How to Fertilize an Orchard

There's a lot that goes into ensuring you have healthy trees in your orchard. Proper fertilization is one of the essentials for good crop growth, and knowing when and how to apply fertilizer is key. Explore everything you need to know about tree growth, fertilizer options and the right fertilizing process to follow. If your orchard needs fertilizer spreaders, turn to your local Pequea dealer.

Understanding Tree Growth and Development

All plants need 16 essential elements, but fruit trees rely mostly on macronutrients. These include phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, sulfur and calcium, which must be applied regularly. Hydrogen, oxygen and carbon are also required in large amounts. This means it's important to incorporate irrigation and water management strategies if you live in areas with little or no rainfall.

Preplant Year

You should test the soil one year in advance of planting your fruit trees, or even two years in advance if pH adjustments may be needed. The pH measures the acidity and affects crop performance and nutrient uptake. If you prefer to use manure, you should apply it one year before planting.


Some soil may lack potassium, calcium and phosphorus. These nutrients should be applied at the base of the hole so the new tree's root system can access them. These three nutrients do not move quickly in the soil, and applying them when planting makes the nutrients more readily available.

Second Year

Apply nitrogen and other macronutrients in the second year. Use 1/8 lb of nitrogen per year of tree age. This means that in the second year, you should use 1/4 lb of actual nitrogen. For an 8-year-old tree, you should add 1 lb of actual nitrogen.

Understanding Numbers on Your Fertilizer

There are three main numbers on bags of fertilizer. Proper fruit tree care and maintenance includes understanding these numbers. The first number represents nitrogen, the second is phosphorus and the third is potassium. For example, 17-25-32 means 17% nitrogen, 25% phosphorus and 32% potassium.

Cation exchange capacity (CEC) refers to the negatively charged soil sites that adsorb plant nutrient cations such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. Sandy soils have less exchange sites than clay soils. The amount of nitrogen needed would also depend on your location, with some areas not needing large amounts of the nutrients due to high levels of organic matter already in the soil.

Determining Quantity of Fertilizer to Apply

Both organic and inorganic fertilizers have a specific formulation of the essential elements. If the percentage of the nutrient you're targeting is low, you'll need to apply more of the fertilizer to meet the requirements. Check the amount of elements in your fertilizer bag to ensure nutrient levels are not reaching toxic levels at application. Use the right fertilization techniques and practices to reach your ideal goal. It's recommended to use an orchard fertilizer spreader that can spread both organic and inorganic fertilizer as well as dry material with precision.

Steps for Fertilizing an Orchard

Follow these five steps to give your orchard the nutrition it needs all year long:

  1. Know when to fertilize: The best time to fertilize your fruit trees is early spring, then stop applying the fertilizer after July.
  2. Take measurements: Some of your trees may not need to be fed yearly or in the same amounts. For example, some trees will grow many leaves but yield few fruits if they have too much nitrogen.
  3. Choose the right fertilizer: There are different types of fertilizers on the market, but fruit trees mostly prefer organic, high-nitrogen fertilizers. Your orchard fertilizer should have nitrogen as well as other micronutrients.
  4. Decide how much fertilizer to use: After picking the right fertilizer for your fruit trees, you should determine the right amount of fertilizer to use on each tree. This amount will be based on the age or size of the fruit tree.
  5. Apply the fertilizer: Apply your fertilizer evenly, starting a foot away from the tree trunk and continuing all the way to the drip line.

Fertilizer Options for Orchard Trees

Proper tree growth and development requires the right nutrition, which by extension means the right fertilizer for each type of tree. What an apple tree requires to blossom may differ from what an orange tree needs. In addition, it's important to take care of your soil if you expect an abundant harvest. Fruit trees thrive in fertile, well-drained soil. Soil testing will tell you which specific nutrient deficiencies your soil has, and the results will help you determine the ideal fertilizer composition for your orchard.

Fertilizers can be organic or synthetic. Organic fertilizers are anima-based or plant-based and release nutrients slowly over time. They mimic nature's processes of breaking down residual harvest and leaves into soil nutrients. Synthetic or chemical fertilizers have a higher concentration of nutrients.

Several types of fertilizer provide the amount of nitrogen as well as potassium and phosphorus your fruit trees need, including:

  • Powdered fertilizer: Powdered fertilizer can be applied in powder form or diluted in water around the tree bases. It is straightforward and economical to apply across large operations, making powdered fertilizers a top choice for orchards with hundreds of acres.
  • Granular fertilizer: You can apply granular fertilizer as-is to your soil. It comes in solid granules and is not meant to be diluted in water like powdered fertilizer. Each granule has equal amounts of nutrients, making it possible to spread the nutrients around your root systems evenly.
  • Liquid fertilizer: This ready-made solution does not need to be diluted in water. Liquid fertilizer is a versatile option that you can mix with crop protection products.
  • Fertilizer spikes: Fertilizer spikes are driven into the ground, and they release nutrients into the soil over time slowly. While this option is convenient, it's important to note that the nutrients may have a limited ability to travel through the soil. Some areas of the roots might get high quantities of nutrients, while others get little or none.

Turn to Pequea for Fertilizer Spreaders

A healthy, productive orchard year after year depends on adequate nutrition. These nutrients are available in a wide range of fertilizers. For proper application, invest in an orchard fertilizer spreader from Pequea. Founded in 1970, we are a family-owned agriculture equipment manufacturer, building products stronger to last longer. Farming is in our blood, and Pequea is dedicated to helping your farming operation reap a successful harvest for generations to come.

Contact a Pequea dealer in your area today to browse our ag equipment and find the right solution.