Most apple varieties mature in autumn when the temperatures start to moderate, and the bright greens of spring and summer give way to softer shades of tan and gold. Few things are more rewarding than picking a homegrown apple off the tree and savoring its sweet tang. To get to that point, however, a few steps are necessary along the way: The grower must control unwanted pests by spraying the trees, provide water if it doesn’t rain, and—for the largest, tastiest apples—apply a fertilizer earlier in the season.
Hundreds of fruit-fertilizer products are on the market, but not all are suitable for growing apples. Ahead, learn what to look for when shopping for fertilizer and find out why the following products earned a spot on this lineup of the best fertilizers for apple trees.
- BEST OVERALL: Miracle-Gro Fruit & Citrus Plant Food Spikes
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Jobe’s Organics Fruit & Nut Granular Fertilizer
- BEST FOR HEALTH: Humboldts Secret Golden Tree Additive
- BEST BALANCED PICK: Southern Ag All Purpose Fertilizer
- BEST WITH MICROBES: Dr. Earth Natural Wonder Fruit Tree Fertilizer
- ALSO CONSIDER: Espoma Organic Tree-tone Fruit & Shade Tree Food
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Fertilizer for Apple Trees
Selecting the best fertilizer for fruit trees depends to an extent on what the grower wants to accomplish. Some fertilizers provide essential nutrients for overall tree health, while others are designed to encourage blossom production or boost root development. Still others may be formulated to correct deficiencies in the soil.
Soil and pH Level
Apple trees aren’t too picky about the type of soil that they grow in—they can survive and produce fruit in moderate clay-type soils or even rocky and gravelly soils. They typically do best in soils that are full of nutrients, slightly sandy, or contain ample amounts of loam.
More important than the soil type is its acid/alkaline balance, or pH level. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 considered neutral. Numbers higher than 7 are progressively more alkaline, while numbers lower than 7 are progressively more acidic. Apple trees do best in slightly acidic soil, ranging from 5.8 to 7.0 on the pH scale.
Many soil types fall within that pH range, but if yours doesn’t, it could result in poor tree health, slow growth, or failure to produce fruit. Fertilizers are typically not suitable for correcting (amending) pH-level issues. For the best results (and advice), contact your local extension agency and bring in a soil sample for testing. Based on the test results, they can recommend a product, such as lime or compost, that will bring the soil into a more appropriate pH balance.
When shopping for the best fertilizer for apple trees, most growers notice a three-number ratio that often appears on the front of the package. It’s usually accompanied by the letters “NPK,” which represent the nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Sometimes, the “K” stands for potash, which is a type of potassium, and the “P” stands for phosphate, a kind of phosphorus.
The NPK ratio of a fertilizer denotes the percentage of each of the nutrients by weight. For example, a 10-pound bag of fertilizer with a 10-10-10 NPK ratio will contain 1 pound each of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Each of the nutrients performs a different function when feeding an apple tree.
- Nitrogen: The first nutrient in the NPK ratio, nitrogen, boosts green leaf and branch growth. A small apple sapling might benefit more from nitrogen than a mature tree because the sapling is still growing.
- Phosphorus: This nutrient promotes the growth of strong, healthy roots, which can help anchor an apple tree in areas with high winds. It also helps boost blossom production, so it can be beneficial for helping produce a bountiful harvest.
- Potassium: In addition to boosting the overall health of the apple tree, making it more likely to withstand extreme temperatures or slight droughts, potassium helps the tree maximize the amount of nutrients it absorbs.
Inorganic vs. Organic
The nutrients in a fertilizer product may be either inorganic (synthetic) or organic (natural), but an apple tree uses both types of fertilizers the same way. Growers, however, may prefer one or the other.
- Inorganic: Synthetic fertilizers are created in the lab to produce the same nutrients as organic fertilizers but often at a reduced cost. They will be just as beneficial to the tree as natural fertilizers are. A potential downside is that some inorganic fertilizers can be high in salt content, which may leach into the soil or waterways and destroy natural microorganisms that are important to ecological health.
- Organic: Natural and derived from sources such as chicken manure or blood meal, organic fertilizers don’t contain chemical or synthetic ingredients. Some growers prefer these natural nutrient boosters, both for protecting the environment and because they want the apples to be as natural as possible. The downside is that commercial organic fertilizers can be pricey. On the other hand, coffee grounds are a popular homemade fertilizer for apple trees because they’re free and offer a range of mild nutrients, including phosphorus and nitrogen. Feel free to sprinkle spent coffee grounds around the base of apple trees any time of year.
Fertilizer for apple trees comes in three main types: spikes, liquid, and granular. Each type is applied differently.
- Spikes: One of the simplest ways of how to fertilize apple trees is with spikes made from nutrients that are driven into the ground around the tree’s trunk with a hammer. The spikes dissolve slowly, gradually releasing vital nutrients that are absorbed by the tree’s roots.
- Liquid: For growers who want to give their apple trees a quick boost, liquid fertilizers may be the way to go. They come in ready-to-apply and concentrated liquids and are sprayed on the apple tree’s foliage, where they’re rapidly absorbed and go to work.
- Granules: Granular fertilizers can be applied to the ground beneath an apple tree by sprinkling out of a cup, or with a drop spreader if the grower is fertilizing multiple trees, but the granules may also be water-soluble. Water-soluble granules often come in a hose-end applicator that automatically dilutes and disperses the solution as the grower sprays the tree.
Our Top Picks
The best apple tree fertilizer may not be labeled exclusively for apple trees, but it will contain the nutrients necessary for strong tree growth and fruit production. Most general fruit-tree fertilizers are highly beneficial for feeding apple trees. The following products are all well suited for use on apple trees for overall health and ample fruit production, even though they vary slightly in composition.
A healthy apple tree is one that will produce tasty fruits in the fall. Miracle-Gro’s Fruit and Citrus Plant Food Spikes, with a 10-15-15 NPK ratio, are designed to boost the tree’s overall health; help it resist stressful conditions, such as slight drought; and encourage blossom production.
The spikes contain some natural ingredients, but they are not certified as organic. Each package contains 12 spikes that can be driven into the ground using a hammer or mallet. The Miracle-Gro spikes dissolve gradually to provide a gentle but continuous supply of nutrients that the apple tree’s roots will absorb.
For the best results, position the spikes just below the tree’s dripline (the outside perimeter of its branches) and space them 3 feet apart. The total number of spikes needed will depend on the size of the tree. Use the spikes in spring and again in fall for year-round feeding.
- Type: Spikes
- NPK: 10-15-15
- Organic/inorganic: Inorganic, but some natural ingredients
- No mixing or measuring
- Continuous release of nutrients
- Boosts health and encourages blossom production
- Spikes may break if inserting them in hard soil
Get the Miracle-Gro fertilizer for apples trees at Amazon, Ace Hardware, or Lowe’s.
Growers and home orchardists don’t have to spend a lot to get a high-quality fruit-tree fertilizer that will boost apple production. Jobe’s Organics Fruit and Nut Granular Fertilizer features an NPK ratio of 3-5-5, formulated to encourage root development, reduce stress from extreme temperatures or drought, and boost overall tree health. Best of all, it’s budget-friendly.
The product comes in granulated form for sprinkling around the base of fruit, nut, or citrus trees, and it is suitable for fertilizing newly planted saplings and mature apple trees. The organic ingredients, including bone meal, are beneficial for all fruit trees, including apple trees. This is a relatively mild fertilizer, so plan on applying it every 4 to 6 weeks throughout the growing season.
- Type: Granular
- NPK: 3-5-5
- Organic/inorganic: Organic
- Boosts tree health
- Encourages blossom production
- Must reapply every 4 to 6 weeks
Get the Jobe’s fertilizer for apple trees on Amazon or at The Home Depot.
Don’t let the 0-0-2 NPK ratio discourage you from trying Humboldts Secret Golden Tree Additive. While the product contains only potassium (no nitrogen or phosphorus), the manufacturer has added other amendments not reflected in the NPK number, including kelp, carbs, and other trace minerals.
The potassium in Secret Golden Tree will help boost an apple tree’s overall health, while the other ingredients will improve soil quality and can increase the tree’s uptake of natural nutrients as well as the ability to utilize sunlight, rain, and air to its maximum benefit. The granular fertilizer is water-soluble and, once diluted as recommended on the package, can be either poured around the tree’s base, sprayed on its foliage, or both.
- Type: Water-soluble granules
- NPK: 0-0-2
- Organic/inorganic: Inorganic
- Encourages tree health
- Contains ingredients to improve soil
- Can be used as a spray or poured around tree base
- Contains no nitrogen or phosphorus
Get the Humboldts fertilizer for apple trees at Amazon or Humboldts.
For growers in search of a fertilizer that covers all bases, consider Southern Ag All Purpose Fertilizer, which features a balanced 10-10-10 NPK ratio of nutrients. Southern Ag is well suited for improving tree growth, overall health, and fruit production with equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It also contains additional trace elements, including sulfur, boron, and zinc, that help replenish soil deficiencies.
Southern Ag fertilizer is a granular formulation that is made to sprinkle around the base of the tree. The grower then waters the area, which allows the fertilizer to dissolve and soak into the soil where the tree’s roots absorb it.
- Type: Granular
- NPK: 10-10-10
- Organic/inorganic: Inorganic
- Balanced blend of nutrients
- Added trace minerals
- Easy to apply
Get the Southern Ag fertilizer for apple trees on Amazon.
Those looking for an organic fertilizer that contains added nutrients need look no further than Dr. Earth Natural Wonder Fruit Tree Fertilizer. It features a 5-5-2 NPK ratio designed to boost tree and foliage growth and encourage abundant blossoms. In addition, Dr. Earth’s formulation includes microbes, probiotics, and prebiotics that improve soil quality and enhance the tree’s ability to absorb nutrients.
This is an organic blend and does not contain any synthetics, chemicals, or GMO ingredients. It’s suitable for use in an organic orchard and can be used on other fruit trees and bushes. The granules should be mixed with the soil when planting young apple trees and saplings. For established apple trees, they should be sprinkled around the dripline, worked into the ground, and then watered in.
- Type: Granular
- NPK: 5-5-2
- Organic/inorganic: Organic
- Contains added microbes and micronutrients
- People- and pet-safe
- Should be worked into the soil
Get the Dr. Earth fruit-tree fertilizer at Amazon, The Home Depot (1 lb. bag), or Lowe’s.
Another excellent natural pick, Espoma Organic Tree-tone Fruit and Shade Tree Food offers a 6-3-2 NPK ratio. It’s designed to help young trees grow firm limbs and branches while providing the nutrient combination necessary for root development and blossom production. It’s also well suited for helping trees develop resistance to natural stressors, such as extreme temps or slight drought conditions.
The Espoma brand is well known for its top-notch organic products, and Tree-tone is no exception. In addition to the standard nutrients, this product provides calcium, which strengthens fruit cells and can extend the fruit’s shelf life. This Espoma fertilizer can be sprinkled around the base of small apple trees, but feeding large trees requires poking holes in the ground and then filling them with the granules.
- Type: Granular
- NPK: 6-3-2
- Organic/inorganic: Organic
- Safe for use around pets and humans
- Added microbes
- Large trees require poking holes in the ground
Get the Espoma fertilizer for apple trees at Amazon, Park Seed, or Esbenshade’s Garden Centers.
Any of the fertilizer products in this lineup are well suited for improving the health of apple trees, but our best overall pick, Miracle-Gro fertilizer for apple trees, ticks all the boxes. It offers the nutrients apple trees need, and it comes in slow-release spikes that continually feed the trees for months. Our budget pick, Jobe’s fertilizer for apple trees, also provides optimal nutrients and comes at an attractive price point.
How We Chose the Best Fertilizers for Apple Trees
We conducted extensive research into dozens of today’s best-selling brands of fruit-tree fertilizers when considering the top picks for this list. We looked closely at national brands with stellar reputations, such as Jobe’s and Miracle-Gro. Still, we didn’t automatically eliminate smaller or niche brands if their products contained the nutrients known to boost apple tree health.
We looked at both synthetic and natural formulations, and we considered price as well as buyer satisfaction.
To make our final cut, the products also had to be straightforward and relatively easy to apply. We allowed for some measuring and mixing, but we didn’t select products that required calculating complex formulas or those unsuited to both young and mature apple trees.
Tips for When to Fertilize Apple Trees
It’s a rare soil that naturally provides all the nutrients an apple tree needs to produce a bountiful harvest. Knowing when to fertilize fruit trees is key. The following tips can help.
- Fertilize an apple tree right after transplanting it to help it develop a robust root system.
- Fertilize young apple trees that have not yet reached their mature height in the spring and again in the fall after the leaves have dropped.
- Mature apple trees only need one feeding per year, in spring.
In most types of soil, growing apple trees isn’t too challenging, and many apple trees will start producing apples after a few years, even without feedings. However, applying fertilizer is a good idea for those who want healthier trees and more apples. Newbie growers may have a few questions.
Q. What do fertilizers provide for apple trees?
Fertilizers offer various amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—minerals absorbed by the tree’s roots and leaves to boost health and increase blossom production.
Q. How do I get my apple tree to produce fruit?
Apple trees may not produce fruit for the first 3 to 5 years, but, after that, they can produce apples annually. Apply a balanced fertilizer, such as one with a 10-10-10 NPK or a 5-5-5 NPK, to give the tree ample nutrients for fruit production. Supply water during times of drought as well.
Q. How often should you fertilize apple trees?
There are a few general rules for when to fertilize apple trees, but not all products are the same. Fertilize a new sapling at the time of planting, and then fertilize it every spring and fall until it reaches its mature growth. Mature apple trees only need to be fertilized once a year, in the spring. While those are rules of thumb, some fertilizer products suggest feeding the trees more often, so follow package directions.
Q. How do you increase the size of an apple fruit?
In addition to fertilizing apple trees on the suggested schedule, keep in mind that the apples themselves draw nutrients and energy from the tree. Growers often pinch off more than two or three apples per cluster (as soon as the fruits start to develop), which makes for fewer—but larger—apples.
Q. How much fertilizer does an apple tree need?
That all depends on its size and the fertilizer product. The package instructions should recommend the amount of product to use based on the size of the tree.