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How to Fertilize New Fruit Trees

by Stark Bro's on 05/13/2014
Stark® Tre-Pep® Tree

One of the most important things you can do for new fruit trees is help them to become established in their environment. Once established, fruit trees are practically self-reliant! The first thing you can do to get your new trees off to the right start is choose the proper planting site. During the growing season, it also helps to fertilize new trees to provide nutrients when trees need them most.

Nitrogen — the first number in the ‘NPK’ value on fertilizer — is what encourages green, vegetative growth. This growth helps create more surface area for photosynthesis; a process by which your trees absorb energy and grow well. Phosphorous/phosphate, the second number, helps encourage root development, which especially important for new plants. Phosphate also helps to encourage blossom and fruit development once fruit trees mature. Potassium (the last number) helps to regulate metabolism and other processes within the tree.

Example of a balanced ‘NPK’ value: 10-10-10 or 12-12-12

The best time to fertilize fruit trees is during the growing season, starting in early spring (around bud-break) and finishing by July. 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.

When fertilizing new fruit trees, you will need:

  • Young fruit trees — trees that are newly planted, or trees that have been in the ground for up to 2 years.
  • A fertilizer of your choice, like Stark® Tre-Pep® Fertilizer, or a soil amendment like compost, well-aged manure, etc.
    • A balanced fertilizer is preferred


  • Mix fertilizer with water as recommended, if water-soluble.
    • If it is in pellet form, scoop the recommended amount — may depend on trunk diameter — see product label for specifics.
  • Pour combined mixture over the root zone of new trees, or sprinkle pellet form fertilizer around the drip line of the tree.
    • The drip line is the circular area on the ground beneath the tips of the branches, where water would “drip” during rain.
    • Application may vary depending on package instructions — follow the product label.

Watch as Elmer demonstrates how to use our Stark® Tre-Pep® Fertilizer on young fruit trees »

You may repeat application of Stark® Tre-Pep® Fertilizer every 10 days, during the growing season, until July. Find tips on how to fertilize your mature fruit trees here.

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Topics → Fruit Tree Care, Tips


  1. Tim permalink

    when I fertilize my young fruit trees they say to use a balanced fertilizer is preferred but I see that the stark tre-pep is a 22-24-12 … will this be ok



    • Our Stark® Tre-Pep® Fertilizer is great for young fruit trees as it helps their roots become established and gives them a boost to develop lush, vegetative growth.

      It’s good to have an understanding of your soil before adding any nutrients to it. If your soil is naturally high in nitrogen or other elements, it may be better to use a milder fertilizer that suits the needs of the things you’re growing. Also, if you’re applying organic matter like aged manure, compost, or grass clippings, you may not need to apply any additional fertilizer.

  2. Robert Smigielski permalink

    I add a top dressing of grass clippings that my suburban neighbors drop off at my request. A win-win situation where they bag their grass clippings and I use them as a compost layer around my apples, peaches, and in my 12 vegetable beds. I also top off the ground around each fruit tree with aged wood mulch and the combination works great.

    • Thanks for sharing your tips here, Robert! It’s always helpful to hear different methods that work. :)

  3. William Coleman permalink

    My 2 year old Saturn Peach tree is starting it’s 3rd year, it has leafed out but no buds or blooms. We live in mid state Ill. we had a very hard winter, should I be concerned? I lost my first year Sentry peach. All my apple trees look GREAT.

    • This past winter was especially harsh on peach trees. They tend to have sensitive fruiting buds and prolonged low temperatures can cause damage and hinder the fruit crop.

      Chances are your peach tree had its fruit buds damaged this winter and that is why it has not bloomed or fruited. The fact that it is leafing out is a good sign, so I don’t think you need to worry! Your tree will be able to use this growing season to store nutrients and try to fruit next spring. I’m glad to hear your apple trees are doing well! Hopefully the weather is a little kinder to us this coming year. :)

  4. Kathy Barlean permalink

    I planted a peach tree 4 years ago. The last 2 years I had a bumper crop, but this year no blossoms at all. It is leafing out just fine. Could you tell me why this happened? Thanks for your time.

    • A bumper crop sometimes causes a fruit tree to go into “biennial bearing” mode — meaning it bears heavily and then bears a lighter crop the next year, or it may even take the next year off and not bear fruit at all.

      It can also happen as a result of the weather. I’m not sure where you’re located, but this past winter was a harsh one for many areas and peach trees took it pretty hard. Peach fruiting buds are sensitive to periods of low temperatures and they may become damaged as a result. It happened to our peach trees here in Northeastern Missouri, but our neighbors several miles south show no signs of injury on their peach buds.

      It is more than likely one of these two issues, but the good news is that your peach trees will put their energy into growing and storing nutrients to support a fruit crop next year — as long as the weather cooperates. ;)

      • Kathy Barlean permalink

        Thanks, Sara. I live in Des Moines, Iowa and our winter was very harsh. I’ll be waiting eagerly for next year’s harvest!

  5. Robin permalink

    Hi Sarah. I just planted two pear trees and a plum tree last week (mid May). I know that the soil quality is not great and I used compost when planting. How often should I fertilize with the Stark tree-prep fertilizer?

    • According to the Stark® Tre-Pep® fertilizer label, you can use it at 10-day intervals during the growing season (meaning stopping applications by July). I wouldn’t recommend straying from the directions. Even if the soil in the location you chose to plant your trees is poor, it won’t really benefit the tree to use more fertilizer or to fertilize more frequently. Over-fertilizing may result in “nitrogen burn” or other unwanted reactions in the trees.

  6. Steve F permalink

    I planted 3 apple and two peach trees this year (one peach just a week ago) I used root rejuvenater when planting. What should I do now for fertilizing these young trees? Does Stark have some type of chart for fertilizing, based on start date, amount, type, frequency? Do peach and apple get the same?

    • There really isn’t a chart available, since the applications depend on what you use to fertilize and the needs of your soil/trees; however, packaged fertilizers have a product label with specific application rate instructions. Unpackaged things, like local compost, aged manure, etc., tend to improve soil nutrients as they break down, so they’re more difficult to “overuse”.

      Fortunately, even without a chart, the basics are pretty straightforward: The earliest effective date for a fertilizer application is recommended in early spring around bud-break. The final application should be no later than July 1*. Depending on the fertilizer you use, you can generally make applications every 10-14 days, as needed. Peach trees and apple trees generally respond well to the same fertilizer, so you won’t have to find a special fertilizer for each kind of fruit tree.

      *We don’t recommend applying fertilizer after July because it will encourage growth while the trees should be shutting down for the winter, and the growth will be at risk of winter injury.

  7. Emma Jackson permalink

    is it safe to put 10 10 10 fertilizer around young trees thats about one year old?

    • The short answer is yes, 10-10-10 is a balanced fertilizer that isn’t too strong and is generally more difficult to “overuse”.

      The long answer, and probably better answer, is get to know your soil; have a soil sample tested to see if there are any nutrient deficiencies before you decide to add fertilizer. You can contact your local county cooperative extension for more information on soil testing. :) The type of tree you’re trying to fertilize matters as well, since fruit trees like pawpaws and nut trees like pecans don’t tend to get fertilizer in their first year, which avoids burning the sensitive roots.

  8. Nelly permalink

    I recently purchase some Orange, Cherry, and Apple trees. I live in Camarillo California where we have lots of citrus trees. I was wondering if I should fertilize the trees since I just planted them?

    • At this point in the summer, it may be a little late to worry about fertilizing your new trees. The last growing-season fertilizer application is usually recommended in early summer at the latest in most areas.

      If you’re planning on using soil amendments like compost or well-aged manure, which tend to release nutrients slowly, then you can consider using that now. If you’re going to use water-soluble fertilizer, or fertilizer pellets, then you should wait until spring — usually around February in warmer climates.

  9. Shannon permalink

    Hi, I just purchased a dwarf honey crisp apple tree. I was wondering how exactly to take care of it and what I might need to keep it growing nicley. I’m new to this and have never bought or grown a tree in my life. Thanks for the help!

    • Hi Shannon! We have a Growing Guide for Honeycrisp Apple Trees here. You should find the care and maintenance information especially useful. Happy planting! :)

      Oh, and as a side note, if you don’t have another different variety of apple tree growing nearby (ideally within 50 feet of your tree, but up to a quarter-mile away), your tree won’t be able to set fruit. It needs another apple tree of a different variety (not a second Honeycrisp) to cross-pollinate the flowers when the tree is mature in order to set fruit.

  10. Judy permalink

    Thank you very much for all the helpful articles. they have been a tremendous help. I do have a question I hope you can help with. I have several fruit trees I planted last spring, and some very old pecan trees. I’d like to give them a good start for 2015 – When should I fertilize them? I keep seeing post about how much, and that is should be done early spring- I’m in North Texas (Wichita Falls/Dallas/Fort Worth)- so does that mean February, March- or even April?? Please help me figure out the best way to proceed. Thanks in advance!

    • A lot of first fertilizer applications recommend “spring” as a general statement because “spring-like weather” occurs at various times in various locations. As we state in the article above, “The best time to fertilize fruit trees is during the growing season, starting in early spring (around bud-break) and finishing by July.” Bud-break is when the tree’s buds open into leaves or flowers. That way, all you have to do is look at your trees and not really worry about which month it is, because that can vary by the weather from year to year. I hope this helps! :)

  11. Andy permalink

    I run an orchard of 40 peach trees. This is the first year I’m going to try fertilizer tree spikes. The brand I have has the numbers of 8- 18- 18. Is this a good fertilizer for peach trees ?

    • The composition of those fertilizer spikes should be just fine for your peach trees. The NPK value (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potash), which is what those numbers mean, shows that the nitrogen content is lower than the rest. Nitrogen equates to leaves and branches, but it is often readily available in healthy soil, and is often the culprit when we “overfeed” our trees — so it’s not a bad thing that the number is lower than the other two, and a soil test* will tell you the availability of any of these nutrients in your soil. The second number equates to root growth and fruit bud/blossom development, and that’s useful for peach trees as they reach fruiting maturity in their second or third year in the ground. The third number essentially keeps things functioning properly in the tree as it takes in macro- and micronutrients.

      *testing your soil before applying fertilizer is always recommended to avoid over-feeding and also determine any potential deficiencies.

      We carry a few digital soil meters as well as a manual soil test kit to get an idea of what’s going on at the soil level.

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