Replenishing vital nutrients after harvest is key to next season’s new bud growth.

Post-harvest nutrition is a key event in the orchardist’s calendar. Once the fruit is off the tree it’s time to replenish the tree’s reserves for next season.

The window between fruit removal and leaf fall is narrow but it is a critical period to get right. It’s a golden opportunity to top-up vital nutrients to maximum effect by working with what the tree is naturally doing; translocating nutrients and carbohydrates from the leaves back into the buds and woody tissue in preparation for winter dormancy.

Early season growth potential is determined by the nutritional concentration and carbohydrate reserves that have been built up in the buds at leaf fall. So once each variety is harvested you need to implement your post-harvest nutrient plan.


The best time to apply post-harvest nutrients is as soon as practically possible after each variety has been harvested.

To maximise nutrient uptake the leaves need to be in good condition and fully functioning. Don’t wait until the last variety has been harvested before implementing your program since leaf condition on the early maturing varieties have already deteriorated significantly.

Root activity is also largest immediately post-harvest so maximise this by methodically applying post-harvest fertiliser to each variety as soon as possible following the last pick.

Which four nutrients are essential post-harvest? The most likely ones you can do something about post-harvest are Nitrogen, Boron, Zinc and Magnesium.


1. Nitrogen (N)

Ensuring the floral buds have adequate nitrogen is vital to their viability, which is their ability to set fruit. It also lowers biennial bearing tendencies. Autumn is the best time to apply nitrogen to ensure adequate nitrogen is supplied to the floral bud. It has minimal effect on spring shoot growth but has the highest impact on final fruit set compared to applying nitrogen in spring or summer.

Foliar nitrogen applications are the most effective way to directly raise nitrogen concentrations in the floral bud. Nitrogen is needed in large quantities, so a couple of foliar sprays are normally necessary. Urea applied post-harvest at 2-3 per cent solution (2-3kg/100L) 10-14 days apart is a good start.

On soils where soil nitrogen reserves are known to be low, a soil-applied solid nitrogen will also be needed. Try to target 40 per cent of the total trees’ nitrogen requirements post-harvest.

Leaf samples taken in February showing nitrogen levels less than 2.5 per cent, indicate nitrogen applied in autumn would be beneficial.

Signs of low nitrogen status include:

  • Poor fruit set
  • Small fruit size relative to crop load
  • Enhanced fruit colour development
  • Small, pale green foliage
  • Early onset of autumn foliage colour development and premature leaf drop.

Healthy apples ready for picking.

2. Boron (B)

Boron is most effectively applied immediately post-harvest. Boron is needed for pollen tube formation and therefore fruit set. Good boron levels mean more seeds are set; the higher the seed numbers, the higher the calcium levels in the fruit.

Zinc deficiency.

3. Zinc (Zn)

Zinc is an often misdiagnosed, under-rated or ignored trace element, yet a zinc-deficient orchard will be responsible for significant production losses if not addressed. Zinc is important for the formation and activity of chlorophyll and in the functioning of several enzymes and the growth hormone auxin.

Low levels of auxin, as a result of zinc deficiency, cause severe stunting of leaves and shoots, commonly known as ‘little leaf syndrome’. It can also be responsible for blind buds. Symptoms can be erratic whereby some branches show symptoms and others don’t.

Unlike boron, zinc does not have any direct effect on pollination and fruit set, however, with low levels of zinc, bourse leaves never become fully expanded resulting in less carbohydrates for blooms and developing fruit. Research has shown that a positive relationship exists between bourse plus spur leaf area and calcium accumulation in the fruit; the larger the bourse plus spur leaf area, the higher the fruit calcium levels.

Soil applications are ineffectual because zinc reacts with the organic component and other minerals in the soil and is quickly rendered unavailable to the tree. Therefore foliar sprays must be used. However, zinc sprays can russet the fruit and therefore great care is required if treating trees that still have fruit on them.

Post-harvest sprays are therefore the best opportunity to get zinc into the tree, allowing this trace element to be translocated back into the tree and buds as the leaf senesces.

Please note, that a zinc based fungicide program does not address an underlying zinc deficiency.

Magnesium deficiency.

4. Magnesium (Mg)

Magnesium is the central molecule of chlorophyll, the green colour of the leaf. Without it, photosynthesis cannot occur. Other equally important but less known roles of magnesium include: energy transfer; cell wall formation; protein, starch and oil synthesis; and it assists with nutrient uptake from the soil to the roots, especially phosphorus. Magnesium is very mobile in the plant and so a deficiency is first seen in the older leaves.

While a post-harvest magnesium foliar spray is an opportunity to top up the buds, magnesium is needed in much larger quantities than trace elements like zinc and boron. Therefore, there must be follow up applications of both soil and foliar applications the following season to address an inherently magnesium-deficient orchard over the long-term.


Post-harvest to leaf drop period is a relatively narrow but important window to apply nutrients. The key nutrients to focus on are nitrogen, boron, zinc and magnesium. Foliar sprays are very effective post-harvest as nutrients applied to the leaf will be translocated back into the tree and to the buds as the leaves naturally senesce.

Post-harvest nutrition is an important strategy for orchardists to sustain high yields of quality fruit. It can lower biennial bearing risk, maximize early season growth potential, improve fruit set and is the best time to apply some key nutrients. Don’t miss this opportunity!

HortPro have all these products available to ensure your trees’ nutrient status is optimised.

So give us a call today on 027 HortPro (467 8776) or fire through an email


Acknowledgement: The above is an extract taken from an article by Dean Rainham, Horticultural Consultant at AgFirst