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Choosing Organic Fertilizer for Fruit Trees

Introduction to Organic Fertilizer for Fruit Trees

Fruit trees represent orchards with their icon of delicious fruits and large harvests. Air, water, sunshine, nutrients and soil health behind their leaves make fruit trees grow and produce fruits. Choosing the right organic fertilisers for fruit trees is very important for the development of fruit trees and the agriculture sustainability.

Organic fertilisers for fruit trees cannot be underestimated. They come from nature; vegetables and animals; compost, organic manure and other bio-based materials. Organic fertilisers not only feed the fruit trees, but also help growers develop a good relationship with the soil ecosystem. The growing of fruit trees with organic fertilisers is a process to manage the whole orchards in a balanced way, raising the organic concept of the land.

Besides, by spreading organic fertiliser around the trees, we’re also practising the tenets of eco-agriculture. The age of environmental awakening that we live in and the imperative of climate change require us to recognise the role that organic farming is playing in awakening us to the possibility of applying regenerative methods of production across our farming systems. Organic fertilisers rely on renewable resources while using low amounts of non-renewable resources and having a low impact on the environment. As guardian of an orchard, we are obliged to feed the fruit by practising agriculture that respects nature.

Nutrient Requirements of Fruit Trees and Organic Fertilizer Selection

Caring for fruit trees starts with knowledge of the nutrient demands of fruit trees in order to ensure the success of the orchard. The physiological processes of fruit trees’ growth are very specific, where nutrient demands vary in different growth periods. Therefore, it is particularly important to choose fertilisers with the matching nutrients to fulfil the nutrient demands of fruit trees in different periods.
Furthermore, for plant growth, the main nutrients for fruit trees are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), which can enhance cell activity and realise the leaf growth, flowering, fruit-setting and formation processes. The micronutrients including calcium, magnesium and zinc are all important to completed the physiological processes and resolve deficiency problem.

In terms of nutrient profiles, organic fertilisers have wide variety, and are species-specific, suitable for fruit trees. Compost is a common fertiliser in an organic orchard, which can improve the fertility with a balanced nutrient combination. Besides, it can improve the structure of the soil and increase the moisture-holding capacity, which is beneficial for trees’ growth. As plant-based fertilisers, manure and other animal excrements are one of the top fertilisers used in organic orchards. Poultry manure is often used, while it needs to be well composted before applying to the soil surface due to NH3 volatilisation.

Besides, since protein is an important component, a certain amount of seed meal needs to be mixed with manure fertilisers to lower the C/N ratio and increase the stability of the fertiliser. A bit more complicated is the bio-based fertiliser, which comes from plants and animal excrements. Since the source is organic matter, it mainly supplies micronutrients and growth-promoting compounds rather than major nutrients (N, P, K). It is often extracted in a dilute solution such as fish emulsion or seaweed extract.

Therefore, for instance, based on the known fertility needs of the tree, how long the fertiliser takes to break down, and the condition of the soil, the grower can select an organic fertiliser in a way that is better adapted to the specific needs of the tree, the prevailing soil condition, and ensures optimal nutrient uptake for balanced tree growth and fruit development. Further, blending diverse organic fertilisers into orchard management strategies can help address seasonal nutrient deficiencies, enhance soil health, and build more resilient orchard systems over the long term.

Organic vs Inorganic fertiliser - Atlantic Fertilisers

organic fertilizer for fruit trees

Application Techniques and Best Practices for Organic Fertilizers in Orchards

Effective application of organic fertilizes in the orchard is a key for optimizing the benefit of fertilizers in tree health and fruit production. Different application methods and good practices are used to provide and supply nutrients as well as minimise nutrient loss. Tree species, soil properties, climate conditions, customers’ demands are some main factors that should be considered before choosing the best application method.

Broadcast spreading can be employed to uniformly apply organic fertilisers to soil surfaces. Both organic fertilisers can be applied to orchard floors using either spreaders or any other equipment designed to uniformly distribute granules or compost. Even distribution across the floor of the orchard is more appropriate for orchards with uniform soil and uniform spacing of trees. Therefore, before spreading, organic fertilisers need to be applied evenly on the soil surface. It’s important to avoid runoff water to ensure good and uniform coverage within the orchard.

Banding (also called handfuling, rowing or broadcasting along rows) is another way of applying organic fertilisers, in concentrated bands or rows of fertiliser close to, but a short distance from the base of fruit trees. By placing fertiliser in bands near roots – rather than indiscriminately broadcasting it – nutrients can be placed where they’ll be efficiently taken up by fruit trees, which in turn will lead to less nutrient loss from leaching.

Banding is a handy way to target nutrients to trees with ‘hot spots’ (areas with low nutrient levels), or to places where high-value fertiliser is limited or not easily obtained. Band spacing and depth will often need to be adjusted in order to avoid fertiliser burn and root damage.

Another way to fertilise fruit or any other trees is to use foliar application. That means applying liquefied organic fertilisers over the leaves and chutes. Surely, a good foliar spray can deliver nutrients directly, quickly to the trees. Although trees are not the same as your favourite sofa or floor in your apartment, giving your fruit trees foliar fertilizer provides more than just coolness and achievement points. Research has shown that the foliar fertilisation is a good complement to the soil-applied fertilisers.

Over the past decade, organic orchard growers have been adopting more advanced techniques for applying nutrients, which includes precision and controlled delivery methods. In order to apply organic fertilisers efficiently and accurately to fruit trees, contemporary growers have been increasingly using drip irrigation and fertigation systems. Drip irrigation is a highly efficient way to deliver water and nutrients. The system applies water to the root zone of fruit trees by means of a network of drip lines or emitters positioned at the base or at the edge of the tree’s crown, instead of using overhead irrigation (sprayer) or trickle irrigation.

This is suitable for irrigating trees growing on slopes. Currently, one of the most widespread drip irrigation system used in fruit production is the pressure-compensated dripper as it can provide uniform application, increased efficiency and improved tree-water use.

Fertigation is another innovative method used to apply nutrients to fruit trees. In this technique, liquid organic fertilisers are injected into irrigation system. It is highly preferable for growers increasingly to use fertigation rather than fertilising, both subsequently incorporated into soil or surface applied. Fertigation technology allows trees to receive the targeted amount of nutrients under precise timing, controlling and avoinding fertiliser leaching. This is beneficial for not contaminating the soil with fertilisers, and at the same time, it has a positive impact on the environment for reducing land-based contaminants.

Soil Health and Organic Fertilizer Management in Fruit Tree Orchards

Soil health is the main factor that influences tree health and productivity in orchards of fruit trees. Soil fertility is the prime necessity in fruit-tree orchards because fruit trees have a high nutrition requirement that other crops do not have. Organic fertilisers greatly improve soil health by contributing to better soil structure, improved fertility, and the development of a diverse microbiome in the soil. In contrast, the application of synthetic fertilisers leads to the degradation of soil quality in the long term.

Improving soil structure and function is one of the main advantages of organic fertiliser inputs, not only in terms of nutrient addition, but also due to the processes that may green your soil. For instance, the nutrient compost increases the soil aggregation/porosity, enhancing its capability to absorb air and water, thus favouring root development and health. Also, organic fertiliser inputs promote the addition of organic matter to the soil, which enhances its capacity to retain nutrients and promotes the soil resilience against erosive events and practices.

Organic fertilisers also stimulate microbial activity in soils, which is key to nutrient cycling and organic matter decomposition. Soil microorganisms decompose soil organic matter by releasing nutrients in a form that is available to fruit trees. Soil microorganisms can also act to reduce pathogen populations and diseases that otherwise may require chemical management.

Add to this integrated nutrient management (INM) practices that combine organic fertilisers with other soil amendments, including cover crops, mulches, and crop rotations. Cover crops help protect the soil from erosion, improve soil structure, and add organic matter when ploughed in. Mulches hold soil moisture, reduce weed emergence, and moderate soil temperature, benefiting roots. Crop rotations break pest and disease cycles, reduce soil compaction, and bring nutrients back to the soil, all of which improve orchard resilience.

In short, organic fertiliser management is a key factor for healthy soil and its ecosystem function in the fruit tree orchard. Adopting integrated nutrient management strategies to improve the soil structure, microbial activity can lead to the production of high-quality fruits in the orchards for years to come.

Challenges and Solutions in Organic Fertilizer Use for Fruit Trees

Sure, organic fertilisers also have limitations, such as growers’ budgets, sourcing and obtaining them, the increasing need to take into account nutrient imbalances and discouraging plant growth. However, by using a bit of creativity and thinking ahead, practising smarter gardening, we could get around these issues.

The next obvious reason that holds back people from using organic fertilisers could be cost. There is no doubt that the application of organic fertilisers, such as compost and manure, involves greater resource inputs vis-à-vis their synthetic counterparts. This is because the sources of organic fertilisers are not largely commercial and hence the source of the nutrients from organic fertilisers has to be searched in the field, and if not sourced from the field, organically-grown feedstock still need processing before application.

All this also involves costs for growers, which might be more than when applied with an in organic fertiliser such as urea. However, the long-term advantages of organics such as buildup of soil health and less burden on environment offsets the initial investment. Further, a number of government subsidies, grants and other schemes are being extended to promote organic agriculture, which makes use of organic fertilisers more economic for farmers as well.

Another challenge is simply the sources/supply of quality organic materials for making fertilisers. Depending on the geographic location of the grower or farm operation, it may be difficult to source adequate organic materials for making fertilisers. Another challenge can be the variability in quality and consistency among sources of organic materials, more specifically the nutrient content of those organic materials. This can create a challenge when it comes to consistently providing quality fertilisers with each use of the materials.

To address these issues, growers could look at alternative sources of organic material, such as food waste from local restaurants or agricultural by-products from a farm that is local to them. Another solution to these challenges could be collaborating with other growers, compost facilities and agricultural organisations to acquire quality organic materials for fertiliser production.

Organic fertilizer manufacturing factory
Organic fertilizer manufacturing factory

Future Perspectives and Emerging Trends in Organic Fertilizers

There is plenty to look forward to as fruit growers become more and more interested in cultivating their fruits in accordance with sustainable agricultural best practises. Our hope is that the future of organic fertiliser for fruit trees will be one that keeps pace with the moving landscape of research and new trends in organic fertiliser technologies. New avenues are opening up in the world of tree fertilisation, with new research projects and passionate concerns for the health of fruit trees and our planet.

Innovations will revolve around creating new organic fertiliser formulations and delivery systems for fruit trees. At least, this is the promise researchers make nowadays as they delve into a new frontier of ‘smart’ technologies including encapsulation and controlled-release mechanisms that allow for a more efficient use of organic fertilisers. Ultimately lowering nutrient losses to the environment and allowing for higher efficiency in nutrient uptake by fruit trees, these new technologies also guarantee maximum sustainability, as they require lesser amounts of external inputs.

Organic fertilisers management is another target of precision agriculture, leveraging the ability of digital farming technologies such as remote sensing, drones and sensor-based monitoring systems to evaluate orchard health and nutrient status in real-time, and then guide on-demand fertiliser applications according to both temporal and spatial variability in plant needs. Through proper use of precision agriculture strategies, nutrient management could be better optimised to maximise fruit tree performance and to minimise input waste.

Ecological-based fertilisers, referred to as microbial inoculants and bio-stimulants, are experiencing a boom in the market. Product developers claim they represent low-input, eco-friendly alternatives to traditional organic fertilisers, and possess an inherent fertilising power that biologicals can utilise to optimise plant and human health. Many products use microorganisms to enhance soil health and facilitate better cycling of nutrients and water. Through establishment of plant-microbe symbiosis, biological fertilisers enhance nutrient uptake, disease resistance and drought tolerance in fruit trees to foster healthy, resilient orchards.

Furthermore, the application of the principle of the ‘organic fertiliser economy’ to the circle-economy is a growing concern in sustainable fruit tree farming as it addresses both soil fertility issues and food waste management. Through nutrient recycling, organic waste streams are valorised, thereby reducing external inputs and enhancing resource utilisation efficiency in fruit tree orchards. The recycling of agro-residues, food waste and green manures into organic fertilisers contributes to circularity of nutrient management that strengthens regenerative multi-functional agriculture, promoting closed-loop nutrient management and maximising beneficial soil properties and ecosystem diversity.

Thus, all in all, the future of organic fertiliser use for fruit trees is about innovation, sustainability and resilience. To ensure optimum use of organic fertiliser for fruit trees, enhance orchard productivity and secured long-term environmental sustainability, fruit growers can increasingly take advantage of emerging technologies, scientific advancements and circular economy models.

Conclusion

To sum up, choosing the organic fertiliser for fruit trees is a crucial step that determines the orchard’s health, production, and sustainability. So, growers are faced with important challenges when making the decision of which fertiliser to use. In order to maintain the best performance of the orchard, growers need to choose a fertiliser that takes into account the peculiar nutrient requirement of fruit trees, and use it according to the best practices of organic fertiliser management. Adopting organic fertilisers is a strategy that can keep the orchard healthy as it will support soil health, biodiversity and ecosystem resilience.

Application development, both by the growers themselves – through finer tunings with precision agriculture or application of biological fertilisers – and upstream for fruit tree orchards, can increase nutrient efficiency and mitigate both overdosing and nutrient imbalances. At the same time, cross-talk between growers, researchers and policymakers will be needed to drive this technological evolution, and guarantee that the challenges are addressed and well managed.

Moving forward, development prospects of fruit trees’ organic fertilizers are full of opportunities. Traditional practices will continue to be part of this process, but new methodologies, such as precision agriculture, biological fertilising and the principles of the circular economy, will give strength and continuity to the trend of optimising the use of nutrients, promoting the resilience of orchards, and advancing a sustainable production system for fruit producers.

The broader answer is that the choice of organic fertilisers for fruit trees is a choice to manage ecosystems that work well for biodiversity, soils and sustainability. The use of organic fertilisers for fruit trees can be a choice to be stewards of the land, stewards of orchards, stewards of the harvest. It’s a choice to be stewards of the future harvests we’ll be able to enjoy today and in coming decades.

Here are some references on organic fertilizer for fruit trees:

  1. Zaller, Johann G., and Stefan Winter. “Earthworms and legumes control carbon cycling in a tropical organic farming system.” Biological Fertility of Soils 48.7 (2012): 737-746.
  2. Sánchez-Monedero, Miguel A., et al. “Greenhouse gas emissions during composting of two-phase olive mill wastes with different agroindustrial by-products.” Chemosphere 61.5 (2005): 537-545.
  3. Sardans, Jordi, and Josep Peñuelas. “Soil organic carbon and nitrogen, but not phosphorus, are sensitive indicators of land-use changes across a range of Mediterranean ecosystems.” Ecosystems 10.6 (2007): 949-966.
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