Nutrient Management

Management of orchard fertility specifically for cider apple production has not been specifically optimized for New England conditions nor for the multiple cider apple cultivars and planting systems used. Apple fertility programs recommended in New England have generally been developed for optimum fresh market fruit which are grown for (relatively) large fruit size. Cider-specific apples are typically managed for maximum, preferably annual, tonnage of fruit, with less regard for fruit size. Both fresh market and cider apple production systems will ultimately remove substantial amounts of mineral nutrients from the orchard system, and those must be replaced either from the soil reserves or through application of fertilizing materials. Some important minerals to maintain include potassium, boron, calcium, and magnesium, and those should be managed in the same way for both dessert and cider cultivars. Some research suggests that the phenolic (tannin) content of cider cultivar juice may benefit lower levels of nitrogen than are typically recommended for dessert fruit.For biennial cider cultivars, it may be prudent to reduce nitrogen applications in the ‘off’ year in order to reduce excessive vegetative growth. The increased susceptibility of many European cider cultivars to fire blight may also justify a reduced-nitrogen program for those trees.

As with any orchard nutrient management program, it is important to know the nutrient status of the trees and the soil before making fertilizer applications. The same recommendations for foliar tissue sampling and soil analysis as are included for fresh fruit are suggested for cider orchards.