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How to Fertilize Fruit Trees

Do different fruit trees need different fertilizer treatment?


I have a variety of fruit trees, including apple, peach, cherry, plum, and pear. What type of fertilizer should I give them?

— Raymond, Bogota, N.J.


Roger Cook replies: Most people don't know that fruit trees need different fertilizer than other types of trees. Most trees get a fertilizer with a 4-1-1 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, potash. But giving that much nitrogen to a fruit tree will encourage it to put out a tremendous flush of vegetative growth with very few flowers and not much fruit.

A low nitrogen 1-1-1 or 1-2-1 ratio is better. Ideally, the nitrogen component should be half water insoluble, or slow release, and half water soluble. Water-insoluble nitrogen breaks down slowly and feeds the tree over a period of months. Compost or horse and chicken manure are great slow release fertlizers. Water-soluble nitrogen breaks down all at once when it comes in contact with water and gives the tree a quick spurt.

Fertlize fruit in the fall or winter, before they go into dormancy and can't absorb the nutrients. Check with a local nursery or co-operative extension service for the best time to do this in your area.


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