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We have many different fruit trees (lemon, orange, tangerine, lime, apple, cherry, fig, and more), so I’ve done hours of research to find the right fertilizers.
This guide is designed for both planted and potted fruit trees, so by all means, stick around! I’m sure you’ll find this useful.
Why Do We Have to Use Fertilizer?
No matter if this is your first fruit tree or your 50th, you’re likely going to need to fertilize it and provide it with nutrients at some point.
This is especially true with potted fruit trees, as they have a limited amount of soil to work with.
On the other hand, planted fruit trees can grow their roots to be far-reaching and access a wider area to absorb more nutrients from the soil. Because of this, if the soil is rich enough, planted fruit trees likely won’t need much fertilizer (if any at all).
However, the problem with many store-bought fertilizers is that they’re fast-release, meaning the potent nutrients can spread through the soil too quickly.
This can either overload and kill the plant, or the majority of nutrients will be leached through the soil—unused by the plant.
Fortunately, there are a few brands out there that are not only slow-release fertilizers but organic and easy to use.
These Are the Top 3 Fertilizers for Fruit Trees
- Down to Earth Organic Fruit Tree Mix
- Dr. Earth’s Organic Fruit Tree Fertilizer
- Jobe’s Organic Fruit Tree Mix
Bonus: Organic Compost
Why I Like Down to Earth the Best
Down to Earth started in Oregon in the late 70s as a result of American gardeners demanding organic options to the countless synthetic fertilizers filling the shelves. They caught the market right on time to be a part of the booming organic movement in the 80s.
Today, most physical products outsource their manufacturing and production to other companies, which means standards are never as good and facilities are also shared with countless other products and brands.
On the other hand, Down to Earth owns their own manufacturing plant and carefully sources their suppliers to have a premium fertilizer with better ingredients. This not only benefits the tree but also the microbes in the soil (which is even more important!).
Down to Earth’s fertilizers are OMRI listed for growing organic crops that meet USDA’s organic standards.
If growing organically is important to you, Down to Earth is a great choice for fertilizer. However, I would recommend double-checking the product description and their website to make sure it meets your standards, especially if you’re growing commercially.
Down to Earth has an NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) that’s better suited for fruit trees. Fruit are typically high nitrogen feeders and sometimes require double the nitrogen to phosphorus and potassium (especially citrus and avocado trees).
Many fruit tree fertilizers have an NPK of 3-5-5 (about half the nitrogen to phosphorus and potassium), while Down to Earth’s Fruit tree Mix has an NPK of 6-2-4.
Don’t get me wrong, the other fertilizers are great. The only difference is that the lower nitrogen content in their fertilizer encourages fruiting and blossoming over foliage growth, which is good for more mature fruit trees.
But for most fruit trees, especially younger ones that still need some growing, Down to Earth’s NPK is a better choice.
Variety of Fertilizers
Down to Earth also offers many different blends, along with individual ingredients such as kelp, bone, and blood meal. While you can mix your own blends with these ingredients, I like to keep it easy and use their pre-made blends.
I’ll include a list of their fertilizer mixes on Amazon, along with which fruiting plant you should pair them with.
|Fruit Plant||Down to Earth Fertilizer|
|Apple/Pear||Fruit Tree Mix|
|Cherry/Plum||Fruit Tree Mix|
|Peach||Fruit Tree Mix|
|Olive||Fruit Tree Mix|
|Fig||Fruit Tree Mix|
|Palm Tree (Coconuts & Dates)||Fruit Tree Mix|
|Mulberry||Fruit Tree Mix|
While it’s not the main selling point, Down to Earth’s packaging is compostable, which is a nice, small touch (bonus points for making it easy to get on board with).
Even though it’s not the first thing I look for when shopping for a quality organic fertilizer, the little things do count.
What To Look For in a Fertilizer
Normally, when you’re shopping for organic fruit fertilizers, are a few key indicators can help you spot what makes a good fertilizer vs a bad one.
Here are some of the biggest differences to look for:
- Quality, organic materials
- Proper NPK
- Slow-release ingredients
- Transparent manufacturing
- How long the brand has been around (and its reputation)
As long as the fertilizer you find meets these points, it should be a safe bet to use for your plant. Remember, you can always start small with fertilizer to see how your fruit tree likes it.
If you notice any adverse or extreme reactions, like leaves falling off, then stop applying the fertilizer and try to determine what the issue is and if it came from the fertilizer.
To help identify and resolve what issue may be affecting your fruit tree, check out my other post about saving dying fruit trees.
Also, if you’re not a fan of the two fertilizers I suggested above, and you want to do your own shopping, check out this page on Amazon for a good start.
What You Can Expect From Synthetic Fertilizers
Something that we often forget about is that just like how we do well with fresh food and a healthy gut, plants do the same. Not only do they thrive on high-quality nutrients, but they also grow much better in soil that has a healthy microbe population.
Unfortunately, the majority of fertilizers made today are synthetic, which means they contain plastics and other chemicals. I don’t know what life forms out there that can eat plastic and still stay healthy, but it can’t be a good long-term solution.
So, while fruit trees can absorb and use some nutrients from synthetic fertilizers, it often comes to the detriment of the long-term health of the tree and the microorganisms in the soil. This is one of the quickest ways to turn soil into dirt.
Fruit Tree Soil pH
Fruit trees (and most plants) generally prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0.
Without a balanced soil pH, fruit trees are unable to properly absorb nutrients from the soil.
This is because a slightly acidic soil pH dissolves the nutrient solids and makes them more accessible to the plant’s finer roots.
Fourteen of the seventeen essential plant nutrients are obtained from the soil. Before a nutrient can be used by plants it must be dissolved in the soil solution. Most minerals and nutrients are more soluble or available in acid soils than in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.Donald Bickelhaupt, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
The best ways to check your soil’s pH are with pH strips or a meter. I prefer using a pH meter since they’re easy to use and affordable. To see which pH meter I use and recommend, check out my recommended tools page.
If you find your fruit tree’s soil pH is too acidic (below 6.0), apply alkaline amendments such as wood ash, biochar, or lime.
For soil that’s too alkaline (above 7.0), apply acidic amendments such as sand, peat moss, and coffee grounds.
Keep in mind that some fruiting plants such as blueberries and grapes prefer even more of an acidic pH. You can check your specific fruit tree’s preferred soil pH with a quick Google search.
How to Make Your Own Homemade Fruit Tree Fertilizer
If you’re like me and you’re always experimenting or finding new ways to do something, or if you simply don’t want to buy fertilizer, you can make great fruit tree fertilizer at home. It’s also a great project to do with your family and friends.
I spent several hours researching and testing various methods for homemade fruit fertilizer and put it into a blog post, so make sure to check it out by visiting the post below.
Bonus Tips to Grow More Fruit
- Mulch – Apply 4-12 inches of mulch every 3-6 months under your fruit tree’s canopy. Keep it at least 3 inches away from the tree’s trunk to avoid mold. Only apply mulch if the soil is well-draining.
- Watering – Only water when the first 2-4 inches of soil is dry. I check this by pushing my finger into the soil, under the tree’s canopy.
- Pollination – Even though most fruit varieties are self-pollinating, they do best when they’re cross-pollinated. This commonly leads to larger fruits, more fruiting, and fewer fruit drop.
- Zones – For best results, grow fruit trees in their preferred zones (such as citrus in zones 9-11). While some fruit tree varieties are more hardy than others, many have a difficult time growing in irregular zones. To find your zone, check this map by the USDA.
Many of my permaculture clients tell me they’re frustrated that their fruit trees keep dying. They plant fruit tree after fruit tree, only for them to be replaced within a few months.
It took me a while to get it too, but once I did, it clicked.
The secret is that fruit trees are not made to be the first plants in a landscape.
Fruit trees are some of the most sensitive plants as they naturally grow after the pioneer plants have arrived (such as pine, acacia, and mesquite).
These pioneer plants are designed to grow in difficult conditions and establish the soil and canopies—dramatically helping fruit trees and other sensitive plants to grow.
This is why building healthy soil is the best and first thing to do before planting fruit trees.
We often do the opposite and plant fruit trees and then build the soil. It’s no wonder why so many of our fruit trees die on us.
So, build the soil, plant pioneers, and sit back and watch your fruit trees thrive.
You can learn more with my Permaculture Food Forest course.