Growing Apples crop nutrition advice

Everything you need to know about apples fertilization, best practice, suitable products, field trials and more

Advice for growing Apples (Malus Domestica)

  • Apples (Malus domestica) belong to the Rosaceae family, which includes a wide variety of fruit-bearing trees, shrubs, and herbs.

  • Apples are a significant part of U.S. agriculture, and orchards are found in various states across the country with diverse climates and soil conditions contributing to the cultivation of different apple varieties

  • Key apple-producing states are Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and Virginia

Growing apples in the US

Commercial apple production in the US requires careful attention to soil variability, tree nutrient demands, fruit quality, sustainability, water management, and the integration of precision agriculture technologies. Adapting nutrient management practices to address these factors is essential for sustainable orchard management and profitable apple production.

  • Proper nutrient management directly influences fruit quality, yield, and marketability.
  • Balancing macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, along with micronutrients , ensures optimal fruit size, color, flavor, and storability, which are essential for commercial success. Trials with Nova HiPeak™, a PK water-soluble fertilizer, show an increased fruit size of 30%.
  • Orchard Establishment: Optimizing fertility management from the outset maximizes tree growth, development, and long-term fruiting success.
  • Importance of Irrigation Water Quality: Even in regions with higher rainfall, irrigation water quality influences nutrient availability and the operation of irrigation systems, impacting nutrient uptake by apple trees.
  • Calcium Management: Maintaining adequate calcium levels in apple trees is crucial for fruit development and storage quality, often requiring foliar or soil applications to prevent disorders like bitter pit.
  • Innovative Nutrient Solutions: Emerging solutions like Polysulphate offer prolonged release of essential nutrients such as calcium, sulfur, and magnesium, along with low chloride potassium, aiding in optimal tree nutrition.
  • Intensive Spray Schedules: Effective pest and disease management through intensive spray schedules, combined with foliar applications of macro- and micronutrients, like Nova HiPeak™ and Nova Pulse, ensures optimal tissue nutrient levels during fruit development.
  • Improving Fruit Quality and Storage: Strategies like foliar potassium applications contribute to improved fruit quality and storage capabilities, enhancing overall marketability for apple growers.
  • Research Insights and Trials: Ongoing research, such as ICL’s North American apple trials, provides valuable insights into fertility management practices, helping growers make informed decisions for their orchards.

What soil type, pH and climate do apple orchards prefer?

Apples are adaptable and can be grown in a range of climates and soils, but certain conditions are considered ideal for their cultivation.

  • Deep, well-drained soils, with moderate organic matter content and adequate aeration (like sandy and loamy soils), allow for proper root development and nutrient availability
  • The ideal pH for apples falls between 6.0 and 7.0. This slightly acidic to neutral range is conducive to nutrient uptake
  • Windbreaks and air circulation can protect trees from damage and help reduce the risk of diseaeses such as scab
  • Water needs are approximately 9.5 to 12.5 acre-inches between bud break and leaf fall.
  • While adequate and consistent moisture (often provided through drip irrigation) is crucial, it is important to avoid waterlogging, as exsessive moisture can lead to root diseases
  • Apple trees are very sensitive to soil salts (maximum salinity of 2-3 mS / cm) and exchangeable sodium.

Key aspects of an apple crop

  • The apple tree is more resistant to cold than other species of pome such as the pear tree. Also, it does not need as much heat and light to ripen and the apple tree prefers humid climates to dry ones. Although the flowers are sensitive to late spring frosts, the apple tree supports temperatures below -10ºC, without affecting its bark, although below -15ºC some flower buds may be lost. 
  • The main limitation for the cultivation of apple trees in the southern regions is the requirement of cold hours, since although there are varieties with low requirements (around 500 cold hours) most of the most productive varieties need more than 1500 cold hours). 
  • In southern and southeast exposures, high light intensity can produce vitreous fruits and high heats favor internal darkening, surface scalds, or sunburn. 
  • It is an undemanding crop in the soil, with a shallow root system, although it prefers deep and light clay soils, it does well in heavy or shallow soils. 

Nutrient requirements

  • Apples, like any fruit crop, require a range of nutrients for healthy growth, development, and fruit production.
  • While nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are key to optimal growth, secondary macronutrients such as magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), and sulfur (S) can be crucial for fruit quality.
  • Micronutrients, specifically, iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), are important for various enzymatic processes. Deficiencies can be identified through soil and foliar testing.
  • Phosphorus and micronutrient deficiencies may appear in soil with high pH.
  • Calcium management is very important for the quality of the fruit and a combination of soil and foliar application of calcium is often needed
1st year9696728268
2nd year849612610452
3rd year14012022016858
(20 tons/acre)

Estimated nutrient uptake (kg/t):

MonthPhysiological stage N ((lbs/acre)P2O5 (lbs/acre)K2O (lbs/acre)
FebruaryDormancy 91318
MarchFlower initiation 131318
AprilFruit-set 131836
MayFruitlet development and bud initiation 181336
JuneFruit development & vegetative development 9936
JulyFruit development & vegetative development 4436
AugustBeginning of harvest 449
SeptemberEnd of harvest 940
OctoberEnd of harvest 900
Total application lbs/acre 8980187

Dynamic of nutrient uptake over a crop season in apples

Nutrient deficiencies

NitrogenIt is the most important mineral element in plant nutrition. It is a constituent of amino acids, proteins and nucleic acids and therefore is essential in growth, both in its cell division and elongation phase. It is part of the chlorophyll molecule and RUBISCO enzyme, both directly affecting photosynthesis and carbon fixation. Without an adequate supply of N, the tree takes too long to reach fruit bearing, and in the case of a tree already bearing, inadequate nitrogen limits shoot production for fruit production in the following year.
PotassiumPotassium's main role is directly related to quality and production. Increased potassium levels improve the quality and quantity of the crop. The main roles of potassium are protein synthesis, photosynthetic processes, and sugar transport from leaves to fruits.
PhosphorusThe main role of phosphorus is associated with energy production, forming part of ATP. These compounds store the energy from photosynthesis and release it at specific sites in the plant where it is required. They are essential in all processes in which there is active cell division, such at times of root development and in flowering.
CalciumCalcium is essential for the formation of the plant structure and the cell wall. It is also at the center of the plant's defense mechanisms, which helps it detect and react against external factors. Physiological deficiencies of calcium may lead to poor fruit quality. For example, bitterpit.


Apple Trials

Nova HiPeak on Apples
Kent City, Michigan, USA, 2022


fruit weight increase


Here are some frequently asked questions we received from farmers regarding growing apples

  • Calcium management must be approached primarily from the beginning of the growing season via the soil, taking advantage of the plant’s nutrient uptake activity and transpiration. Providing calcium through Polysulphate, for example, helps to maintain essential calcium reserves in the soil. Polysulphate can also be an important source of calcium for acidic soils where calcium deficiency can be common. Foliar contributions can also act as an aid to calcium management strategies. 


  • The K/N ratio is more important than the amount of nitrogen, and it must be very high two months before harvest.  Although ‘bitter-pit,’ (has a strong genetic basis) it is a calcium-related disorder common in Honeycrisp, and Ca is also critical for maximizing quality and minimizing fruit defects.

    Here are some tips:

    • Soil Testing and Nutrient Management: Regular soil testing helps monitor nitrogen levels, enabling balanced fertilization to prevent excessive nitrogen application.
    • Appropriate Nitrogen (and split) Application: Tailoring nitrogen fertilization to growth stages and tree needs prevents soil nitrogen spikes, reducing the risk of bitter pit. Dividing nitrogen applications across the season maintains steady soil nitrogen levels, minimizing bitter pit occurrence.
    • Calcium Management: Adequate calcium levels in soil and plants prevent bitter pit; calcium-rich soil amendments or foliar applications help maintain optimal levels.
    • Irrigation Management: Proper watering practices ensure optimal nutrient uptake, decreasing the risk of nutrient imbalances and bitter pit development.
    • Varietal Selection: Choosing less susceptible apple varieties reduces the likelihood of bitter pit occurrence.
    • Post-Harvest Storage Conditions: Maintaining appropriate storage conditions minimizes bitter pit development during storage.
    • Monitoring and Management Practices: Regular orchard monitoring for nutrient imbalances and implementing management practices like pruning and thinning promotes tree health and reduces bitter pit risk.

  • Irrigation water can often be high in pH and levels of bicarbonates.  Acidifying fertilizers like Nova Pekacid or Agrolution pHLow can reduce water pH, thereby managing bicarbonates while also ensuring adequate availability of nutrients like P and Ca.  Learn more about water quality and orchard health.


    • Pruning: Proper pruning practices balance vegetative growth and fruit production by removing excess branches and water sprouts. Pruning work during winter should be aimed at regulating the amount of fruit and the development of the tree.
    • Nutrient Management: Soil tests and foliar analysis guide targeted fertilization to address nutrient deficiencies and maintain tree health.
    • Water Management: Consistent irrigation prevents waterlogging, ensuring fruit development without issues like cracking or poor quality.

Need expert advice on your plant nutrition plan?

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Exceptional natural multi-nutrient fertilizer

Polysulphate Granular


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Agrolution pHLow

An advanced fertigation and pH management solution with an elevated potassium-to-nitrogen ratio and an extra boost of calcium

Agrolution pHLow High K Plus Ca 15-6-27 +3.3Ca with micros


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The perfect solution when your crops need a boost of water-soluble phosphorus and potassium

Nova PeKacid 0-60-20


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A P-K foliar fertilizer, plus micronutrients, to help keep your finger on the pulse of N-fixation.

Nova PULSE (0-6-4 + Co, Mo, Zn)


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Agroblen Total

A controlled-release fertilizer provides a balanced supply of NPK plus S to deliver precision crop nutrition for up to six months

Agroblen Total Balanced 14-14-14 (5-6M)


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Quick-working source of nitrogen and magnesium for strong growth

Nova Magnific 11-0-0+9.3Mg


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A nitrogen-free fertilizer high in sulfur and potassium

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Get your plants off to a quick start with MagPhos

Nova MagPhos 0-55-18+4.21Mg


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