Fertilizer for cherry trees

Cherry Ornamental Trees- Pruning, Winter Care and Fertilizing

These trees should be pruned in early spring, before the sap starts to flow (March). This will remove some spring flowers, but promotes better growth. Pruning can also be done right after flowering. The time to make a long lasting effect on the form and structure of the plant is when the tree is young. Crossing or crowded branches, suckers and water sprouts should be removed. Low branches should also be removed, if desired, when the tree is young. This is best done by removing one or two branches a year, over a period of a few years, until the needed clearance is obtained. As the tree gets older, pruning every three to five years will keep the tree in good general shape. Water sprouts and suckers, however, should be removed each year. Newly planted trees respond very well to fertilization. Either granular, liquid or stake type fertilizers can be used. Granular fertilizers can be worked into the soil around the plant at a rate of 2 lbs or 2 pints per 100 square feet of planting bed. An alternative way to apply granular fertilizers starts with drilling or punching 6” deep holes at the drip line of the tree. Poured into these holes should be a total of 2 pounds of fertilizer per 1″ of trunk diameter (divided up and poured evenly between all of the holes). These holes should not be filled with more than 1/3 of the fertilizer and then they should be top filled with soil. This method of fertilization should only be done once a year, and is best done in late fall after leaf drop, or in early spring before the buds break. Multi Purpose 10-10-10 Fertilizer works well.

Liquid fertilizers (such as Miracle Gro) are mixed with water and applied the same as you would water the plant (see product for specific details). This should be done three or four times per year starting in late April and ending in mid July. Stake type fertilizers can be used following the directions on the package. With any of the above techniques, a higher nitrogen mix should be used; 20-20-20 or similar mix. Organic fertilizers, like manure, can also be used with good results. The material should be worked into open soil at a rate of one bushel per 1″ of trunk caliper or 100 square feet of bed area. As a tree matures, less fertilizing or lower nitrogen mixes should be used.

It is important to protect young trees from the winter sun. The trunks should be wrapped with a commercial grade tree wrap for the first two or three years. This wrap can be removed in the summer and then re-applied in fall.

Rabbits can do a great deal of damage to this plant in the winter. The plants can be protected with a fence formed with hardware cloth (looks like chicken wire but with small square holes). To do this, the plants branches should be tied in towards the center on smaller plants, and a circle of hardware cloth can be placed around the outside. Take care that the fence dose not rub and injure the bark. The base of the hardware cloth should be buried in the soil or mulch. This protection should be installed in late November and removed in mid April.

What Is Good Fertilizer for Flowering Cherry Trees?

sakura flowering image by Petro Feketa from Fotolia.com

The nutritive needs of flowering cherry trees are no different than that of fruit-bearing cherry trees. In order to grow healthy, beautiful cherry trees that produce abundant blossoms each spring, a regimen of good maintenance, including watering, pruning, disease and insect monitoring, and fertilization, is required. The type of fertilizer needed will be determined by the environmental conditions in which the flowering cherry tree grows.

Soil Test

A soil test based on samples from the site where the flowering cherry tree will be planted can help determine the type and amount of fertilizer needed to prepare the soil. The soil test can be conducted by your local extension office. The results will be accompanied by recommendations for soil additives to adjust the pH and nutrient composition of the soil. Tests can be repeated in later years if the tree is not showing adequate growth.


Fertilizer, when added to the soil, enhances its nutritional content and improves various aspects of plant growth. Most flowering cherry trees can benefit from a balanced blend fertilizer with compositional values of 10-10-10 or 12-12-12. These values represent the nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) mix in the fertilizer. Nitrogen is responsible for promoting foliar growth. Phosphorus helps develop roots, and potassium aids in photosynthesis and in stem or limb growth.

Commercial Blends

Commercial fertilizer blends come in a variety of mixes. Some add micronutrients to the mix and, depending on the results of your soil test, this may be beneficial. Check the label carefully and purchase a blend that meets but does not exceed your requirements. Too much of the wrong nutrient can cause problems.

Compost Fertilizer

Compost made from a blend of animal manures and plant matter is heated over time to cause a rapid breakdown of the components. The result is highly nutritional organic matter that can be added to the soil prior to planting or worked into the top few inches around the tree as needed. The difficulty with homemade compost is there is no telling how much of one nutrient or another is contained in the mix. It depends purely upon the ingredients used to make it. Commercially prepared composts give you a content analysis on the package.


Manure is another good choice for fertilizing flowering cherry trees. In addition to adding organic matter to the soil, which loosens it so roots can grow easily, manure adds many of the same nutrients as commercial fertilizer, though generally in smaller amounts. Homemade manure needs to be cured for six to 12 months before using, depending upon the animal source, in order to burn away any ammonia content that could harm plants. Commercially prepared manure is ready to use immediately.

Fertilizing Cherry Trees the Right Amount

How to Know if a Cherry Tree Needs Fertilizer

Cherry trees like fertile soil, so before you plant, test the soil and amend it if it lacks fertility.

Soil fertility is related to how much nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and trace minerals, like zinc, iron, and magnesium, are in the soil. Soil organic matter adds these nutrients and also makes them more available.

A soil test is an accurate way of evaluating these nutrient levels. Local agricultural departments often have soil testing services for home gardens, or, you can buy a test kit online or through a nursery. Be sure to carefully follow soil sampling instructions for accurate results.

Another way of assessing if a tree has enough fertilizer is by looking at the condition of leaves and how fast the branches and trunk are growing.

Leaves turning yellow or purple, slow growth of stems and branches, and reduced fruit crop can all be signs the tree needs fertilizing.

A young tree should gain about 16 to 30 inches (40 to 76cm) of growth each year. New shoots on mature sweet cherry trees should gain about 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38cm) of length each year, and sour cherry varieties between 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25cm) of growth per year.

How and When to Fertilize a Cherry Tree

Fertilizers should be applied early in spring or latter in the growing season when flowers are finished and the tree has leafed-out. Don’t fertilize during bloom time.

Organic fertilizing can be done by applying a layer of:

  • Compost, or
  • Decomposed manure, or
  • Blood, fish, or cottonseed meal (for nitrogen)
  • Bone meal, rock phosphate, and seaweed meal (for phosphorous, potassium and trace minerals).

Spread fertilizers around the base of the tree, starting 6 inches (15cm) away from the trunk and extending to the drip-line and water it into the soil.

Apply nitrogen fertilizers at a rate of 1/8 pound (68 grams) of nitrogen per inch (2.5cm) of trunk diameter. Compost contains an average of 1 to 4 percent nitrogen, depending on the source material. Blood meal is approximately 13 percent nitrogen by weight.

Does the Tree Really Need Fertilizer?

A poorly preforming fruit tree may have problems other than soil fertility. For example, a lack of pruning can result in poor fruit production and growth, and pests, improper watering, and bad soil drainage can also cause problems with growth and fruit production.

Pros and cons of using fertilizer spikes


We recently used fertilizer spikes to perform fall fertilization for our fruit trees and two-year old evergreen trees. Fertilizer spikes are certainly convenient, but are they the best method of applying fertilizer to young trees in autumn?

Make no mistake about it — fertilizer spikes are convenient. Simply follow the directions and pound in the number of spikes suggested along each tree’s drip line. The drip line is the furthest point that limbs reach from the trunk. Placing the spikes along the dripline encourages tree roots to grow out toward the fertilizer. Each time it rains or you water your yard, fertilizer will be released from the spikes.

Advantages of using fertilizer spikes include:

• The spikes dissolve gradually. In most situations you won’t have to worry about fertilizing your trees but twice a year. Use fertilizer spikes once in early spring and again in mid-fall when topsoil is moist, but not saturated.

• Fertilizer spikes are a lot easier to handle and store than bags of granular fertilizer.

• Using fertilizer sticks can stimulate biological activity in the soil, which promotes pest and disease resistance.

• Over-fertilization isn’t as likely as it is with granular or liquid fertilizers. This is because fertilizer spikes are available in pre-mixed formulas designed for specific uses, such as evergreen, ornamental or fruit tree applications.

Disadvantages include:

• Sometimes the spike will shatter when you hammer it into the ground. A way to avoid this is to pound a wooden stake into the ground first and then pull it out. The spike will now go into the ground easily without breaking. I use a rubber mallet.

• Don’t be tempted to place the spikes close to the tree trunk. Too much fertilizer can weaken and even kill your trees. Keep the spikes at the drip line.

• Per tree, spikes are a little more expensive than granular or liquid fertilizer.

• Sideways fertilizer movement is limited in the soil. This means the spikes sometimes only distribute nutrients to a small section of the root zone, causing the root system to concentrate root growth near the spike more so than in other areas.

When buying fertilizer spikes, make your purchase based on a three numbered description on the packaging. The first of the series of numbers represents nitrogen. The second number in the series represents phosphorus and the final number indicates the percentage of potassium in the fertilizer.

Jeff Ishee has written more than 700 garden columns for the News Leader. He is general manager of the Rockingham County Fair and produces a daily farm report for radio stations in seven states. Contact him at [email protected]

Fertilizing fruit trees

All healthy fruit trees are heavy feeders that remove large quantities of mineral nutrients from the soil. Even though all plants require 16 elements that are referred to as essential, fruit trees draw most heavily on macronutrients.

It is important to replace these macronutrients on a regular basis to keep trees vigorous and healthy. The macronutrients we should apply regularly are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulfur. Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are also needed in large quantities, but these are supplied by air, water and organic matter.

There are two categories of fertilizer that differentiate the source of the plant nutrients:

  • One category is referred to as organic fertilizer. These fertilizers originate from plant or animal sources and are naturally occurring. These include manures, composts, blood meal, bone meal, fish meal, alfalfa pellets and others.
  • The other category of fertilizer is chemical or conventional. These fertilizers are either processed minerals or chemical salts.

Whether you apply organic or conventional fertilizers to the soil, the important thing to remember is to apply only what your soil lacks and what your plant needs.

The timing of application is important to protect our waterways from unintentional contamination due to runoff and leaching. Apply fertilizer only at the time of year when the fruit tree will use it.

Apply fertilizer only at the time of year when the fruit tree will use it.

Fruit trees in western Oregon are able to grow on a wide variety of soils, but in most locations fertilization will improve plant vigor and health. To accurately determine what nutrients are present and what nutrients are lacking, take a soil sample. After you have your soil test results, you can supply just what nutrients your soil lacks. If your soil has sufficient levels of macronutrients, you may decide to apply just compost or aged manure to keep the soil healthy and porous.


If your soil lacks phosphorus, calcium or potassium, work these nutrients into the bottom of the planting hole with the soil, so that they will be available for the root system of the new tree. These elements do not move rapidly in the soil, so incorporating them at planting time makes them more quickly available to the tree.

Do not use nitrogen fertilizer in the planting hole; this can burn new roots. Instead, apply 1 pound of triple super phosphate per tree. Organic growers can use 3 pounds of bone meal per planting hole. If your soil’s pH is below 6 or your soil sample indicates a deficiency of calcium, add 1-2 pounds of lime per planting hole to sweeten the soil.

It is a good practice to hold off using any nitrogen fertilizer for several months in the first growing season. Once the root system becomes established, you can put a light application (one cup of sulfate of ammonium) around the drip line of the young tree. For a good organic alternative, apply 5-10 pounds of aged manure around the drip line of the tree.

Second year

Nitrogen or other macronutrients should be applied in the second year. Research indicates that applying fertilizers in August or early September maximizes nutrient uptake and is more efficient than late winter fertilization. Early season fertilization is often leached. Late summer to fall fertilization at the time of your last irrigation is taken more directly into the tree, helping to make healthy buds, spurs and shoots for the coming year without stimulating late growth.

So, how much nitrogen should you use for the first few years with your fruit trees? There is an easy rule to follow. Use about one-eighth of a pound of actual nitrogen per year of tree age. In the second year, that means to use a quarter-pound of actual nitrogen, 1.25 lbs of ammonium sulfate 21-0-0, or 1.75 lbs of 16-16-16, or 9 lbs of rabbit manure, or 17 lbs of steer manure.

Use about one-eighth of a pound of actual nitrogen per year of tree age.

For a tree that reaches 8 years old, add 1 lb of actual nitrogen, which would come from 5 lbs of 21-0-0, or 7 lbs of 16-16-16, or 35 lbs of rabbit manure or 70 lbs of steer manure. Once your tree has reached 8 years old, you no longer need to increase the amount of nitrogen fertilizer. Stay with 1 lb per year going forward.

Another way to gauge if your fertilization is adequate is to measure the amount of new wood your tree is making each year. If your apple or pear tree is under 8 years old and is making less than 12 inches of new shoot growth each year, you should apply more nitrogen. If your tree is making between 12 and 18 inches of new growth per year, you are fertilizing correctly.

If your tree is making over 18 inches of new growth per year, you can reduce your nitrogen inputs. A fruit tree that is overstimulated will be an insect magnet because of the succulent new growth. The fruit on apple trees with excessive nitrogen fertilization may also have a tendency to have bitter pit, an apple spotting disorder that is also linked to a calcium deficiency.

A fruit tree that is overstimulated will be an insect magnet because of the succulent new growth.

With trees in the genus prunus (cherry, plum, peach, apricot and nectarine), growth targets for new wood will be a little different from that of apples and pears. A young prunus tree should make about 2 feet of new shoot growth per year. If the growth is less than 18 inches, fertilize more. If the growth is more than 30 inches, reduce your nitrogen fertilization.

Remember to research your own areas for local fertility knowledge. Many soils in western Oregon are deficient in potassium, phosphorus and boron. Our local soils can also have excess amounts of magnesium.

A soil test is an important start in a good fertilization program.

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