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How to Fertilize Mature Fruit Trees

by Stark Bro's on 05/14/2014
Stark® Orchard Fertilizer

Well-established mature fruit trees that are in good health tend to thrive regardless of the season. Regular care and maintenance isn’t time consuming, but it truly makes a difference in the life and longevity of a fruit tree. Even though they’re already established, mature fruit trees may require additional nutrients than what the native soil can provide to remain healthy — especially if the trees are still in their fruit-bearing years.

This is why it’s important to know about how and when to fertilize mature fruit trees.

The act of fertilizing older fruit trees isn’t much different from fertilizing new fruit trees, but the fertilizer used — and the intent — slightly differs. Fertilizing in the later years of a fruit tree’s life helps to encourage vigor and to support regular, heavy bearing.

When fertilizing established fruit trees, you should have:

  • Older fruit trees — trees that have been in the ground for 3 or more years.
  • A fertilizer of your choice, like Stark® Orchard Fertilizer, or a soil amendment like compost, well-aged manure, etc.
    • Fertilizer intended for use on mature fruit trees would be best.

Measure Trunk DiameterDirections:

  • Read and follow the label for the product you are about to use.

    • Stark® Orchard Fertilizer recommends 1/4 lb of fertilizer for each inch of trunk diameter.
    • 4-inches of trunk diameter equates to a 1-lb application of Stark® Orchard Fertilizer.
  • Apply fertilizer evenly to the root zone of the tree; specifically the drip line.

    • The drip line is the circular area on the ground beneath the branch tips — the area where water “drips” after a good rain.
    • Feeder roots best absorb moisture and nutrients in this area.

Watch, as Elmer demonstrates how to use our Stark® Orchard Fertilizer on established fruit trees »

You may apply Stark® Orchard Fertilizer any time before July during the growing season, starting two weeks before bud-break in the spring. Fertilizing too late in the season can cause trees to grow when they should be shutting down for the winter. This tender new growth, when pushed too late in the season, is also more susceptible to winter injury.

Remember: Find tips on how to fertilize your new or young fruit trees here.

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Topics → Fruit Tree Care, Tips


  1. paul torblaa permalink

    I ordered horseradish and asparagus from you. The horseradish only have 3 shoots that produced results. I would like you to send me replacements.

    • Hi Paul! If you’d like to request replacements, our customer support team is more than happy to work with you. You can reach us at 800.325.4180. Thank you! :)

  2. Pam Murphy permalink

    Thanks for the info on feeding fruit trees. I always wondered how to do that. Now I can follow your example. Many thanks.

  3. Frank B. Ford permalink

    If I use the Orchard Fertilizer on the fruit trees in my yard, which is lawn, since it is all nitrogen, won’t it burn the grass, or at least cause a ring of very contrasting grass? Is there some other product that will be especially beneficial for the trees, and yet not do this to the lawn? Thank you.

    • Good point, Frank! As the article states, you can use compost, well-aged manure, and other organic matter to fertilize your trees as well. You might also want to mulch around the trees, since this keeps competition (from lawn grass and weeds) down, while also providing insulation to the root system. Organic mulch like wood chips (as opposed to inorganic mulch like rocks) breaks down over time providing additional nutrients for your trees.

  4. Scott Schulte permalink

    Hi thank you for the info on when to fertilize. The new peach tree I bought from y’all this spring is in a yard shared with some dogs. One of them will not leave mulch alone so I cant use it to cover the fertilizer. What is your opinion on the fertilizer stakes? I see Stark carries them along with most garden & home improvement centers.
    BTW that was a good healthy tree y’all sold to me. It is going strong with lots of leaves and even put on some flower buds (I picked those off since I don’t think it could support fruit the first year).

    • Glad to hear your tree is doing so well, Scott! I love those tree stakes, personally. They’re slow-release so there’s no need to worry about “too much fertilizer at once”, and they’re a general and easy way to feed your trees. As long as you can discourage the dog from taking interest in digging out the tree spikes, I think they would be a good thing for you to try! :)

  5. Weldon Masters permalink

    I am already on the e-newsletter mailing list.

    Question: I have first year bearing Peach trees, I had some fruit drop with a sticky substance from a pin hole in the fruit. What is the recommended spraying sequence and with what pesticide do I use for next season and the remainder of this year. Many thanks for the information about tips for fertilizer.

    • Hi Weldon! What you’re seeing could have been caused by a wasp sting, bird peck, wind/hail damage, etc. rather than something you need to spray for; however, if it is a pest issue, you can use a spray that is recommended to control pests on peach trees like our Fruit Tree Spray. Any spray you use will have recommendations on the label for timing, but two major times you WON’T spray your trees for pests are: 1. while they are blooming (to avoid killing beneficials like bees) and 2. while the temperatures are consistently in the 90s or hotter (to avoid issues like foliar burns).

      If you notice that the fruit happens to have a half-moon shaped mark on it (rather than a round hole) you’ll know that the pest issue is plum curculio beetles. Timing is most effective on these pests, since they attack the young fruit early on. Your first, and most effective spray, in this case, would have to happen after petal fall, just as the fruit begins to develop.

      • Weldon Masters permalink

        Many thanks for the reply, I did notice Wasp around the trees, also I can tell the birds have pecked the fruit. I hung some aluminum pie plates hoping to scare them away. First year fruit may not be much but looking forward to future years of enjoyment. The trees are doing really well.
        Many thanks again for the information.


  6. Lynn permalink

    Apple Tree Question:
    About 5 years ago, I bought a semi-dwarf Liberty apple tree in a pot from a nursery.
    It has only grown to about 8′ (it was 6′ tall when I planted it), and about 4″ in diameter. It did not have strong limbs yet and only a couple of little apples.

    Compared to my other Starkbros bare root fruit trees, which all grew like crazy and were happy to live, it was sad looking.
    So I bought a new bare root Liberty from Starkbros.

    That existing tree must have known I intended to replace it. It flowered, set fruit, and grew 5″ as soon as I placed the order.

    Although the limbs of the old tree don’t seem able to support the fruit, it is trying to live.
    How hard is it to remove a tree that is not quite right? I have too many trees for my little space.

    What will happen if they are crowded?

    • I’m wondering if the lack of performance in the potted tree is due to it being root-bound. A lot of pot-grown trees, when transplanted into the ground, still think they’re in pots if their roots haven’t been spread outward at planting time. This can be remedied by taking a shovel and sticking it straight down — into the ground as far out from the trunk as the ends of the limbs — and pulling it straight back out (not to dig out dirt, just to clip the circling roots).

      If you plan on moving the tree rather than improving its growth, you can try to dig it up instead. If its root system hasn’t grown much in 5 years, it will be fairly easy to remove/relocate, as long as you keep a majority of the root system intact. We usually recommend moving/transplanting trees after they’re dormant (in the fall, when the leaves have dropped) but while the soil is still workable.

      If the trees are too crowded, you may end up with trees that don’t grow to their intended mature height and they may end up competing for nutrients and light. These aren’t necessarily “bad” things if you stay on top of the pruning and nutrient needs of your trees. :)

  7. Barry A McCarthy permalink

    cherry tree question . I have a sour cherry tree that is about 10 years old . It used to have hundreds of cherries on it every year . The last couple of years there has been a big drop in numbers . So this year in early spring I put in fertilizer sticks around drip line . The tree was just loaded with blossoms , but more than half of the blossoms turned brown and dried up . How can I bring the numbers back up and why did the blossoms turn brown . Thanks

    • Productive fruit trees can quickly deplete the nutrients in the soil around their roots, so your instinct to fertilize was a good one! I’m not sure where you’re located, but I suspect that the weather is to blame. This past winter was harsh for many fruit trees and the early spring wasn’t any nicer with fluctuating cold temperatures. Many fruit trees were affected by this and their sensitive blossoms got burned. I think your effort may have been what the tree needed, and it may just seem like it didn’t help because of the weather.

  8. debbie malinak permalink

    I bought a 2 year old honey crisp apple tree 6 years ago which has never flowered. A golden deliscious bought a year prior has been flowering and producing. Any suggestions??

    • Compared to Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp apple trees are not very vigorous (fast-growing) or precocious (quick to bear fruit). Depending on where you are located, what you’re experiencing may be normal for your Honeycrisp apple tree. I’d predict that it should flower and fruit for you starting next spring; however, there are a few things specific to the Honeycrisp variety to keep in mind:

      Honeycrisp is a cold-hardy apple tree (recommended for zones 3-6). If you are growing the tree too far south, it can negatively affect the productivity of the Honeycrisp apple tree. It may not get enough of a dormant period to stimulate fruit production. This may not be your tree’s issue, but I wanted to mention it just in case.

      The Honeycrisp variety tends to need more calcium than most other apple varieties. We offer a liquid calcium spray that is intended to be used as a foliar application. When the tree is mature enough to produce fruit, a calcium-deficient Honeycrisp tree can develop fruit that has issues with “bitter pit”. Adding calcium will improve the health of the Honeycrisp tree as well as the fruit.

      You can read about more general reasons a fruit tree may not bear fruit here along with a few other things you can try. I hope this helps!

  9. Alice Merriman permalink

    We have several fruit trees and cannot keep the root shoots removed – We have granny apple, McIntosh (I think) apple, cherry, Bartlett pear, and apricot- what are we doing wrong???

    • You’re not doing anything wrong, Alice! Some rootstocks on some varieties are just vigorous, and the suckering is a symptom of that. If you feel that you can’t manage to remove the suckers as they appear, there is a product called Sucker Punch that should help. It’s intended to inhibit growth of sprouts and suckers for six months or so on older trees (it’s not intended for use on trees that are only a year old or younger).

  10. Stacy permalink

    I appreciate the informative articles. I have a question about spraying. When should I spray? I would like to get nice apples, so I thought I just had to wait until the tree was bearing fruit (which it is starting to this year, last year it was too young), but a friend told me that bugs would burrow into the tree and I needed to spray it all throughout it’s life.
    Thanks for any help.

    • You can spray at any time in a tree’s life, as long as you spray with purpose and follow the product label.

      It may be helpful to simplify it, so there are two types of spraying: Preventative and Reactive.

      Preventing pest and disease issues before they’re a problem is an all-around good way to go. You can do this by picking an ideal location for the tree, making sure it has lots of light and doesn’t have standing water issues, and plenty of soil nutrients to keep the tree in good health. You can also use preventative sprays like dormant oil and multi-purpose or copper-based fungicide if you live in an area prone to pests and/or wet springs in which fungal diseases thrive.

      Reactive sprays can be used after there is already a problem — even if the tree doesn’t yet have fruit. Pests and disease can sometimes prevent a tree from bearing fruit if the problem is serious enough. These sprays are often in combination form, like this fruit tree spray.

      Keep in mind, you should never spray pesticides (insecticides, miticides, etc.) while the trees are blooming. This will harm beneficials, like bees and butterflies, on top of harming your fruit production. You should also never spray if it is too hot out (often noted on the product label). If your temperatures are in the upper 80s and 90s (or above), it is too hot to spray — especially oil-based sprays.

      I hope this helps!

  11. Bill Martin permalink

    A friend gave me three old fashioned peach trees about four years ago. The trees were native to this area having been passed down in his family for about two hundred years. They have matured beautifully but every year the little green peaches seem to disapear overnight. There is not one on the ground and most were too high on the tree for deer to reach. I don’t think birds would carry them off as they are a large as big soft shell pecans and green.

    What do you think could be happening?



    • Strange that the fruit would be stolen while still green, especially with no sign of the culprit, but I’m inclined to think squirrels are the thieves you are looking for.

      My neighborhood squirrels let the peaches ripen before stealing my fruit. I’m going to have to invest in one of those motion-activated sprinklers that I’ve heard work well to deter squirrels!

  12. Bill permalink

    How do I wax my apples for storage?

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