Fertilizing Tree Fruits & Pecans

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Fertilization is an important step for having a successful harvest of pecans and fruit in the home garden. However, it can be very confusing determining how much and what type of fertilizer is needed.

The first recommendation for fertilizing questions of any kind is to find out what is already in the soil. This starts with a soil test. A soil test is a service provided by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Soil sample boxes and forms are available at the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Wayne County office (3114B Wayne Memorial Drive., Goldsboro). Soil samples cost $4 per sample from December 1 through March 31. Paying for samples requires setting up an account on the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website. The recommendation for home gardeners is to avoid the fee altogether and submit samples when they are free from April 1 through November 30. Soil test samples can be dropped off at the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Wayne County office.

When you receive a soil sample report, it will provide information about if and how much lime and fertilizer you need. If you need assistance in understanding your soil report, our office can provide assistance. Soil samples do not have to be taken every year, but instead every 2 to 3 years to monitor changes in soil pH and fertility. Skipping a soil test can lead to poor fruit production or excessive plant growth. It can also lead to wasting money, time and polluting the environment by applying too much fertilizer.

Besides following your soil test report to fertilize and lime correctly, here are some “rules of thumb” for pecans and fruit trees:

  • Pecans produce nuts on alternating years, so fertilizer recommendations will depend on if it is a year they are bearing or not. For nonbearing pecan trees, apply 1 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer per year of tree age, but do not exceed 25 pounds per tree. This would be applied in late February to early March. For bearing trees, apply 4 pounds of 10-10-10 per inch of trunk diameter (measured below the bottom set of branches). When spreading of broadcasting the fertilizer, do so around the drip line of the tree which is the ground area where the branches end.
  • Fruit Trees. The tree’s age and previous year’s growth will determine how to fertilize fruit trees. If the tree was fertilized when planted, you probably do not need to fertilize for a couple of years if you are having adequate growth each year. Monitoring growth of a fruit tree will help determine if you need to fertilize. A nonbearing fruit tree (young tree that has not started to bear fruit) should have 15 to 30 inches of growth per year. A bearing fruit tree (a tree producing fruit) should have 8 to 15 inches of growth per year. If a fruit tree has less than adequate growth in the previous season, it may need some fertilizer while trees with good growth may not need fertilizer for several years. For trees that need fertilizer, either based on a soil test report or the previous year’s growth, it is recommended to fertilize 1 pound of a balanced fertilizer (like 10-10-10) per year of tree’s age. Do not exceed 10 pounds per tree. Like pecans, fruit trees would be fertilized in late February to early March.

When fertilizing, keep in mind that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Applying too much fertilizer can create as many problems as not applying enough. Too much fertilizer can lead to excessive vegetative (leaves) growth and in return reduce fruit production.

Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.

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