Fertilizing Young Almond Trees – A Few Tips

A few questions come up every year in regards to fertilizing first, second, and third leaf trees. Since these trees are rapid growing, and in some cases, producing crop, adequate fertilization is crucial for growth.

First leaf trees: As a guideline, I generally recommend no more than one ounce of elemental nitrogen per tree per application. Three to four (or more) applications using a general blend (i.e. 12-12-12 NPK) fertilizer per year will produce a nice result. Using a triple 12, this totals about 8 ounces of actual fertilizer applied per tree.  Applications should begin upon leaf out and continue about every 4-6 weeks.  To prevent any nitrogen burn, the first applications of the year should be less than one ounce while later applications should not be greater than one ounce.

Although I know some growers are successful, I have observed enough tree damage to caution against using liquid based fertigation products for first leaf trees. It is easy to overdose the trees with nitrogen, especially in hot weather, causing tree die-back. I agree that using granular fertilizers is a conservative approach, but one that has been tested and used extensively over the years.

Second leaf trees: The rootzone of 2nd leaf trees can be quite extensive, but is still limited in comparison to mature trees. Even if the grower is able to fertigate, I usually still like to see the first application to be granular. Why? In many cases adequate potassium and phosphate have not been applied in the previous dormant season, thus applying a 12-12-12 fertilizer will ensure at least some level of these nutrients as the tree begins the rapid growth period of April and May. Later applications can be made through the fertigation system. Again, follow the rule of one ounce per tree per year of growth. So, no more than 2 ozs of elemental nitrogen at any one application. This is about 16 ozs of Triple 12, 11 ozs of CAN-17, or 6 ozs of UAN-32.

Third leaf trees: As the trees enter their “adolescent years,” caution must be used again when fertilizing. Follow the one ounce per tree per year of growth and in most cases burn should be avoided.

Slow orchard tree growth: If the trees are slightly stunted in size, it is better to reduce the rate of fertilization, apply more frequently, and apply nitrate sourced nitrogen to encourage growth. Usually, a stunted tree means a compromised root system. Using these strategies can help “spoon feed” the struggling tree.

Increasing Fertilizer Efficiency: With trees, it is better to fertilize smaller doses more frequently. This increases percentage of fertilizer uptake while reducing the risk of nutrient leaching. Following this principle, the rates mentioned above can be reduced and applied more frequently to ensure greater use efficiency amongst smaller trees.

Flood Irrigation: Be careful when applying a large dose of fertilizer which is followed quickly by an irrigation. Although this practice is recommended to increase fertilizer use efficiency, it can damage trees in hot weather. If the application is going to be close to the maximal rate as described above, and the weather conditions are greater than 85 degrees, making a slight reduction of applied rates (~10%) will reduce the risk of damage. This commonly occurs with hot weather because the trees are pulling large amounts of water which carries a high amount of nutrients into the trees. I have observed tree damage from this scenario about a handful of times with rates that initially appeared safe.

Fertilizing in cool, spring weather: Research suggests that using nitrate sourced nitrogen earlier in the growing season (Potassium nitrate, Calcium nitrate, etc) is more efficient in the earlier part of the season than urea or ammonium based fertilizers. Since urea and ammonium based fertilizers must be converted to nitrate by the soil-borne bacterial community, nitrate sources are more readily available for trees – especially in cooler soils. After soil temperatures increase, switching back to urea/ammonium based fertilizers is possible and can be done to reduce costs.

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11 thoughts on “Fertilizing Young Almond Trees – A Few Tips

    1. Philip,
      Trees can be fertilized at bloom, but generally it is more efficient to wait until they are green. Nitrogen moves with water, and until the trees begin to pull water by transpiration, nitrogen does not move (for the most part) into the tree.

      First leaf – first time the tree has leafed out in the orchard. This is used as a bit of “lingo” to save confusion since trees are usually completed their first year of growth when delivered from the nursery.


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  2. hi I want to ask I have almonds trees this year I use yaramill complex and yaramilla panther can youj tell me where I can find some programs for yaramilla fertilizers for almond how much to put per tree and what yaramilla fertilizers to use

    1. Thanks for the comment. I am unsure of what specific programs in regards to the fertilizer due the varying types available. Generally, we use a blend (12-12-12) in which we applied no more than one ounce of actual nitrogen per tree at any given application, with no more than 4 applications. With that in mind, if the fertilizer is a 12% blend of nitrogen (e.g. 12-12-12), that would mean we would need 8 ozs of of fertilizer to deliver about one ounce of actual nitrogen.

      If using the metric system, there are roughly 28.5 grams in an ounce.

  3. Hi my question is when should fertilizer be stopped in almond orchards? Mine are 8th leaf and my PCA sent me fertilizer. Whereas I hear from other almond farmers that we should stop fertilizing in April. Please advise, thanks

    1. Peter,
      Nitrogen is used by the tree through the whole year, with the majority of uptake required during kernel development. This process usually ends around mid- to late-May. Nitrogen fertilization can occur up to or even through that point, depending on the rate being applied and amount of nitrogen required for the crop. Generally, the advice has been to split the nitrogen budget with 80% being applied before the completion of kernel fill and 20% being applied in the post harvest period.

      Typically, if applying multiple, small applications of nitrogen, more fertlization will be required than larger “slugs” of material. There is some evidence that multiple applications are more efficient than fewer, larger applications. More can be found here: http://thealmonddoctor.com/?s=nitrogen

      Hope that helps,

  4. Hi David,
    I was just wondering about planting new almond trees into soil that has had the previous trees reincorporated into it? Our land will be sitting for a year before planting the new trees but I would imagine there is still some available nitrogen that may need to be taken into account before fertilizing. Is it possible to add less than an ounce for the first application but still cause tree damage due to the N that is already available in the soil?

    Thank you for your help!


    1. Dana,
      A soil analysis will help determine the amount of residual nitrogen. If the amount is high, than fertilization rates should be reduced. I would still consider making one or two applications of an ounce or less in the spring due to the trees having a limited rootzone from the transplanting process. Once the roots begin to expand (and the tree grows), they will have access to a greater amount of stored soil nitrogen.

      I doubt that the above application would cause nitrogen burn/uptake – even with high rates in the soil. If you are concerned, reducing the amount to 1/2-3/4 of an ounce would be okay.


  5. Hallow.
    I’m a student working on Almond fertilization study and I have to supply each individual tree with it’s macro nutrients requirements. how much nurients should I supply for each tree, knowing that the trees cultivated as rain fed

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