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 Fertilizing Fruit Trees

When fertilizing in our home landscapes, we shouldn’t forget about our fruit trees.  Typically, there are several clues we can use to determine how much fertilizer we may need to apply.
The first clue would be to use a soil test, and that would be the most accurate way to determine the fertilizer needs such as this cherry tree.  But there are also other clues we can use such as the look of the tree. Healthy trees should have large, green leaves. They should have the fruit set on and developing normally.  And there should also be relatively few cracks and damaged areas on the bark and the trunk of the tree.
If a tree is showing symptoms such as yellow leaves, small leaves, poor fruit set, and a lot of trunk damage, it may be an indication that the tree is lacking in some nutrients.
The best time to fertilize established fruit trees, is when they enter the bloom period.  And, typically, we’re most concerned with the nitrogen in the soil.  So, in general, a lawn fertilizer such as a high nitrogen fertilizer that’s available at most garden centers will work just fine to fertilize a fruit tree.  You just need to be aware that you shouldn’t use anything that has any herbicide or pre-emergent in it because this may damage the health of the tree.
For a tree like this, that is around four to five years old, we’ll use about one cup of high nitrogen fertilizer.  For a new tree that’s just been planted, we don’t need to use that much – probably only a quarter of a cup of the high nitrogen fertilizer. So, what we’ll do is walk around this tree.  Try to keep the fertilizer out from the trunk, but spread in between the trunk and the edge of the tree.
Once we’ve finished our application of fertilizer underneath the tree, we need to water it in, and then wait until the next year to evaluate and see if the tree may need another application.
This feature story prepared with Jason Graves, Kansas State University Research and Extension Horticulture Agent for Central Kansas Extension District. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at KansasGreenYards.org.