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When to Stop Fertilizing & Why

by Stark Bro's on 06/25/2014
Apple Leaves & New Fruit

When it comes to fertilizing plants and trees, the package label is a wealth of information for application rates and frequencies. Most water-soluble packaged fertilizers recommend that the first application be made around bud-break in the spring, once the ground has thawed.

Subsequent applications can vary based on the growing season. Recommendations also differ depending on the severity of the nutrient needs of your soil, plants, and trees.

Ultimately, by reading the package label, you get a basic sense of when to start fertilizing, how much to use, and how often — but do you know when to stop fertilizing? Here’s our recommendation:

Make the last fertilizer application before July 1*.

Why we recommend this:

Old Wood & New Wood of Fruit Tree

  • Many fertilizers contain nitrogen, which is absorbed by the roots and boosts vegetative growth (new leaves and branches). This active process requires uptake time and response time for the resulting growth to emerge.

  • New growth also needs time to “harden off” before winter. Tender new growth is at risk of cold injury if it is forced late in the season, when plants and trees should be shutting down for winter.

  • Plants and trees that have started hardening off are no longer concerned with actively growing, so fertilizing into fall is often not worth the effort.

*There are some exceptions, such as mild, slow-release fertilizers. For example, Nut & Fruit Tree Fertilizer Spikes are intended for use during spring, mid-summer, & fall. 

Note: our granular Stark® Orchard Fertilizer should only be applied once a year; sometime during spring but prior to July.

More Facts About Fertilizer

Mixing Stark Tre-Pep FertilizerFertilize wisely. Before applying any fertilizer, be sure that your soil, plants, and trees actually need it. Fertilizer isn’t like water and light, which are vital to the survival of deciduous plants and trees. Get to know your soil before adding to it. Applying too much unneeded fertilizer can result in a nutrient imbalance, foliar burns, and even fruit-production issues.

Less is more! Over-fertilizing can negatively affect your plants and trees. New growth forced by excess nitrogen is susceptible to issues like fire blight in apple trees and pear trees. Read more about fire blight, a bacterial disease, here.

Terminology: Learn the differences between “fertilizers”, “organic fertilizers”, and “soil amendments” from the Colorado State University Extension here.

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Topics → Fruit Tree Care, Tips

14 Comments

  1. john permalink

    can I still use Stark Prep for my new tress I planted this spring, or do I stop now also.Thanks

    • This article refers to all fertilizers, except the ones specifically excluded (like slow-release fertilizer spikes), so don’t use Tre-Pep after July 1 either. ;)

  2. Doug Wallace permalink

    Do you have a chart of typical fruit ripening times at your orchard for all of the varieties that you carry? I live very close to Stark and have some Early Golden apricots and Reliance peaches that are getting a lot of color but are still pretty hard and don’t have that ‘ripe smell’ yet. I thought you might have some historical ripening dates for most of your fruits that you could share, any help would be appreciated… I have several apples, peaches, apricots, plums, pawpaws, etc.

    • We don’t really have charts per se with this information on them, but we try to include the ripening times in the descriptions or characteristics on our website whenever possible.

      Early Golden Apricot ripens in early July (in a typical year in zone 5).

      Reliance Peach ripens in early August (in a typical year in zone 5).

      The weather may cause the ripening times to differ slightly from year to year, so use this information as a mere guideline, while you continue using your senses to know when the fruit is perfect for picking!

  3. jerry woods permalink

    i have kiowa black berry, kiwi berry and goji berry plants. i planted them back in November. they are growing good. i would like to know what is the best way to take care of them? all help will be good. i have them planted between my latteral lines . i am new at this. thank you.

    • Hi Jerry!

      Blackberry plants like Kiowa benefit from summer pruning: when their canes become long during the growing season, cut them back to 3-4 feet in length. This encourages side-branch development (“laterals”) that will bear fruit the following year. When the plants are dormant, cut their side branches back to about 16-18 inches to keep the growth stocky and sturdy enough to support fruit. Remove small, weak canes at any point to keep the plant from becoming tangled and overgrown; leave 4-6 of the strongest, healthiest canes (main stems) per plant. Also remove any of the canes that bore fruit — after you’ve harvested the berries. They will die back after fruiting anyway. Mulch in winter and, if you can, cover young small plants with straw for additional protection if winters are particularly harsh in your area.

      Kiwi berry plants are actually vines, so they will need something to grow on. Many people use trellises designed for grapes, since kiwi vines tend to grow similar to grape vines. If you have a strong sturdy fence, it will work as well, but keep in mind a productive kiwi berry vine can have up to a hundred pounds of fruit on it, so don’t use a structure that can be pulled down under that weight. Be sure to prune the vine so it has one main stem coming from the ground and let it split into a Y-shape at the top. You can encourage branching laterals from the top so that they grow over and along the wires of your trellis system or along the top of an arbor, pergola, or fence. Prune any damaged, diseased, or dead limbs whenever they appear. Mulch in winter, same as you would with the blackberries. This protects the roots so that new growth can develop even if the top growth is affected by frost or wind.

      Goji berry plants are some of the easiest to establish and maintain. They do get quite tall, so you may need to prune them to a reasonable height. Goji berry plants may also develop long spikes as they mature; they’re not like blackberry plants where the spikes are all down the stem — they just appear near the leaves every few inches or so. You can easily prune to remove these spikes if they are problematic. Goji berry plants also have a tendency to bend over rather than grow straight and stand on their own. You can prop them up with some fencing or similar structure, or keep them pruned so that they are not as tall or as prone to bending. They flower and fruit until frost hits, so, as long as they have good sun and soil, they should be simple enough to care for and productive enough to enjoy harvests of healthy fruit.

      I hope this helps!

  4. Larry permalink

    I have a plumcott tree that has sap oozing out of small slits in the tree and the leaves are wilting what do I need to do.

    • The first thing to do is to determine the cause of the slits in the tree that are oozing. If they are in branches, you may have a twig borer pest like Oriental Fruit Moth. If they are in the trunk, you might have a trunk borer issue. The damage appears like this:

      Oriental Fruit Moth Damage (click to view)
      Trunk Borer Damage (click to view)

      The wilting leaves may be a result of the stress of whatever is causing damage to the trunk; however, don’t be tempted to water to perk up the leaves, since overwatering can cause leaves to wilt as well. Water-related stress will cause leaves to wilt as well, regardless of if it is caused by over-watering or under-watering. If your trees are receiving adequate water from rainfall during the week, you shouldn’t need to provide any additional water for them unless an expert has advised you to do so.

      After you have identified the problem, you can then try to address it. Prune to remove twig borers, and maintain a routine pest-control spray schedule during the growing season, as well as a dormant spray to control overwintering pests and their eggs. Trunk borers are a difficult pest to manage once they are already in the trunk. You can try manually digging them out with a piece of wire into the holes in the trunk if these are the culprit in your trees. You can try using Borer-Miner Killer to control future borer issues so that things don’t become worse.

      You might also like to consult local experts in your area, like your university cooperative extension, to help you identify what’s affecting your plumcot tree. If you can provide any photos, it will greatly help in diagnosing the issue.

  5. Jackson permalink

    I noticed in the first paragraph of this blog entry that it says, “the first application be made just before bud-break in the spring…”

    In the blog entry entitled, “How to Fertilize New Fruit Trees” is says, “The best time to fertilize fruit trees is during the growing season, starting in early spring (after bud-break)…”

    So, is the best time before or after bud break? Make up my mind!

    Thanks….

    • Good catch, Jackson — fortunately, this timing doesn’t need to be exact, so it might be best if we change both to say “around budbreak”. Thanks for pointing out the discrepancy! :)

  6. Rosary Martinez permalink

    So many of your stock is “unavailable this season”. What happened? Did you under estimate your inventory or did you have a growing problem. This is disappointing to the customer but you must feeling it in your pocket too.
    Thank You.

    • Neither, fortunately! It’s summer and we’re not shipping anything right now. Our website does show the items that we will have available for shipping in November for the fall*, which you can choose to pre-order now — since you won’t be charged until your order prepares to ship later on.

      *fall shipping is for zones 5-10. If you’re in a cooler zone like 3 or 4, we do not offer fall shipping (by default), but you can contact our customer support team at 800.325.4180 to specially request fall shipping — your order will still have to wait until around November to ship though, since we don’t harvest our trees to ship before then.

      Also, if you happen to be looking at items, like strawberry plants, that are spring-only items, they are not going to be available “this season” or for the fall.

  7. Jude O'Connor permalink

    Last year fungus devastated my garden, grape vines and trees so this spring I purchased from Stark Bros lots of anything that claimed to combat this plague. I must have used it too much, no blossoms on the trees, pepper, cucumber and squash. Luck would have it I stopped using it on everything and the grapes are going to have their first bearing this year after four years and the fungus is retreating from my nut trees. My question is about this fall, should I spray after the trees go dormant? And when do I start and stop in the spring? Thanks.

    • Some fungicides have dormant application recommendations, so I’m going to guess you can spray this fall after the plants and trees go dormant, but that depends on what you’re using and what the label states. Same goes for the spring: usually the label provides information for each recommended application and the interval between applications, as well as a daytime temperature that is “too hot” to continue using the spray. I don’t know the specifics because I don’t know what you’re spraying, what spray you’re using, or where you’re located, but the label will be your best source for all advice regarding spraying information. :)

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