Issue: June 9, 2007

Fertilize apple trees?


Do I need a new fertilizer for the apple tree in my yard? The leaves on my apple tree are turning yellow and they feel like velvet.



Have you been fertilizing the tree? Did you happen to use a fertilizer containing an herbicide? Some herbicides can cause leaves to yellow and thicken. If you used a broadleaf herbicide in the root zone of your apple tree, contact your local NMSU Cooperative Extension Service office to determine what you should do next.

If you didn't use an herbicide in the root zone of the tree, how extensive is the yellowing? Is every leaf or the majority of leaves yellowing? This may indicate a pH problem and iron deficiency. Apply a fertilizer containing chelated iron to alleviate this problem. Sulfur can also be applied to the soil outside the dripline of the tree. The sulfur will help acidify the soil and make nutrients more available to the tree.

Have you been irrigating the tree regularly? We have recently changed from a rather wet spring to dry weather. Sometimes we don't begin irrigating as soon as necessary. A brief period of drought stress will also cause many leaves to turn yellow and fall from the tree. Water every two weeks to moisten the soil to a depth of 2 to 3 feet. Apply the water from the dripline of the tree outward. This distance outward depends on the size of the tree and the landscape around the tree. Wetting the soil deeply from the dripline outward 5 to 10 feet should be sufficient.

Finally, we have entered into a period when natural leaf yellowing and leaf drop occurs. As the weather becomes hot and dry, many trees dispose of surplus leaves to conserve water. You will find some of the first leaves formed this year are those that have yellowed and fallen. If this is the case, there is no cause for worry. You will also see some fruit drop as the tree naturally thins some of its fruit with the changing weather.

For more information, contact your local NMSU Extension Service office. You can take a sample to them to facilitate their diagnosis.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!