Fruits and Nuts

Good soil care is even more important for fruit and nut trees than it is for vegetables or bush fruits. The plants are more expensive, and they also live much longer. Poor soil can be costly in terms of time as well as money. On the brighter side, with these plants you reap greater benefits from good soil care over a longer time.

Preparing the Soil

Test your soil and amend to correct pH problems six months ahead of planting for the best results. Unless your soil is rich in phosphorus, it's a good idea to mix in a slow-release form (rock phosphate) at the same time for good root growth. Find out the expected diameter of your tree when mature. (Nut trees get very large!) Try to amend in a circle of roughly the same diameter (or as large as you can manage).

When planting several trees, incorporate organic matter over the entire area. Growing and tilling under a cover crop the previous season is a great way to do this. Or spread organic matter over the entire area and dig it into the soil. Either will encourage good root growth throughout the area. New research shows that if soil is improved just in the planting hole, pampered roots won't venture out into the unimproved soil beyond.

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Err on the Light Side

Take fertilizer recommendati with a grain of salt — they m not apply to your type of soil. For specific advice, ask local growers, your state university, or your Cooperative Extension Service.

If trees put on less than a few inches of new growth each year (or show pale leaves from nitrogen deficiency), slowly increase the amount or frequency of feeding, ff growth is too lush, yields are poor, or leaves are dark green from lots of nitrogen, cut back.

Organic Matter mid Mulch

After planting, increase humus levels gradually and indirectly by spreading organic matter on the soil surface. Add an inch (2.5 cm) or more of compost at least once a year and maintain a thick layer of organic mulch year-round. Earthworms will gradually work this organic matter into the soil for you.

Whatever your soil, remember that roots grow out at least as far as the outermost branches. (Roots can grow up to three times as far for some trees in good soil!) If possible, keep the soil surface mulched out to the farthest branches. When you spread fertilizer or compost, it should ideally cover this entire area as well. There's no need to spread fertilizer within a foot of the trunks of mature trees, as few feeder roots grow there.


Feed trees in spring after the ground thaws. Once a year is enough for mature trees. Young trees (those not old enough to bear fruit) benefit from a second feeding in June. In mild climates, feed evergreens such as citrus three times a year — late winter, June, and August — giving one-third the total recommended amount each time. In cold climates, don't fertilize after midsummer: I^ate, lush growth increases the chance of winter damage.

Use an all-purpose, balanced fertilizer. Start with the rates recommended on the label and adjust in subsequent years to match the growth of your trees. If you grow white clover under your trees, switch to a formula with no nitrogen. This green manure supplies all the nitrogen fruit trees need. Once trees are old enough to bear, too much nitrogen leads to watery fruit of poor quality. Feeding with compost offers many benefits — including allowing you to use less fertilizer than the recommended rates.


Soil Preferences of Tree Fruits and Nuts


Preferred pH









Cherry, sour


Cherry, sweet


Crab apple











V 6.0-7.0


Peach and nectarine 6.0-7.5

Pear Pecan Plum Walnut

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