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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. Rich permalink

    I added five new fruit trees to my yard last November. Two peach and three apples. The peaches were slow to leaf but have finally started and the three apples, a Pink Lady, a Golden Delicious, and an UltraMac, only the Mac has leafed out. The scratch test indicates life in the trees but I’m concerned something is wrong. Am I just impatient?

    • Since the trees are living, and this has been a late spring after a hard winter, I’d recommend giving your apple trees more time to leaf out. You can try pepping them up with some fertilizer this spring if you haven’t already — it may help! :)

      • Rich permalink

        Last night a friend came by to look at them and we trimmed back one of the many branches on it and tried trimming the top. The wood was dry so we’re confident they are unfortunately dead. I called you guys this morning and new ones will be shipped out. I don’t think these could be saved but thanks for the advice. I’m really bummed the fertilizer and such didn’t help them. My friend thinks they died recently so perhaps they began going and then a sudden cold knocked them down. As a last ditch effort, When I pull them up, I’ll try planting them in some fresh manure out in my compost area to see if anything happens. The manure may burn but I figure I have nothing to lose at this point.

  2. 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.

  3. Tim permalink

    I have a few questions … sorry I’m new at this and just planted my trees last year (Nectarine, peach, pear, plum, apple and cherry) … (all from starkbros) … when do I spray my trees, they are just starting to bud … what product should I use, … fruit tree spray or citrus, fruit and nut orchard spray …



    • It’s better to ask than to wonder, Tim! :) Because you have a range of types of fruit trees you’re intending to spray, I would probably recommend the Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray. It is recommended for use on more types of fruit trees according to the label.

      Since your trees are new, you won’t have to worry about them blooming — you never want to spray a pesticide on any plant or tree while it’s blooming as this will also kill beneficials like bees and butterflies. You can spray the trees starting after you decide on your spray and usually while temperatures are below 90ºF. The label of the product you decide on will tell you how much and how often to spray the trees you’re growing.

  4. Niles permalink

    I planted several fruit trees last winter. I’ve been watching closely to look for leaves. I have 2 that I’m pretty sure did not make it based on scratch test and lack of activity. I’ve been watching a third tree a stark Jonathan red and it leafed out only on the first two feet. The upper part shows dead based on the scratch test. Should I be concerned that the root stock survived and is growing?

    • If the trunk is showing life 2 feet up, and the top growth has died back, then you can prune the trunk down to where the life starts. Growth that develops that high up on the trunk won’t be from the rootstock, but any new sprouts you see come from the roots (and below the graft) should be completely removed.

  5. 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. :)

  6. Randy Shidal permalink

    I have several young trees. What is happening to my trees when fruit starts to mature and then they all fall off of the tree? This happens mostly to plum and pear.


  7. Paul permalink

    2 apple trees planted 3 years ago still will not produce buds. what is wrong?

    • Are your trees not producing buds at all, or are they not blooming/fruiting? Fruit trees have vegetative buds that develop into leaves and branches and they eventually develop fruiting buds that become blossoms and fruit once a tree is mature.

      If your trees are simply not blooming, then it’s likely that they need more time to mature. Apple trees can take 2-5 years after you plant before they start to bloom and fruit. If your apple trees show no signs of any budding at all and have no signs of life this late in the season, chances are they failed to survive.

  8. Ulrike Weywoda permalink

    I have two dwarf peach trees. They bloomed great this spring then suddenly the small er treed seem to have died at the same time a climbing rose near by also died. I have no clue why.
    The second peach tree has been loosing some of the peaches and again I do not know why. They both did this last spring and I thought, well, it was the first crop so maybe this is normal.
    I have used fertilizer stakes for fruit trees on both.
    Amy suggestions?

    • It’s likely that your rose and peach trees were exposed to a drop in temperature, or some other form of stress, this spring.

      The same thing happened to my peach trees: they were damaged by a late temperature drop and they lost the fruit and leaves as a result. Their current foliage will drop before the trees send out new growth to replace what was damaged.

      You can help by pruning off any dead tips (on both your rose bush and your peach trees), as this will help stimulate the new growth and remove “dead weight”. Unfortunately, there is no way to save the fruit crop that has dropped this year. The good news is, without having to support a fruit crop, your trees will have more energy to devote to bouncing back from whatever stress factor got to them this spring.

      Fruit drop happens in fruit trees for a number of reasons, especially when they’re young. Read more about fruit drop in our article here:

  9. Susan Angelo permalink

    I have a new orchard of mixed fruit trees. I have noticed, on the plums in particular, that the new growth is very spindly and it stays that way all summer. I pruned them back hard and once again, this spring, the branches are very spindly, almost like vines. Do you know if this is a soil, disease or fertilizing problem?

    • Without seeing the trees, it’s difficult to tell for sure, but just based on my experience I know that plum trees tend to be fairly vigorous by nature — they do send out long thin branches during the growing season. I feel like I’m always snipping them back to keep the tree in shape. If you are fertilizing your trees, that may actually encourage more vigor in the development of vegetative growth (like branches), so you may want to hold off on the fertilizer application and see what happens.

      Hard pruning is another thing that encourages vegetative growth in fruit trees, so you could just prune the new leggy growth back by a third this summer instead of doing anything too extreme. Then, when your trees are dormant, you can just aim to remove damaged, diseased, and dead limbs, limbs that are crossing or growing in toward the center of the trees. This will keep your trees in good shape without encouraging a lot of vegetative growth come next spring.

  10. 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. :)

  11. 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!

  12. Steve Giles permalink

    I planted 3 apple and 2 peach trees this spring. All three apple trees are doing great and one of the peach trees is doing well but the second peach tree has only leafed/branched out in just one small section (2 inches) of the tree trunk. The trunk still looks green but the limbs that were pruned on the non-leafed section of the trunk are blackening up. Please advise and thank you!

    • Hi Steve! I am guessing (without seeing the tree in question) the blackening limbs are due to a late frost or other cold snap that may have happened in your area this spring after planting. If you prune away the damaged limbs, this will help encourage your peach tree to force new growth as it recovers from the stress. As long as there isn’t an underlying problem (root injury, etc.) your tree should be able to bounce back this growing season. Prune off the “dead weight” and keep your eye on it and see how it does!

  13. 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.

  14. Hi Sarah,

    I bought 2 Asian pear trees at the end of this April and planted on 4/30. I followed all the instructions. After about a week, the leaves were growing out nicely for one, and the other one is still just having some sprouts, is this normal? Also the big problem is for the one that has leaves, I noticed recently the edges of the leaves are becoming black and looks withering. This was exactly happening for last year when I also bought a pear tree and it seemed fine for first couple of weeks and then died. Can you please let me know what’s wrong and what should I do?


    • Hi there Yu! Without seeing the trees, the different growth between the different varieties sounds normal to me. As long as you haven’t been spraying the trees when it’s too hot out and you haven’t been fertilizing your new pear trees too frequently, chances are the blackened leaves are caused by wind burn (when the wind whips the new leaves around, causing them to “bruise”) or cold damage (if you’ve had a drop in temperature while the trees were leafing out).

      Damaged leaves won’t necessarily mean the trees are dead. The leaves will more than likely drop off the tree before it tries to replace them as the season progresses.

      • Thanks, I’ll keep watching closely. Meanwhile do you recommend I do anything? FYI, I didn’t spray or fertilize yet.

  15. 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.

  16. faqir permalink

    I had purchased an Aprium tree which is Mature. I also have mature plumcot, and 2 Apricot trees.
    The Aprium tree flowers but has not given any fruit worth mentioning. I get literally a hand full of fruit. I am sure cross pollination is not an issue. I plan to dig out this tree and replace it with another plum variety.
    Am I doing something wrong, or is Aprium a stingy producer.

    • I know you said your Aprium is mature, but, if it’s only just starting to fruit, it’s not uncommon that the fruit crops would be small. Things will improve with age and regular care/maintenance.

      Assuming your Aprium tree has been blooming and bearing like this for several years, there are a few common things that can affect the fruit-production of a tree:
      • Weather (cold temperatures/frost can hurt fruit-buds/blossoms)
      • Lack of adequate pollen movers (bees, butterflies, etc.)
      • Too much nitrogen-heavy fertilizer (produces leaves at the expense of flowers/fruit)
      • Spacing (within 50 feet of pollinators = ideal; too close together = nutrient competition at root level)

      Find more causes here.

      I haven’t specifically heard about the Aprium tree being a shy bearer — but that could depend on where it’s growing.

      You don’t mention how the other trees, like your Apricots, are flowering/producing, so I’m wondering if they’re only just starting to be adequate pollinators for your Aprium. This, too, will improve with time.

      • faqir permalink

        Plumcot & Aprium were ordered in 2004. See order 22363102. Apricot trees are much older, even stark brothers does not have records. Plumcot and Apricot produce very good one year and next year less than half. I have problem keeping the bugs away from the plumcot. This year all trees have very little fruit because of the frostbite. In the 10 years that I have had the Aprium, I probably got a total (all years added together) of 2 ponds of fruit. I fertilize all my fruit trees with 10-10-10 in the fall each year.
        The apricot are Wilson and I do not remember what else. I would hate to dig out a 10 year tree, but I will wait to see one more season.
        Let me know what should I do next.
        Appreciate your help.

        • I think allowing for time (and a kinder winter!) and trying the solutions mentioned in the following article are good next steps:

          I would also recommend trying to fertilize during the growing season this year and stopping by July 1, since there is no real benefit to fertilizing a tree in the fall just before they go dormant.

  17. 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.

  18. Deborah A. Lloyd permalink

    Just a few weeks ago I received from Stark Bros. two Hall’s Almond Trees. I planted them almost immediately. I planted both trees in the same area and in the same method. I have watered them when we are not receiving rain. One is doing great and leafing beautifully. The other, not so good. I can’t understand it. Both were treated in the same manner and the ground here is very good soil. I have continued to water it and hoping for a little leaf. So far, nothing. Anything that you can suggest?

    • This spring was a hard one for many new trees, so your almond tree may simply be delayed as a result. Remember: No two trees or planting locations are exactly alike, even if they are treated the same way. ;)

      Our planting instructions for almond trees states, “Prune your new bare root tree by cutting off at least one-third to one-half of the top (but not below the bud/graft union). This is essential. This forces your tree to grow a strong sprout that will become the main trunk. Take our word for it: severe pruning at planting time gets your new tree off to the best possible start. Potted nut trees do not need pruning.”

      If you followed these instructions for your almond tree that is not showing as much life as the other, I’d recommend trying a “scratch test” next (instructions are here). This allows you to check for life in the trunk of the almond tree in question. If you happen to find no signs of life, I recommend you contact our customer support team (800.325.4180) so our team can record the issue and look into eligibility for replacement.

      If you find that the tree is still living, it may simply need more time to get growing!

  19. Elisabeth permalink


    It is a good thing we’re not required to stay on topic. :)
    I have a Rome Red apple tree that I planted about two months ago that, to my amateur eyes, appears to be doing great. My issue is/may be ants. There are dozens of black ants all over the tree. I shake them off on occasion but since the tree doesn’t look like it is being harmed I wasn’t sure if these ants could be a problem.


    • Hello Elisabeth!

      Ants don’t typically harm fruit trees (they might enjoy the sweet sugars that drip from ripe or damaged fruit later on); however, ants are usually a sign that there are aphids infesting the trees. If you notice any rolled up leaves, it will be another sign that your apple tree has aphids.

      Aphids are a pest because, not only do they feed in large numbers on the sap of plants, they secrete a ‘honeydew’ substance that can cause mold issues. Ants will actually protect and “farm” the aphids for the sweet honeydew substance the aphids secrete.

      You can use a natural pest control spray like Insecticidal Soap to control the aphid issue, and, in turn, the ants.

  20. Candace permalink

    I have a question about weed control in the orchard. I have a creeping Charlie problem that won’t quit. Is it safe to use the lawn type chemicals w 2-4 D around the trees? or leave how many feet of buffer? thanks

    • I know what you mean about creeping charlie that won’t quit. I think if I got rid of it in my yard, I’d realize that I have no lawn!

      The problem with most chemical weed control is that it doesn’t distinguish between “weeds” and “plants you want to keep” — so I definitely wouldn’t consider 2,4-D safe around trees. Most of the genetically modified food crops are altered to resist the chemicals in herbicides so that farmers can spray for weeds without killing the crops. Unfortunately, this is not the case for things like fruit trees.

      If you end up needing to use a broadleaf herbicide like 2,4-D, there should be application instructions on the label (reading the label is mandatory, not optional). The instructions should include how to use the chemical around fruit trees.

      That information on the label would look something like this:

  21. Theresa permalink

    I purchased two apple trees and a per tree this year and planted as instructed and added compost to the soil. The apple trees are doing fine, but the pear tree just lost all of the leaves that it had. Which compared to the apple tree were a lot fewer. I know it’s late in the season, but should I fertilize the tree? I see some green in the stems so I don’t think it is completely dead.

    • Since fall is on the horizon, I wouldn’t recommend fertilizing your pear tree to force new growth. The new leaves that come out will need to drop soon anyway and they may become injured if cold weather gets here first.

      Apples and pear trees can sometimes have the same issues with pests or disease, so it would be better to find out why the leaves dropped from your pear tree, if anything, to prevent possible issues with your apple trees.

      Here are some possible causes and their solutions:
      • If the tree is suffering from waterlogged roots, you may have noticed yellowing in the leaves prior to them dropping. Try to hold off on watering, especially if your area is receiving rain at least once a week. If you have no precipitation forecast during the week, try giving a gallon of water per tree for the week. New trees should not need more water than that unless your area is experiencing a drought.

      • If it’s a pest or disease issue, the leaves might have had spots, pests (adults, eggs, or larvae), or symptoms like discolored or eaten leaves, that would give you a clue as to what might have happened. If it’s a pest or disease issue, you can treat once it’s identified, but be sure you’re using sprays (organic/natural, or conventional) that are recommended for the trees you’re spraying. All of this information is on the product label of the spray you use.

      • If the trees have been sprayed, it could be something in the spray that caused the pear tree to drop its leaves. Some sprays, like Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray, are not recommended for use on Pear or Asian Pear trees because there is a chance that they are sensitive to the ingredients used.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

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