Everything seems to move a little slower in the fall, especially if you’re a gardener. Amid the shorter days and dropping temperatures, it may seem there isn’t much to do for your fruit trees until spring. But what if there were steps you could take even now to prepare for next year’s harvest?
Fall fertilization for fruit trees may sound counterintuitive at first – but in many cases, it can work wonders for the health of your trees and increase your fruit yield next year. Read on to learn more about how fertilizing fruit trees in fall can help you achieve your best harvest yet.
Benefits of Fall Fertilization for Fruit Trees
While not all fruit trees will need the extra help of fall fertilization, it can make a big difference for those that do. There are two main benefits: giving trees a nutrient boost and balancing soil pH. Let’s take a closer look.
How Fall Fertilization Can Help Your Fruit Trees
Depending on your specific type of fruit tree and its overall health, you may want to fertilize it in the fall to provide some extra nutrients. Researching your particular species of tree and learning about its growth cycle and nutrient needs can help you decide what would be best.
Fall fertilization can also be helpful for fruit trees that appear unhealthy and need a nutrient boost. It can be an effective way to give individual trees the extra care they need in order to bounce back for next year.
Additionally, autumn is an ideal time to amend your soil’s pH if needed. To see if this would be helpful in your case, you can test your soil’s pH using an at-home kit and compare it to the ideal levels for your specific type of tree and your geographic region. If the levels need to be balanced, the right fertilizer can help you achieve that goal
Which Fruit Trees Will Benefit the Most from Fall Fertilization
Among the top candidates for fall fertilization, apple trees are perhaps the most likely choice; they notoriously require a lot of nutrition and, therefore, can benefit greatly from fertilization after the harvest season.
For other types of fruit trees, it’s best to evaluate the potential benefits of fall fertilization on a case-by-case basis. If you notice weakness in a tree’s new growth, unusual paleness in the leaves, or issues with the fruit itself, it may be a good idea to give it a fertilization boost in the fall. Soil and foliar testing can help you determine whether to focus on adding nutrients or balancing soil pH levels.
How to Fertilize Fruit Trees in the Fall
Now that we’ve covered the “why” behind fall fertilization, let’s dig into some practical tips for implementing this practice with your trees.
When to Fertilize
Typically, fall fertilization of fruit trees should occur after the harvest season has ended but before the tree enters dormancy for the winter. The exact fertilization window will vary depending on your climate and the species of tree, so you’ll want to take the tree’s growth cycle and your local weather patterns into account.
What to Use
If you use chemical fertilizer, it’s important to pay attention to the ingredients. If you’re looking to balance your soil’s pH, you’ll want to make sure the fertilizer you choose is going to have the desired effect on the soil’s acidic levels.
While nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are all important for fruit trees’ vitality, for fall fertilization, you don’t want to use a chemical fertilizer with a lot of nitrogen. If applied before the tree is fully dormant, nitrogen can stimulate premature growth and throw off the tree’s natural cycle. Low-nitrogen potassium and phosphorus additives are safer to use in the fall.
It’s important to note that organic fertilizers such as compost and manure–both viable options–are exceptions to this nitrogen rule. Even though they’re naturally rich in nitrogen, they can be safely applied once the soil temperature falls under 50 degrees.
How Much to Use and How to Apply
The type of fertilizer you choose will determine how much you’ll need to use and how it should be applied.
For organic compost or manure, you’ll want to spread a 1-2 inch-thick layer out from the base of the tree to the dripline. Remember, the dripline can be determined by the circumference of your tree’s outermost foliage.
With chemical fertilizers, you should follow the product’s directions to determine the proper amount to use. Like organic fertilizer, it should be applied evenly from the base of the tree to the dripline. If your tree is on bare ground, you’ll want to cultivate the fertilizer about 1-2 inches into the soil.
However, if your tree is planted in grass, you’ll need to take extra steps to prevent the lawn from “stealing” the fertilizer. In this case, it’s best to dig small, 6-8 inch-deep holes for the fertilizer at evenly-spaced intervals radiating out from the tree to give it easier access to the roots.
Frequently Asked Questions
Having covered the basics of fall fertilization for fruit trees, let’s turn to some frequently asked questions.
Is there any situation in which I shouldn’t fertilize a fruit tree in the fall?
Yes. If you fertilize a tree that’s too young, it will actually take longer to mature and bear fruit; its development of winter hardiness may also be compromised.
Additionally, since you don’t want to use chemical fertilizers with nitrogen in the fall, if you’re unable to access a low-nitrogen fertilizer, it may be best to just wait until the spring.
Should I do any mulching along with the fall fertilizing?
It depends. If you didn’t mulch earlier in the year, then yes, mulching in conjunction with your fall fertilization may be a good idea. Mulch can also help protect tree roots from colder temperatures, so depending on your climate, you may want to mulch as a way to prepare for winter. If you’re using organic fertilizer, you can mix it with mulch and do both tasks at once.
Get Ready to Fertilize Your Fruit Trees This Fall
As we’ve seen, fertilizing fruit trees in fall can be an incredibly beneficial practice. If your soil or your trees are in need of a little extra help, this simple step can truly make a difference in maximizing your next harvest. So, what are you waiting for? Consider fertilizing your trees this autumn to reap the benefits next year.
To learn more about your trees’ specific needs, check out our other articles about fruit trees.
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Based in Cincinnati, Lauren loves spending time outdoors and witnessing the beauty of Ohio’s changing seasons. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, watercolor painting, and botanical drawing. Lauren believes that everyone has the ability to create a beautiful outdoor space and is passionate about helping readers cultivate their own little slice of paradise.
With a bachelor’s in Classics and a master’s in Library & Information Science, she finds her work deeply fulfilling and enjoys having the opportunity to learn something new every day.