acidic soil over time with garden lime. Lower pH with Sulfur and pine straw mulch. Test your soil pH every year or so to avoid overdoing it.

You may also have deficiencies in micronutrients that can be corrected once you know what you are dealing with. The pH of the soil drastically affects how plants take up nutrients. So it's very important to get your soil tested! 

The Basics of How Plants Use Primary Nutrients

Soil is "fertile" if it has the right balance of nutrients to support healthy growth, combined with good organic matter and the right amounts of moisture. The main 3 nutrients that plants use the most are nitrogen, potassium, and phosphates. You can find pre-mixed fertilizers at your garden store that include all of these.

Balanced fertilizers show the numbers 10-10-10 on the label. These are good, all-purpose fertilizers used to support the needs of a wide range of plants.

Carefully apply any fertilizer according to directions. It’s best to wait for a day that isn’t windy to apply.

See all Nature Hills Fruit Tree and Shrub formulas.

Fertilizer 101

Keeping it simple, you’ll see the "NPK" rating listed on the packaging of soil fertilizers. Most garden fertilizers contain three major plant nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K). The formulas can also contain small amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron, sulfur and boron.

N = Nitrogen for Leaves

Nitrogen is all about green foliage development. The fertilizer will have this number listed first. Use care when applying high nitrogen fertilizer (often lawn formulas) around flowering and fruiting plants. You may end up over-feeding nitrogen and actually end up reducing the amount of flowering (and therefore fruiting!).

P = Phosphorus for Roots, Flowers and Fruit

Phosphorus helps plants develop both roots and flower buds. This is a critical nutrient to support the production of fruit and seed. You’ll often see higher phosphorus fertilizers used in winterizing formulas to help plants form stronger roots over the dormant periods of the NPK Formula growing season.

However, Phosphorus is also needed by your fruit trees by supporting the formation of buds, flowers, and therefore - fruit!

K = Potassium

Potassium supports overall growth by helping move nutrients and water through the plant. You’ll get brighter flowers, better shape and growth habit, and more flavorful fruit with this important nutrient!

Research shows using arborist wood chips over the top of the roots as mulch for your fruit trees and other plants is much more beneficial to improving your soils than incorporating soil amendments. Not to mention all the other amazing benefits mulch has on your plant's roots!

Special Needs and Circumstances

Acid-loving plants need a specialized formula that maintains proper pH levels. Fruiting plants require specialized formulas. 

  • Blueberry fertilizer supports a low pH to encourage fruiting. 
  • Use a Citrus fertilizer for best flower and fruit production, especially if you are growing in an indoor/outdoor container culture.

Growing organically? Use an organic formula, which is an especially great idea for fruiting plants. We feature many great brands on our site!

Types of Fertilizer

There are a few different types of fertilizers and each has a different method of application. It is important to choose the right formula for your plant. They come packaged in a variety of ways, including foliar sprays, granules, and liquid fertilizers.

  • Foliar - Sprays on the leaves for trees and shrubs to absorb into the foliage itself
  • Granular - Sprinkled on the ground, scratched/raked in & dissolve with rain/water   Spraying Fertilizer
  • Liquid Fertilizers & Concentrates - Spray on the ground to soak

While not frequently used, spraying the leaves with foliar sprays is one method of application. 

A top-dressing on the soil surface with granular fertilizers, and application of liquid fertilizer to the root zone after it has been diluted in water, are more frequent methods of fertilizing. Gradually breaking down and soaking into the soil. These fertilizers can be organic or not, and will typically have the longest residual effect.

Slow-release fertilizer provides nutrients that are available to the plants over a longer period of time, breaking down gradually. Look at the label to see how long the fertilizer will benefit the plants. Every manufacturer also has different application rates, so following the label directions becomes important.

Don’t waste money with too much product. More isn’t always better! Fertilizer is also not a fix-all/cure-all. So if your plant looks stressed, look for why instead of reaching for the fertilizer.

At the same time, don’t limit your success with not enough product.

Specifically For Fruit Trees

You want a fertilizer packed with phosphates to promote healthy fruit and flower development. A common mistake among new home gardeners is to use too much nitrogen or the wrong type of nitrogen compound, plus nitrogen additives can affect the pH of the soil. High nitrogen fertilizers can cause excessive leafy growth and not flowers. So watch where you are applying lawn fertilizers so you don't spread them in the root zones of your fruit trees and small fruits (or many flowering plants). You’ll see leaves but reduced flowers or fruit in many cases.

If your soil pH is above 7.0, that means it's "basic", or "sweet" soil and you should use an ammonium-based fertilizer for nitrogen. If you find that your soil pH is below 7.0, that means it's "acidic" and you should use a nitrate solution for nitrogen. To learn more about pH and how to test your soil, ask a local horticulturist or agriculture extension agency. 

A suggested rate of fertilizer to use for each fruit tree is one pound of fertilizer for every inch in trunk diameter. But it is important to be sure to read the directions on the fertilizer packaging! Some fertilizers are packaged more concentrated than others. 

Fertilizer Timing

Fruiting Trees and Shrubs can be fed in early spring and mid-summer. For Fruit trees and plants, it’s usually best to apply formulas in early spring as new growth emerges, but right before bloom. Typically, if you have determined that your plants are lacking some nutrients, it should be applied in spring. For most trees and depending on your growing zone, this is around March.

Some heavy feeders need another application again in mid-summer. Be sure to know the flowering time of each specific tree! If you purchase your tree from Nature Hills, you can figure this out with a quick look at that plant's product page.

When to STOP Using Fertilizers   Fertilizer and Soil

Don’t apply fertilizers in late summer or fall, especially in growing zones that have cold winters. You’ll risk exposing a fresh wave of new growth to extreme temperatures. This year's new growth needs a couple of months before a frost to harden off and be ready to survive those cold winter temperatures. 

Key Take-Aways

Don't let all this talk of numbers, pH and nutrients scare you out of buying a fruit tree! Fertilization is much simpler than it sounds:

  1. Don't overdo it!
  2. Phosphates are your friends!
  3. Pay attention to pH!  Key Takeaways
  4. Read the directions!

For Healthy Plants, Boost the Roots!

Healthy, vigorous plants ward off diseases and insect pressure far better than stressed ones. Protect your investment in landscape and fruiting plants by focusing on root development. Healthy soil is filled with a microcosm of millions of naturally occurring helpful bacteria and mycorrhizae fungal organisms. Think of these as probiotics for your plants!

Mycorrhizae fungus is one of the best ways to support your plants over their whole life cycle. It partners with your plant to increase the root’s ability to access water and nutrients.

Adding Nature Hills Root Booster to your planting hole gives you an easy-to-use mycorrhizal inoculant. Your plants will develop a bigger, more efficient root system. That translates to a healthier plant!

Even with existing plantings, Nature Hills Root Booster is helpful. Pour the packet around the soil surface, and scratch it in using a garden fork. Water it in well, and you’ll be on your way to seeing a leap in productivity.   Root Booster

Root Booster partners with your plant in a symbiotic beneficial relationship. It will also improve your soil naturally, and help your plants gain access to nutrients and moisture.

Another product that supports healthy root production is the Fertilome Root Stimulator. It is added to water and applied to all newly planted flowers, shrubs, trees and houseplants. It has a 4-10-3 ratio and will jump-start a stronger root structure to naturally develop more vigorous growth.

High-Density Planting in Small Space Gardens

People are seeking out opportunities to add fruiting plants and vegetable gardens in small spaces. This is where the smart use of fertilizers and technology comes into play! With the rise in edible landscaping and smaller yards, the need to pack more into less has become even more important!

Since the 1930s, the use of synthetic commercial fertilizers has produced big yields in a small footprint. Universities have a wealth of research on the chemistry requirements of specific agronomic crops. These days, many earth-conscious homeowners understand that yearly and general overuse of these chemical fertilizers with high percentages of nitrogen has had some adverse effects on groundwater and runoff.   Small Garden

Growing more for the ever-increasing population on less ground is going to be an ongoing problem in our world today and not something that is going away any time soon. Therefore, backyard food sustainability and food security concerns are on the rise!

Get Bigger Yields With Common Organic Fertilizers and Soil Amendments

Organic fertilizers, while perhaps a bit less precise, are readily available and environmentally friendly resources for small-scale homegrown food crops. You are what you eat after all! Plus there are many to choose from, so we’ve prepared a list of some of the most common options.

You can add soil amendments as single ingredients by themselves, but they can often be found in combination as part of a balanced prepared fertilizer formula. These plant "superfoods" are designed to provide a boost in performance.

Types of Alternative Fertilizers

Garden newbies, get ready to be amazed (and maybe a little grossed out) at this list of wild, weird, wonderful, and effective alternative soil amendments. 

  • Alfalfa Meal is a nitrogen fixer and a reliable source of nitrogen. Gardeners use this as a spring-time top-dressing applied on the soil surface of many flowering plants and vegetables. It acts as a soil conditioner to increase both nitrogen and organic matter in the soil.  Alfalfa meal
  • Bat Guano enriches the soil and can activate compost. Use this on lawns and landscape plants to support foliage growth.
  • Blood Meal is a great source of naturally occurring nitrogen. Use on plants that have yellow or pale green chlorotic leaves that are struggling to produce enough chlorophyll. It can repel rabbits and deer, as well.
  • Bone Meal provides phosphorus and encourages root production, blooming and fruiting. This can be used on Roses as a support for up to 4 months.
  • Cottonseed Meal conditions the soil, while slightly lowering the pH over time. It is great for acid-loving plants like Azaleas, Blueberries and Japanese Maples. As a nutrient-rich organic material, it also supports beneficial bacterial and fungal colonies in the soil.   Cottonseed Meal
  • Compost improves your soil and can feed all your trees, shrubs, perennials, Roses, and veggies. Include a few handfuls in your planting hole, and use them annually as a top-dressing and mulch.
  • Cow Manure must be well-aged before you apply to landscape plants. Once composted, cow manure (or other livestock) helps improve soil conditions and adds healthy organic material.
  • Earthworm Castings provide plants with important beneficial microorganisms and aid in disease resistance. They can be added to the top few inches of backfill soil when planting, used as a mulch, or included in the compost pile.
  • Fish Emulsion or Fish Bone Meal supports plants as an all-purpose fertilizer. Different formulas can be used as a foliar spray on the leaves or added to water as a soil drench to feed both plants and helpful microbes.
  • Kelp Meal increases yields by supporting your plant’s ability to take in nutrients. It can be used on flowers, trees, and vegetables to increase vigor.   Kelp
  • Pine Bark mulch naturally lowers the pH for Blueberries and other acid-loving plants. Test your soil regularly to understand the acid-base balance of your soil.
  • Rock Phosphate is a nutrient-rich dry powder that helps plants deliver big blooms and abundant fruit set. Roses and vegetables readily utilize this natural source of phosphorus.
  • Urea is an enriched source of nitrogen that greens up foliage quickly.

Get Big Results!

Get the most from your plants with thoughtful use of Root Boosters, soil amendments, and proper fertilizer timing and application. Plus the right amount of sun, air, and water along with great soil are the keys to successful plant gardening!

Don’t forget to pick up a pollinator buddy for your fruit tree to increase your yields, and grab a few flowering perennials and shrubs to attract those ever so industrious bees and beneficial insects to help pollinate your trees!

Happy Planting with Nature Hills Nursery!

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