Keep Your Trees Growing Strong With Fertilizer
Most landscape trees growing in their natural environments rarely need fertilizer. However, trees growing in infertile soil along roadsides, in urban areas, and around new homes may need extra nutrients to keep growing strong. Apply in early spring or autumn when roots are actively growing.
Photo provided by the National Gardening Association
Determine the Need for Fertlizer
Compare trees to others of the same kind: look at leaf size and color, and the length of new twig growth. Small, pale leaves and stunted growth may signal fertilizer need, but first rule out disease, insects, physical damage, and environmental stress such as flooding or drought. To determine which supplemental nutrients your tree needs, send a soil sample to a testing lab. Find a lab near you by checking in your telephone directory, or by calling your local cooperative extension office.
Choose a Fertilizer
Granular fertilizers are the easiest to apply. Choose one especially formulated for the type of tree, such as fruit or evergreen, or apply an all-purpose formula such as 10-10-10.
Calculate the Size of the Root Zone
Tree roots grow at least twice as far from the trunk as the branches do. To calculate the root radius, measure in feet the distance from the trunk to the end of the longest branch. To calculate the size of the root zone in square feet, multiply (root radius) x (root radius) x 3.14.
Determine the Required Amount of Fertilizer
You can safely apply up to 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year. A 20-pound bag of 10-10-10 fertilizer, enough to cover 2,000 square feet, contains 10 percent or 2 pounds each of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Multiply your tree's root zone by the application rate per square foot to find the total number of pounds to apply.
Measure out the amount of fertilizer you need. Mark the outside boundary of the root zone with a garden hose or a circle of flour or lime. Also mark a circle 3 to 4 feet from the trunk. Evenly spread the fertilizer between the two circles, avoiding application close to the trunk. If the tree is in a lawn, apply when grass is dry. Water to moisten the soil and distribute the fertilizer to a 12- to 18-inch depth.
Tips on Fertilizer
Around trees and shrubs, avoid using "weed-and-feed" lawn fertilizers containing herbicides. Sensitive species may suffer from repeated exposure to these chemicals.
Some testing labs analyze leaves to accurately determine a plant's nutrition needs. For more information, contact your state's cooperative extension agent or a tree service.
Article provided by the National Gardening Association