Growing your own cherry trees is pretty simple to do and even easier when you understand fertilizer as it applies to cherry trees. Understanding what it is, what it does and the types available can help you make an educated choice about the fertilizer you choose for your cherry trees.
Fertilizer can be anything you can add to the soil, either of an organic or chemical nature, that improves the soils ability to be support life. Lots of things can be used to improve soil fertility. Organic sources are those that either are or come from once living things like compost, animal manures or cover crops that are later turned under. Inorganic or chemical fertilizers are man-made and blended to meet specific needs.
Organic vs. Inorganic Fertilizers
Cherry trees are versatile in that they can grow in sand, clay or loam soil types though they prefer loam. Loam soil consists of a good mix of sand, clay and organic components. If the soil is tightly compressed, roots cannot spread adequately. Organic material helps break it up. It also provides many nutrients such as nitrogen and potassium that cherry trees need. The drawback with adding peat moss, dried leaves, grass clippings or manures is that you cannot be sure how much of any type of nutrient you are providing. There is also the physical labor of working it into the soil and allowing enough time for it to break down to a point where the nutrients are usable by the cherry tree’s roots. This should be done well before planting.
Typical commercial fertilizers come with prescribed amounts of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. They are easier to apply, you can control the dosage and you can easily supplement as needed. The drawback is commercial fertilizers are more expensive and can cause pollution to nearby ground water.
How to Determine a Cherry Tree’s Fertilizer Needs
The best way to know what your cherry tree needs is with a soil test. Take a sample from the site to your local extension office. They will provide you with nutrient composition, pH values and recommendations for adjustments you can make to correct and deficiencies.
Other ways to determine the need for fertilizer are to observe your cherry tree’s growth. If it is a young tree, under about 7 years of age, you should expect 12 to 18 inches of growth per year. It should start producing fruit regularly after the third to fifth year. If these things are not happening, poor soil nutrients could be the culprit. If your tree is growing and producing as it should, there is no need to fertilize. An application of general 10-=10-10 fertilizer every 3 years or so should be sufficient.
How to Apply Fertilizer for Your Cherry Trees
The best time to do this is before you plant. Till the soil and work in the fertilizer at least six months to a year prior to planting. Keep the site weed free so young cherry trees don’t have to compete with weeds for nutrients. If the tree is established, apply the fertilizer in the spring in a band under the outer edge of the trees’ canopy, at least 18 inches away from the trunk to prevent fertilizer burn. If you are adding organic matter to an established tree, work it into the topsoil carefully without causing major disruption to the root system.
Iowa State University: Fertilizing Trees and Small Fruits
Purdue University: Growing Cherries (Pg 3)