Fertilizing newly planted trees

I see it is often recommend , ( mostly by nurserys ) to not fertilize newly planted trees.
Fertilizer is a salt, and can do harm to a new tree with a small, undeveloped root system. If applied in large amounts ,and irrigation is inadequate .
It can kill a newly planted tree

That said, I do think it is good to fertilize young trees, with a 1/2dose of water soluble fertilizer, such as mirical grow , jacks , etc, or a light dose of organic.
This is highly dependent on the fertility of the soil befor planting.
As some soils , may be adequatly fertile ,especially if organic mater is incorporated the year befor planting.
Conversely I have seen people plant on poor soil , and get very little growth that first year. And poor establishment. Trees look bad.

Would like to here comments on this from other members.

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The root system and above ground tree must be in balance. Often the roots must grow before the rest of the tree grows and thus slow tree growth the first year.

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First year they sleep, second year they creep, third year they leap…


I dunno. I don’t think I agree with the Panglossian view on planting new trees, that as long as the hole is big enough it’s perfect.

If you know for a fact your soil is deficient in something you ought to do something about it. I can see defaulting to organic ferts in order to avoid burn and adding ferts in small doses. For example, I learned that my soil is deficient in iron and zinc. I can see not adding a bunch of iron sulfate to a new planting, but why not a modest dose of chelated iron and Zinc? If the tree seems to establish but is growing slowly, why would a modest dose of blood meal or some other organic N applied at the appropriate time of the growing season be such a terrible thing?

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“Moderation” … just like with the wine bottle … is the best practice!

A tablet in the planting hole, a bit mixed thoroughly in the soil that’s going back in the planting hole…or top dressing, and even slow release pellets. But be stingy.
Too much is definitely worse than none at all.
(that’s true for planting most things…even maple trees or whatever).


Overall I think it is good advice. Often trees depend on mycorrhizae relationships to establish. Salts kill this fungi. Some here in Michigan such fungi extend miles underground interconnecting and sharing nutrients among the trees associated with the fungus. Also giving trees warning of attacks by pathogens in one area, the trees in other areas start producing defense chemicals, this has been confirmed in many studies.
It is their neural network, almost like a brain. In some areas this will never happen and you need to help, in others your help hurts them. These relationships still need more study. It’s not just plants these fungi produce nectar for bees, it has been shown in studies that it boosts their immune system and bees that ingest this nectar are less likely to succumb to viral infections and it is thought the loss of forests, thus the loss of nectar is a major reason for sudden colony collapse in honey bees. Studies are ongoing in many states this year.
How much fruit trees depend of these fungi is one area of needed study. We do know that they do have these relationships with fungi though. Some plants rely more on bacteria than fungi, but trees use the fungi, A major problem in these interconnected ecosystems is that they have broken down for the most part, mostly because of us. I used to think this was a bunch of bull, I changed my mind now. I think it’s everything now, and right on the money.


I really think it will depend on the tree and if it is bare-root or was container grown.
If planting a container grown fruit tree, I would think a fertilization the first year would be very beneficial. Container trees are often grown in a soil free growing media that often dries out quickly. While light in weight, the nurseries producing them have to water very frequently to keep the roots moist. This results in a lot of leaching. I would definitely fertilize a tree planted the first growing season from a container!

Fertilize a newly planted bare-root tree? It depends on the roots. Normally I do but I like to plant them in spring (April) and then fertilize early-mid June with a liquid fertilizer at 1/2 the suggested rate. I don’t fertilize at planting time on bare-root as they have lost so many roots in the digging process from commercial bare-root nurseries that it would be easy to over fertilize. At least I feel waiting 40-60 days from planting and yet fertilizing no later than June 15th would help in the first years growth. I guess it would depend on your soil too and how well rooted the bare-root fruit tree was when it arrived from the nursery of purchase.

Yes granular fertilizer is a salt and can burn if applied too heavy (tree dessicates from lack of available water). That is why I prefer to use a liquid fertilizer the first year on newly planted trees and resort to using a granular product after the first year (because it is a cheaper way to fertilize). Just my thoughts on what seems to be working for me!

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For fruit trees, peaches, apples, pears I wait roughly one month after planting to fertilize. Zero issues. I consider it a must do on peaches - you will see the growth from the fertilizer. I do not put fertilizer in holes while planting nor do I use fertilizer spikes or tablets that you put in the hole while planting or insert into the ground after planting - I have never seen any benefit to this.


Fully agree.

I always feed my trees when planting by giving each tree about a pound and a half of espoma Tree-tone. Half is well mixed into the planting hole and half top dressed around the tree, covered with a generous layer of compost. Seems to work good here.


Yes, that is good stuff
A bit expensive on a large scale
But worth every cent
Similar farm based , compost ,in moderation works well

Here’s how I believe the literature stands. Trees that are growing often benefit from N fertilizer immediately and transplanted trees vary a great deal on growth the first season- commercial growers are more likely to juice peaches with N first season than apples, as they are likely to grow more. Carl Whitcomb suggests that even trees that don’t respond to N the first season store it and put it to use for more vigorous growth going into the following spring.

The roots need to be growing to absorb N in the first place, so the first season trees are planted you might want to wait a couple weeks after planting to fertilize with available N.

I definitely fertilize my fruit trees, especially stone fruit, the first season and I didn’t used to. The difference in speed of establishment seems significant- once again, especially with stonefruit.

I’ve never seen any research that shows that careful application of N. adversely affects the development of mychorizal relationships and if it does, I will run with the rapid growth I get anyway. The sooner a tree gets size the sooner it is useful and also the more likely it is to survive adversity.

I don’t get the same bang from compost, and ultimately, in subsequent seasons, compost releases its N in the wrong timing for fruit trees that need it most in early spring and the following 2 months, while compost peaks release about mid-summer.

All that said, not only species vary, but the quality of the soil also. In lighter soil N needs increase and applications disappear sooner.

Urea and other forms of quick release, including human urine, tend to volatilize and be wasted when applied over organic mulch. Work it in and water it in as needed. Or apply preceding rain.


I think it is a combination of effects. First, fertilizing in the planting hole may tend to make the roots not explore as far as they might otherwise for nutrients. Better that they have to work a bit and grow out more. Second is the potential effect of salts (which most fertilizers are) on the roots, especially with peoples tendency to over do it. In colder short season areas, possibly a third concern, over fertilizing later in the season can cause the tree to not harden off in time for winter. A lot of what your new trees might need depends on the details of your soil, but if you suspect deficiencies foliar applications might be a safer way to go.

I agree with @Drew51 that fungal association is important, perhaps even critical in some areas, to the trees growth. From what I have read (and instruction on inoculant packages) it is phosphorus fertilizer which inhibits these associations. So I would definitely avoid those. And if you are trying to promote those associations, you might want to pick up some inoculant and either mix it in the planting soil or dip the roots in it prior to planting.


Yes, I also like foliar feeding young trees

I always put a shovel of chicken manure and 4-6oz of gypsum in each hole the fall before the trees are ready to plant. helps to modify our clay and makes for easier digging in the spring. Water them in with a bit, tsp/5gal. of epsom salt in the initial irrigation. I’ve lost one tree in the last three years.


Great advice especially for new plantings.


Occasionally there is support for a heavier application of fertilizer to young plants as is in this Ison video. I started using the method on my younger muscadines last season with excellent results.


To be clear we are talking trees, when talking other plants almost all suggest fertilizing at planting.
The video reminds me of the old school approach. I know many experts that would be telling that guy to retire. They would say what he suggests will ruin your soil.I was just talking to Steve Zion and he would be outraged at the advice in that video. Not sure who is right, but the differences in approach are striking.
Steven M. Zien TNS
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I’m going to send him a link to that video just to mess with him. See what he says about it.


I can tell you that my muscadines are thriving on it… I don’t have long term experience with it but it comes from the producers of top quality muscadines.


I don’t know how it will do long term either but I got really good results in the short time I followed the method. My plans are to continue at least for three seasons and probably longer. Isons also has several videos about the general care of muscadines that in my opinion are excellent.