Why feed trees?
In nature, forest trees are fertilized by the nutrients recovered from leaf litter and other organic material. This natural process rarely takes place in planned landscapes, so nutrients in the soil must be replaced by regular fertilization. (Some textbooks correctly point out that fertilizer is not “plant food.” Technically, plants make their own “food” through photosynthesis. Fertilizer simply provides the nutrients necessary for that and other metabolic plant processes.)
Sure, most trees survive without regular fertilization. However, they will not normally reach their full potential. Regular “feeding” will help trees grow to full size, live longer, and have a more attractive appearance. Also, the best defense against insect, disease, and other problems is a vigorously growing, well-fed tree.
Nutrients can be divided into three categories—primary, secondary, and micronutrients—but what does this mean?
Primary Nutrients: These are represented by the analysis (the big numbers on your bag of fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 12-6-6. In order, these numbers represent the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (the primary nutrients) in a particular fertilizer. These are called primary nutrients because they are the ones most needed by trees, in volume.
Secondary Nutrients: These are not shown in big numbers but should be part of the “guaranteed analysis” shown on the fertilizer bag. Secondary Nutrients are needed in significant, but lesser, quantities, and include calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. Fortunately, these elements can easily be added by applying dolomitic limestone and/or gypsum.
Micronutrients: Often overlooked and needed in lesser amounts, these nutrients provide for the synthesis of chlorophyll and the activation of other enzymes essential to the use of nitrogen and the overall growth process. Micronutrients include Boron, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, and Zinc.
Slow vs. Fast Release
Fast release fertilizers can serve a valid purpose when trees are in distress and need emergency attention. More often than not, however, fast-release equals fast disappearance. Most of the time, a slow-release formula (with limited fast-release capability) is best for fertilizing trees. Rather than a short, intense “feeding,” trees do respond better to a slower, more measured release of nutrients over a period of months rather than weeks.
Research indicates that the nutrient most needed for growth is nitrogen. As a result, the favored analysis is two to three times nitrogen compared to phosphorous and potassium. Our favorite for this analysis is Espoma PlantTone. Not only is the mix of primary nutrients correct and slow release, but Espoma PlantTone contains all of the micronutrients mentioned above.
An annual application of the recommended fertilizer in March-April should be sufficient to sustain adequate energy and growth throughout the growing season.
For trees growing in mulched, forested or similar locations, simple surface application will do the job. Just spread the granular fertilizer on the ground evenly around the edge of the tree’s canopy (dripline). Do not put fertilizer within one foot (minimum) of the trunk.
For trees growing in turf, fertilizer is best applied beneath the root zone of the grass. Punch, drill, or dig small holes 8-12″ deep evenly spaced around the dripline (about 3 feet apart) and distribute the fertilizer equally among the holes. Then cover or fill in the holes. This method puts the nutrients into the tree’s root zone and avoids burning or over stimulating the grass (and wasting fertilizer).
One cup of Espoma PlantTone per foot diameter of the tree’s branch spread should be sufficient for surface applications. When applying beneath grass as described above, two-thirds of a cup per foot of branch spread should do the trick.
Remember: Your trees are the most enduring, the hardest-working, and often the most valuable elements of your landscape. They protect you and your home from heat and wind, reducing energy costs and cleaning the air while beautifying the world. Isn’t a good, square meal the least they deserve?
You want your tree to be its best. To grow larger. To live longer. To look better.
For that to happen, you need to care for it throughout the seasons. Water it during dry spells. Mulch in the spring. And, fertilize your tree when it lacks nutrients.
When you fertilize your trees, you replace the necessary minerals and nutrients that are missing from the soil.
Your Tree Fertilization Guide
Look no further for everything you should know about when to fertilize a tree, why you should definitely do it, and how to select the best fertilizer.
Why Should I Fertilize My Tree?
Fertilizer helps trees stay healthy.
Trees are tough, but that doesn’t stop nutrient deficiencies from trying to shake them. Fertilization gives trees important nutrients, supports tree growth, and contributes to the overall health and vitality of a tree.
In this video, Dr. Dan Herms, Vice President of Research and Development at the Davey Institute, shares why we should fertilize trees.
Does My Tree Need To Be Fertilized?
In forests, soils have nutrients galore. In our yards, that’s not often the case.
As we sweep away leaves, twigs, and fallen bark, we’re removing potential recycling of nutrients for the soil. Additionally, the grass around our trees is unnatural and often outcompetes trees for available nutrients and water. That’s why we often need to fertilize our trees with a slow-release fertilizer – to mimic nature and replace those lost nutrients.
Look for signs that your tree is lacking nutrients in the soil.
If you see these signs, fertilization can be part of a holistic approach to restoring your plant’s health.
- Shorter than normal annual twig growth
- Undersized leaves that are fewer in number, causing a thinner canopy
- Dead branches and branch tips
- Leaf veins darker than leaf margins
- Leaves of most species any color other than dark green, such as yellow or purple
If your trees are experiencing any of the above symptoms, have your local arborist inspect the tree, test the soil, and provide an official diagnosis. Even the leaves themselves can be tested for nutrient deficiencies.
When Is the Ideal Time to Fertilize Trees?
At Davey, we fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer, so you don’t have to worry about “the best time to fertilize.” The fertilizer is designed to slowly release nutrients uniformly over time, regardless of when they’re applied. Mainly avoid applying fertilizer when soil is very dry, is frozen, or is saturated with rainwater.
Still, fertilizing in certain seasons does bring benefits.
Fertilizing in fall.
- Helps recover nutrients the soil lost during summertime.
Fertilizing in spring.
- Supports a new flush of growth during the quintessential growing season.
- Greens up tree leaves so they stay vibrant through summer and into fall.
- Supplies essential nutrients that keep the tree healthy and help it fight off infection.
How To Choose the Right Fertilizer For My Tree
Find a tree fertilizer with a slow (also called controlled) release of available nitrogen and low salt index. And, look for a product that’s best suited for your region.
In the Northern and Western regions, Davey arborists use Arbor Green PRO ® . It blends three key macro-nutrients, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), to mimic the natural environment and give trees the nutrients they need to thrive. Arbor Green PRO ® also contains PPA, an amino acid that helps enhance nutrient availability while reducing nutrient loss from rain or watering.
Trees in the Southeast region are a little different. They can be lacking the macro-nutrients mentioned above, but they’re also often faced with a micro-nutrient deficiency, meaning essentials like magnesium, manganese or boron are in short supply. Scientists at The Davey Institute created Arbor Green Xtra plus B to address that. It combines nutrients—both macro and micro—that Southern trees need to look and grow their best.
The main reason to fertilize trees and shrubs is to bolster their health so they are better prepared to fight off pests, disease, and environmental stresses. While fertilizer can’t solve all of a tree’s problems, it will go a long way to give it a fighting chance.
Does My Tree Need Fertilizer?
Trees growing in their natural habitat should have access to all of the minerals they need to survive and grow. Anything you can do to mimic that habitat can reduce the need for fertilizer. This may include letting leaves remain on the ground in the fall instead of raking them up. Chances are, though, that despite your best efforts, the need for fertilizer will not be entirely eliminated.
When Should I Fertilize My Tree?
A good time to fertilize trees in most Northern temperate climates is from fall to mid-spring. At these times the tree’s roots take the nutrients from the soil and apply them to important health-promoting functions such as root development and disease resistance, rather than simply putting out new growth.
During the growing season, fertilizing can help a tree overcome mineral deficiencies and fight off infections. If you are fertilizing in mid- to late summer, avoid formulations high in nitrogen as this will just promote weak, new growth that may be easily damaged in the winter.
Where Do I Put The Fertilizer?
The objective of fertilization is to put the nutrients where they will best be taken up by the tree’s roots. Therefore, it is necessary to fertilize throughout the entire root system. In general, the roots extend well beyond the outer reach of a tree’s branches.
The fertilizer must also be placed underneath the roots of any competing plants such as grass or other ground cover. Spreading granular fertilizer on the lawn might make your grass greener, but it will likely not help your tree.
What Type of Fertilizer Do I Need?
Fertilizers are made up of macronutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) and micronutrients (such as Iron, Magnesium and Manganese). These minerals all have different effects on the growth of a tree and different trees need different formulations. It is important to ensure that you use the right fertilizer for your tree. To find out how to obtain the correct fertilizer for your trees or shrubs, click here.
Trees growing along roadsides, in urban areas, and around new homes may need extra nutrients.
Trees growing along roadsides, in urban areas, and around new homes may need extra nutrients.
Photo by: Shutterstock/Singkham
Tools and Materials
- granular fertilizer
- tape measure
- calculator (optional)
- garden hose and water source
- shovel to check moisture depth
Step 1: Determine Need for Fertilizer
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.
Step 2: 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.
Step 3: Calculate Root Zone Size
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.
Step 4: Determine 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.
Step 5: Apply Fertilizer
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. Apply in early spring or autumn when roots are actively growing.
All living things need nourishment, and trees and shrubs have a big appetite.
It’s true, large, well-established, and healthy trees may not need much supplemental feeding, but fertilizing smaller trees and shrubs will pay you big dividends in return for your feeding investment during their first several years on your property. Your payback will include better resistance to disease and insects, improved flowering, and a quicker establishment than similar plants denied regular fertilization.
At Spring-Green, our tree and shrub care experts help you master the art of fertilization. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you’re fertilizing the trees and shrubs in your own lawn:
Tip #1: Give your plants a balanced diet.
The primary nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are all used by your trees in different ways.
- Nitrogen encourages fast trunk and branch growth, and the production of healthy and dark green leaves.
- Phosphorus stimulates vigorous root growth (which makes it especially beneficial to recently planted trees and shrubs).
Phosphorus also promotes flower bud formation and increases resistance to cold.
- Potassium makes the trees stronger, helping them to withstand wind and ice breakage as well as diseases.
- Iron is often added to fertilizers for trees to unlock the other nutrients, or make them more available to the plant.
Micro-nutrients, like iron, are needed in some soils and for some types of plants that are prone to specific deficiencies.
Tip #2: Make sure the feeder roots of your trees have access to the fertilizer.
Fertilizing trees should put the nutrients within reach of the feeder roots. This means feeding an area that reaches from about 1/3 of the distance from the tree trunk to the drip line (on the inside), to a spot about the same distance outside the drip line. Fertilizer needs to be placed into holes that are about 6 to 12” deep throughout this area. For good distribution, you may need up to 10 feeding holes per inch of trunk diameter throughout the target area (a tree 5” across may need 50 or so holes in the feeding zone). That’s a lot of holes, but it assures that the fertilizer will be evenly available to the tree.
Tip #3: Apply fertilizer to trees early enough to withstand cold weather conditions.
Trees can be fertilized anytime between when the sap goes down in fall or winter until about mid-July (at the latest). Fertilizing trees between July and fall stimulates late growth that gets no chance to harden off and is more susceptible to damage from winter cold and winds. Early spring is probably the ideal feeding time, but with slow release materials, any time during the window will give excellent results.
Newly planted trees and shrubs benefit the most from regular fertilizing during their first 5 years in the landscape. In establishment, growth, and flowering, there is just no comparison between plants that are fed and those left to go it alone.
Things to remember when fertilizing trees and shrubs:
- Feeding of recent transplants during the first 5 years helps plants mature quickly.
- Balanced fertility is important. Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium each perform distinct functions in your landscape plants.
- Don’t fertilize trees between July 15th and September 30 after trees start dormancy or resting periods.
If you would like to see your landscape investment start paying better dividends to you through regular shrub and tree maintenance, contact your neighborhood Spring-Green. We know trees and have solutions that work, in addition to our years of lawn care service experience for the rest of your yard.
- Earth Development
Fertilizers help give your trees the minerals and nutrients it needs to stay healthy. Most fertilizers contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These chemicals are most often found missing in soils. ItвЂ™s important to understand how to fertilize trees before you undertake the task.В
Fertilizer is not a guarantee that your tree will be healthy. With or without fertilizer, the proper steps still need to be taken to keep your tree healthy. If youвЂ™re having problems with drought or pests, fertilizer wonвЂ™t help. With that said, fertilizer can still be very useful to your tree health. LetвЂ™s talk about the proper steps and knowledge you should have before fertilizing.В
When Should You Fertilize Trees?В
A vital step to learning how to fertilize trees is learning when to fertilize. Trees that are still growing should be fertilized throughout the year. Trees need nitrogen based fertilizer while they are growing. For young growing trees, fertilize from March till the beginning of June. Fertilizing in these spring months helps them grow. It will also make your leaves greener. Spring fertilization helps fight off infection and keeps your tree healthy. There are also benefits to fertilization in the fall. Fall fertilization helps your tree last through the winter. It also recovers nutrients that your soil lost during the summer.В
As a tree gets older, it needs less and less fertilizer to stay healthy. They will still need a bit of fertilizer throughout the year. Consider doing a soil test to determine how much phosphorus and potassium your tree has. That will help you decide how much fertilizer it needs.В
Signs Your Tree Needs Fertilizing:В
- Dead branches
- Leaves have discolor
- Twigs are short
- Smaller amount of leavesВ
How Much Fertilizer Should You Use On Trees?В
How much fertilizer you give a tree depends on many things. What stage your tree is in, what type of tree, or what type of fertilizer. Generally, .1 to .2 pounds of nitrogen per 100 sq ft is a good measurement to go off. Your fertilizer bag should have a measurement for you to follow. This measurement will be more accurate to the fertilizer and the tree it is being used on.В If you find your tree is still malnourished, space your fertilizing a few months apart. You donвЂ™t want to exceed the amount of nitrogen your lawn can handle.В
Fertilizing baby trees is really not necessary for the first year. After the first year they still need very little fertilizer. Too much fertilizer, especially with nitrogen, will burn your baby treeвЂ™s roots and leaves. Consider using a slow release fertilizer on your young trees. Slow release fertilizers are often organic fertilizers. They come from plant and animal sources. Organic fertilizers are often more expensive than inorganic fertilizers.В
While your tree is in peak growth, it needs a decent amount of fertilizer. Follow the amount on your fertilizer bag twice a year to keep your tree growing.В
As briefly covered above, mature trees need very little fertilizer, if any. You donвЂ™t want your trees to overproduce. Mature trees will pick up fertilization from the lawn and from minerals in the soil.В
How to Fertilize Trees?В
A common misconception of fertilizing trees is removing mulch first. This is unnecessary. Simply scatter the fertilizer over the entire root zone and be sure to avoid the tree trunk. Be sure not to put down too much fertilizer. Be sure to water the fertilizer so it absorbs into the soil and doesnвЂ™t injure your treeвЂ™s roots. If your soil is compacted, consider aerating before fertilizing.В
What Makes a Good Fruit Tree Fertilizer?В
Like other tree fertilizers, fruit trees need nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Most fruit tree fertilizers have a balance of these three nutrients. Fruit trees need a lot of nitrogen. Nitrogen helps with their photosynthesis which then helps them grow. Phosphorus helps transfer energy and develops strong roots. Potassium regulates water pressure and also helps with strong roots. These three nutrients are found in most fertilizers and help your fruit tree stay healthy.В
Undoubtedly, your trees need fertilizers, but if you need professional help in this matter, your local landscaper contractors В are always ready to help you. We have been providing landscape bed maintenance and tree care services for over 20 years. Make your life even better and contact us!
How, When and Why to Fertilize a Tree
Tom Hall, Georgia Forestry Commission, Bugwood.org
Ideally, growing trees should be fertilized throughout the year but a bit differently as trees age. A tree needs larger amounts of nitrogen (N) based fertilizer during the growing season. Nitrogen-based solutions should be applied during the early spring and summer months.
Several light applications a year are preferred as the tree gets older to a point where they need very little fertilizer. A soil test may be needed to determine the amounts of phosphorus (P), potassium (K). Read the label for proper ratios and application rates of N, P, and K for trees.
Important Age Considerations
Here is how you should fertilize a tree as it ages:
- Newly planted tree phase – these trees are still babies and should have only minimal applications of a quick release fertilizer and more of a type that releases slowly. High nitrogen release rates on newly planted trees will burn roots and leaves on contact. Note: Liquid and fully composted fertilizers have the fastest release rates while slow release forms tend to be granular and less water soluble.
- Rapidly growing young tree phase – encouraging the rapid growth of young saplings may be in your tree management plan. It is certainly desirable and appropriate to up the fertilization rates, especially with adequately spaced trees on sites low in organic matter. When using the recommended rate labeled on your fertilizer container, a twice a year feeding is perfect.
- Mature and stable tree phase – As trees mature their growth rate naturally slows down. The need for fertilization drops and your applications need to be reduced. You have now arrived at a low maintenance level for fertilizing established trees. The purpose of this low maintenance level is to maintain trees in a healthy condition without excessive vegetative growth.
Again, for young trees, the time to put out fertilizer is late March through early June. When a tree reaches the desired height you may want to decrease the fertilizer application to only once a year.
How to Fertilize a Tree
You do not need to remove mulch to fertilize! Scatter or drop pellet fertilizer under the tree’s drip zone but avoid touching the tree trunk with the material. Do not over-fertilize.
An application of between .10 and .20 pounds of nitrogen per 100 sq. ft. will be adequate. Again, read the label. Keep solid or concentrated fertilizer off stems and leaves and adequately water the fertilizer into the soil as that prevents fertilizer burn injury to roots.
Stick with the higher ratio nitrogen fertilizers unless your tree is determined to be deficient in potassium or phosphorus (soil test). N-P-K rates of 18-5-9, 27-3-3, or 16-4-8 are good bets. Not all trees are alike and conifers rarely need high rates of fertilizer so you might want to skip applications or stop feeding after a year.
Some uncomposted Organic fertilizers come from plant and animal sources. These fertilizers have a slower release of nutrients as they need to be decomposed by soil microorganisms. They are easy on plant roots but take longer to become effective.
Organic fertilizers are harder to find than inorganic fertilizers and often more expensive but they are the least harmful and less exacting when applying. The best organic fertilizers are cottonseed meal, bone meal, manure and chicken litter. Read the label (if packaged) for application methods and amounts to use.
Inorganic fertilizers are inexpensive and are the most frequently used fertilizers for trees. Inorganic nitrogen based tree food sources are sodium nitrate, ammonium nitrate, and ammonium sulfate.
General purpose fertilizers are complete with N-P-K which is usually defined as the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the mixture. You can use these excellent fertilizers but don’t overdo. Use high-ratio nitrogen products unless a soil test suggests a lack of other nutrients. Inorganic fertilizers can come in slow-release, liquid or water-soluble for foliar application.
Read the label for application rates.
Remember Organic Soil Amendments
The greatest value of most organic materials is in the change they bring to soil structure. Remember that chemical fertilizers have no positive physical effect on soil structure.
Peat moss, leaf mold, aged pine bark, or sawdust and stable manure can improve the soil while adding nutrients. These amendments increase the fertilizer and water-holding capacity of many soils. Mulching with these amendments aids in root development.
Most trees outlive people, and some can live centuries. Of course, we want them to live long, healthy lives for our enjoyment and for the pleasure of generations to come. Which is why knowing when and how to fertilize your trees is important.
Those of us who have a yard full of beautiful trees are fortunate. Deciduous trees provide shade in the summer, evergreens provide shelter from the cold winds of winter, and all trees provide beauty and a calming presence.
To remain healthy, trees need sunshine and an adequate supply of water. They occasionally need pruning and treatment when they’re attacked by insects. They also need certain nutrients. Most people have the sunshine and water part down and will usually call in a specialist for pruning or treatment.
But what about fertilizing? That part’s a bit confusing. Do trees need fertilizing? And if they do, when and with what type of fertilizer should you use? To help clear up the confusion about feeding your trees, here are a few basic tips on when, why and how to fertilize.
The concept of fertilizing lawn trees can sometimes seem baffling to homeowners. Many assume that since trees in the forest grow without the benefit of any fertilizer, their yard trees will do the same.
The difference between the trees in the forest and the trees in your yard is that the forest trees are constantly receiving nutrients from decaying leaves and other plant matter. Lawn trees don’t, which is why it’s up to you to ensure your trees are properly fertilized.
Trees, like any other plant, may not receive all the nutrients they need to thrive if left to their own devices. Few yards have perfectly balanced soil conditions, and without proper nutrition, trees are subject to insect attacks, disease, and spindly growth. That said, not all trees need fertilizing.
New, young trees in their first growing season should not be fertilized until their roots have a chance to establish themselves and “settle in”. And trees whose roots have been damaged by trenching or construction, also should not be fertilized. They need some time to let their root systems reestablish themselves first.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]
Do You Need to Fertilize Your Trees?
There are several factors that influence whether you need to fertilize your trees, including the type of soil you have, how much rain you’ve gotten, and the overall health of the plants surrounding the tree.
Since over fertilizing is nearly as bad as under fertilizing, it’s in your best interest to have a local expert help you with a soil test.
Different Types of Trees Have Different Fertilization Needs
Fertilizing Hardwood Trees
Different types of hardwood trees have diverse fertilization requirements. Oak trees should be dosed with a granular fertilizer that contains iron and zinc when the tree is between 3 and 5 years old. Older oak trees generally need fertilization about once a year.
Maple trees usually tell you if they need to be fertilized. The rule of thumb is that if they grow about 6 inches in a year, the soil is good, but if the growth is less than 2 inches, it’s time to fertilize. Maple trees tend to respond best to slow release nitrogen fertilizers. Spike fertilizers are especially effective for fertilizing maple trees.
Fertilizing Fruit Trees
Having just the right amount of fertilizer is extremely important to fruit trees. Producing the fruit requires a lot of energy. Since even a small soil imbalance alters the nutritional content of the fruit, it’s very important to have a soil test conducted before fertilizing the fruit trees. To maintain optimum health, fertilize your fruit trees with nitrogen fertilizer and an annual application of foliar spray of zinc.
Fertilizing Ornamental Trees
Ornamental trees that have healthy looking leaves and showed a great deal of twig growth throughout the year normally don’t need fertilizer, but if they’re aren’t growing as well as they did the previous year, it’s time to provide them with some nitrogen fertilizer.
If your ornamental trees have yellowish leaves, they could have a condition called Chlorosis, which usually indicates that the soil around the tree doesn’t have a sufficient amount of magnesium and zinc.
Fertilizing Evergreen Trees
Evergreen trees, especially ones that have been recently transplanted don’t grow very quickly. The best way to determine if evergreens need a dose of fertilizer is if the tree doesn’t flower or the needles aren’t a vibrant color.
Evergreens do best when you provide them with a complete fertilizer that contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
How to Feed Your Trees
Use a fertilizer with a nitrogen content of between 12 and 30 percent, and 3 to 12 percent phosphorous and potassium. Spread the fertilizer evenly over the surface of the soil for a distance that’s about 1-1/2 times the diameter of the branch spread.
Make sure that the fertilizer you choose does not contain pesticides. If there’s no rain in the immediate forecast, water the tree thoroughly to allow the fertilizer to penetrate to the roots.
Best Time to Fertilize Trees
The common wisdom on fertilizing trees has been to feed them in early spring, before active growth begins. Although there’s nothing essentially wrong with this, many experts are now suggesting that late fall, about a month after the first killing frost, is a better time.
This makes sense when you consider that deciduous trees have lost all their leaves by that time, and active growth is beginning to slow.
Instead of growing new foliage, trees take nutrients from the soil and apply them to vital health-enhancing functions such as disease resistance and root development. Any excess nutrients are stored in a tree’s root system and are available when needed for early spring growth.
Some people take the middle road and say you should fertilize your trees in both early spring and late fall. This is probably not necessary for most trees, but you can be sure by having your soil tested in the spring by your local county extension office to see if another round of feeding is truly necessary.
Take good care of your trees and they’ll return the favor by bringing beauty and majesty to your yard for many years to come. In Northern New Jersey, call Trees Unlimited for all your tree concerns including pruning, staking, evaluation or problems. Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published on November 28, 2016. It has been updated to include additional information.
Trying to figure out how to fertilize trees and shrubs can be a bit puzzling. After all, they’re a heck of a lot bigger than our houseplants and garden flowers! The required formulas are different, and the methods we use to apply can vary quite a bit. Want to give your trees and shrubs a boost so they can burst into spring full of color and vigor? Learn how to fertilize trees and shrubs in this simple tutorial!
If you’re using a granulated fertilizer, a cyclone or drop-type spreader will help you to apply it correctly. This method is called broadcasting. To get the best coverage, it’s recommended that you apply half of your measured fertilizer in one direction and the other half in the other direction, perpendicular to the first application. Always water the ground before and after applying fertilizer to encourage the formula to soak in and reach the roots instead of just blowing away.
If the soil is very compacted, it’s a good idea to aerate the soil first. Compacted soil has poor drainage, which can end up wasting product if your fertilizer if it isn’t even able to reach your plant roots. You can do this with a plug aerator, which pulls cylindrical “plugs” of soil out from the ground. Alternatively, you can just use a manual spike aerator to make holes in the ground, which helps loosen things up.
Liquid fertilizers can be poured directly onto the ground around the root area. Some fast-acting dissolvable formulas can be mixed in with water and can be used for irrigation . If there is mulch on the surface of the soil, you can still apply liquid or granulated fertilizer on top. You just need to make sure your tree or shrub is well-irrigated so it soaks through and the fertilizer doesn’t over-concentrate in certain areas. Luckily, trees and shrubs surrounded by mulch typically have roots that are a bit closer to the surface than if they were planted on a bare lawn .
What is the Best Fertilizer for Trees and Shrubs?
Wanna know how to fertilize trees and shrubs with the best long-term success that doesn’t require constant follow-up applications? A slow-release granulated formula is what you need. This formulation allows it to soak into the soil slowly, providing a continual source of nutrients for your plants over several months. While liquid fertilizers will still provide nutrients to your trees and shrubs as a quick fix, it will drain through the soil much more quickly—especially if your plants are on top of a slope or hill.
A complete fertilizer formula with an NPK ratio of 16-4-8, 12-4-8, or 12-6-6 should work well for most trees and shrubs. However, it’s a good idea to do a soil test before choosing your fertilizer to identify if there are any significant deficiencies in the soil. Some fertilizers also have added micronutrients like zinc and iron, so if a soil test shows your soil lacks these nutrients, you can purchase a fortified formula.
How to Fertilize Trees
When trying to figure out how to fertilize trees, most folks are a bit unsure of how much to apply and where to spread it. A good rule of thumb is that the roots of a mature tree typically spread out about 1.5x the diameter of the crown. So, whatever the width of your tree canopy is, multiply that by 1.5 to find the reach of your tree’s root spread and spread your fertilizer over the entire area.
You’ll need to calculate the square footage of the area that will be fertilized to measure the correct amount. The nitrogen number is the most important one to look at because it’s what you’ll need to calculate your weight measurements. While trees and shrubs can often handle 2-4 lbs of nitrogen per 1000sq ft, if they’re grown on a turfgrass lawn, more than 2lbs could end up burning the grass. Therefore, you should follow the directions for fertilizing your turfgrass to make sure it doesn’t get ruined.
Don’t worry if you’re struggling to figure out the fertilizer weight calculations—they can be a bit intimidating to those of us who aren’t too math savvy! If you need any help, you’re welcome to call us at the shop, and we can provide some assistance.
How to Fertilize Shrubs
Just like with trees, the root spread for shrubs is typically about 1.5x the width of the plant’s crown. However, since the leaves are often much closer to the ground than with trees, you need to take extra precautions to protect your plant. If fertilizer gets trapped within the leaves, it could cause some significant damage or burning. After applying fertilizer, grab a broom or a large clean paintbrush and try your best to brush off any fertilizer granules from the leaves.
In some instances, diluted liquid fertilizers can be applied directly to leaves to treat foliar nutrient issues like iron chlorosis. Azaleas can benefit from some liquid fertilizer applied to the leaves in spring if you notice that the new foliage is coming in yellow. However, this is a temporary treatment, and to completely resolve the problem, you must properly amend the soil.
If you need any more intel on how to fertilize trees and shrubs, or if you’re wondering where to buy tree fertilizers in Houston , visit Plants for All Seasons! Our experts can help answer any questions, or crunch any numbers to help come up with your ideal plan of action. Now is the time to start fertilizing, as your plants are coming out of dormancy and are ready for their spring growth spurt, so hurry over soon to get started!
Whether you have a new, young tree that has recently been planted or more established trees, the best time to fertilize them is late April or early May.
The main reason that you want to fertilize your trees is to bolster their health, encourage new growth and develop a strong root system to fight off pests, disease, and environmental stresses. Young trees with a trunk diameter of less than 6 inches can especially benefit from regular applications of fertilizer.
While fertilizing will help new or more established trees to develop a strong core system, it can’t solve all of the problems a tree may encounter. However, fertilizing will certainly go a long way in giving your newly planted trees, or established trees, a fighting chance to flourish.
When trees grow in their natural habitat, they’re usually supplied with all of the minerals and nutrients they need to grow and survive. In a non-natural habitat, like your front or backyard property, anything that you can do to mimic a natural environment will help the tree to flourish. This may involve leaving leaves on the ground to decompose back into the soil, but chances are that despite your best efforts, the need to fertilize will still exist.
When you have newly planted or young trees, they literally soak up nitrogen from fertilizer, which helps them to grow quickly and establish a dense canopy right into the fall. The tree root system can extend for a long distance over time and the tree continues to absorb nutrients when the area around them is fertilized. As the young tree matures, their roots develop an association with fungi called mycorrhizae that helps the tree utilize minerals in the soil. This association is extremely beneficial because most young trees average about 12 to 18 inches of new shoot growth yearly.
Since trees require nutrients to live and thrive, soil that is deficient in one or more nutrients required for the tree to reach its full potential will be more susceptible to disease, insect problems, and shorter life than a similar, well-fertilized tree. A word of caution is that you should always test your soil for nutrient excesses or deficiencies before applying soil additives because over-fertilization has adverse effects on trees.
According to the Agriculture Department of the University of Minnesota tree-fertilization-guide, the nutrients required by all plants, including trees, is divided into two groups:
Are required by plants in larger quantities than micronutrients. The macronutrients required by plants for growth include nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S). The addition of macronutrients, especially nitrogen, can result in improved growth while deficiencies can lead to slower growth and visible symptoms.
Are required in very small amounts, include iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), boron (B), chlorine (Cl), and molybdenum (Mo).
Many of the products that you find at your favorite garden center provide trees with the appropriate nutrients and all fertilizer labels indicate the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium contained in the product by percent.
How to Determine the Need to Fertilize
Trees in cities and suburbs are often stressed due to low moisture availability, soil compaction, physical damage, nearby construction, and competition from turf, nearby trees and shrubs. While fertilizing may reduce environmental stresses, it cannot eliminate them entirely. Therefore, newly planted trees should be watered and pruned regularly to keep weeds away from their bases to avoid excess stress.
A Final Note
The history of the yard can be a final indicator of the need for fertilization since trees in regularly fertilized yards for turf rarely need to have supplemental fertilizer applied. The need to fertilize a newly planted or more mature tree should only be considered if shoot growth is less than 2 inches or soil testing reveals a specific nutrient deficiency.
Testing fertilizer or planting a new tree can be troublesome. Contact our team of experts today and we’ll be ready to help with all your lawn and landscaping needs.
Fertilizing trees and shrubs is a necessity, and that includes fruit trees. One of the most significant benefits of fertilizing trees is in the preventative maintenance they provide. Landscape shrubs and trees require sufficient energy stores to remain healthy to survive insect and environmental stress. Trees and shrubs are a valuable part of your property, and it is essential to protect your investment. Established trees and shrubs can be easily fed by homeowners using fertilizer spikes or a deep-root feeder. For best results, feed your trees twice each year, once in early spring and mid-fall.
Fertilizer Tree Spikes
The easiest method for feeding established trees is with fertilizer spikes. The spikes are compressed cylinders of slow-release fertilizers. Gradually dissolving, tree spikes release nutrients evenly throughout the season. These compressed spikes can be driven into the ground using a mallet or hammer. In a dry season, using an auger attachment for a drill makes installation more convenient. Once the quantity of tree spikes needed has been determined, drive the spikes into the soil, spacing them evenly near the tree’s drip line. The drip line is the imaginary ring on the ground directly below the outer circumference of the tree’s branches.
How much fertilizer to for trees?
Measure your tree trunks diameter 18 inches up from the ground to get the most accurate measurement. Bring your tree measurements to the Grass Pad, and our Green Team can help you determine how many spikes or tablets are required for your landscape. Fertilizer formulas are available for evergreen, shade, ornamental and fruit trees. Also, there are formulas fortified with iron for plants needing iron supplements such as azaleas, rhododendron, or chlorotic pin oaks.
How to Use Tree Fertilizer Spikes
Fertilizer spikes are combinations of slow release fertilizers compressed to form a spike. Spikes can be driven into the ground using a mallet or hammer. A bulb auger and electric drill make installation much easier. Tree spikes should be dispersed evenly along the outer drip line of the tree. For small trees and shrubs requiring only one or two spikes, break spikes in half to allow for a more uniform distribution pattern.
Uncle’s Tip: Do not use fertilizer spikes on newly installed trees or shrubs. Spikes contain fertilizers in amounts not recommended for new trees or shrubs. For newly planted trees, use Uncle’s Root Accelerator for the first 12 months.
New research indicates fertilizing trees and shrubs about a month after a killing frost is ideal
I love gardening for a lot of reasons. I enjoy the fresh air, physical activity, mental stimulation, constant change and more. The fall season is a great time to become reinspired to get outside and do some important maintenance in the garden and landscape. Big dividends in future seasons are the added reward.
One of my favorite parts about gardening is that I’m always learning. Fortunately, I learned something recently that changed my approach to when I fertilize established trees and shrubs.
For most of my gardening life, trees and shrubs that needed a nutrient boost got their annual fertilizer application in early spring, right before active growth began for the year. This timing has been the generally accepted practice by gardeners and experts everywhere for years. And although early spring is a good time, new research indicates there is an even better time.
Contrary to traditional wisdom, many experts now consider late fall, or about a month after the first killing frost, to be the ideal time for applying fertilizers. We now know plants utilize nutrients throughout the year in different ways.
In the past, the most common reason against fertilizing in the fall was the fear that plants and trees would put on new growth if unseasonably warm weather returned, only to be burned or damaged by imminently colder temperatures.
They key is to understand the difference between early fall and late fall timing. If you fertilize in late summer or early fall, when temperatures are still warm and plants are still actively growing, it is likely new growth could occur and damage to tender new foliage could be the likely result.
The rationale for late fall fertilization makes sense when you understand why. At this time, deciduous trees and shrubs have lost their foliage for the year and active growth of plants and trees has slowed. Rather than put on new foliage growth, the roots of established trees or shrubs take the nutrients from the soil and apply them to important health-promoting functions, such as disease resistance and root development. The excess nutrients are stored in the roots and become immediately available when needed for new growth in spring.
However, keep in mind, not all established plants and trees are candidates for a regular fertilization program. I always suggest a soil test be obtained through your local county extension office. Simply gather up a representative soil sample around the area where your trees and shrubs are growing. Be sure to inform the extension service you would like to have the soil tested for this.
The report will let you know what nutrients may be lacking in your soil for optimum growth. The report will also suggest the proper type and amount of nutrients to add.
A common mistake, and not just with trees and shrubs, is to assume fertilizer can and should always be added, and if a little is good, more is better. Nothing could be further from the truth. Excess nutrients are wasted and can end up contaminating the soil, and the environment beyond.
Plants and trees are far more sophisticated then we give them credit. In simple terms, they have built in clocks, timers, calendars and monitoring systems that don’t require our meddling nearly as much as we think, just like with fall fertilization.
About Joe Lamp’l
Joe Lamp’l is the Host and Executive Producer of the award winning PBS television series Growing A Greener World. Off camera, Joe dedicates his time to promoting sustainability through his popular books, blog, podcast series, and nationally syndicated newspaper columns. Follow Joe on Twitter
CORVALLIS, Ore. – Trees and shrubs often are forgotten when it comes time to fertilize the yard in the spring. Young trees, especially those with a trunk diameter of less than six inches, can benefit from regular applications of fertilizer.
“When young trees soak up nitrogen fertilizer, they grow quickly, develop a dense canopy and stay green into the fall,” said Ross Penhallegon, horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service. “It might not be necessary, however, to fertilize large, established trees or shrubs in or near lawns or groundcovers that are fertilized regularly.”
Tree root systems extend for a long distance and they absorb nutrients when the area around them is fertilized. Additionally, as trees mature, their roots develop associations with fungi called mycorrhizae. These beneficial fungi help the tree utilize minerals and elements in the soil.
Before you fertilize, take a look at your trees and ask these questions to help you decide if your trees need additional nutrients:
- How much annual growth do you see? Most young trees average about 12 to 18 inches of new shoot growth each year; older trees have less.
- Is your tree growing less than expected?
- Has the color, size or amount of foliage changed over the past few years?
- Has the tree recently had disease or insect problems?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, the tree might benefit from fertilization.
“The best time to fertilize is in the spring,” Penhallegon said. “If you fertilize in the fall, you run the risk of shocking the plant into becoming metabolically active right when cold weather hits.” Plus, a lot of the fertilizer will leach into the groundwater due to the excessive rain.
Most woody plants begin the new year’s growth with elements stored from the year before. An application of fertilizer in the spring gives an additional boost to this new growth.
Garden references vary about how much fertilizer to apply to trees and shrubs. Penhallegon has a general rule for fertilizing trees and shrubs – use 1/4 to 1/2 pound of nitrogen per inch of diameter for trees six inches or more in diameter at breast height. Use 1/4-pound actual nitrogen per inch on smaller trees. This is roughly two to four pounds of complete fertilizer per inch diameter on the larger trees and half that dosage on smaller trees. In most cases use the lesser amount.
“As time goes on, you will be able to tell by the condition of tree or shrub, whether or not it needs more fertilizer,” Penhallegon said. “Typically, healthy trees and shrubs have 12 to 18 inches of branch growth per year. Their leaf color should be dark green, with lighter green on new growth.”
Apply the fertilizer along the drip line of the tree, the area with the majority of the roots. If the fertilizer is applied to the soil surface only, much can be washed away or will not filter into the soil to the root zone. Water the fertilizer or allow the rain to keep the fertilizer from washing away.
For quicker absorption, use a punch or probe to make holes 12 to 18 inches deep, and then fill the holes with fertilizer. Then be sure to water deeply.
Another way to fertilize is to “pepper” the ground with fertilizer as you walk around the drip-line of the tree. This method should also provide an adequate amount of fertilizer. Apply fertilizer in this manner right before it rains, so it will be washed into the root zone. Or water the fertilized area for an hour after application.
Another way to determine fertilizer needs is to do a soil test.
For more information, see the two-page publication “Fertilizing Shade and Ornamental Trees” online or visit OSU Extension online publications and video catalog. The catalog shows which publications are available online and which can be ordered as printed publications.
Spring is almost here! We are all looking forward to seeing our magnificent trees and shrubs thrive again and become vigorous. A great way to guarantee that they achieve all their promised potential is through fertilization. Fertilizing trees improves their appearance and helps them be more resilient to the many stressors they will encounter throughout the year.
Forest Trees vs. Urban Trees
Trees and shrubs grow naturally in forests without fertilizer right? If so, why should you spend the money to fertilize the ones in your own yard?
One of the main reasons your trees need fertilizer as well as any tree maintenance for that matter is because of something you may not have considered. People. Human interference causes a lot of stress to urban trees. Construction for example causes major stress for trees. Construction compacts soil, limiting growth potential and disturbing the root system. Precautions can be taken to protect your trees if necessary. Other human interferences such as raking leaves can prevent the soil from replenishing through the decay of plant parts.
Extra Support for Urban Trees
These external factors are not present in forest trees, which is why they are able to grow very well with little assistance. Forest soil is constantly being replenished through plant part decay, which allows for a thriving ecosystem. Not only that but forest trees live in the exact opposite environment compared to urban trees. Forest trees are not constantly being disturbed by construction and other activities of that nature. This is why our urban trees need an added boost when it comes to ensuring their vigor year round and especially when they begin to leaf out in the spring.
Effective Fertilization Methods
Fertilization can come in many different methods. At Ahlum & Arbor, we feel that liquid deep root fertilization is the most efficient. When we use this method, we are able to add humates to our fertilizer. Humates help bind the fertilizer to the soil and keep it in place for the tree to take up nutrients as needed.
Get Your Trees Looking Healthier
Fertilizing is one of the many treatments that can help your trees thrive. At Ahlum & Arbor we also provide an inspect and treat service. This is an all encompassing assessment on the health of your trees and shrubs. The Arborist will treat what needs to be treated leaving your property in good hands.
Overall effectiveness category Unlikely to be beneficial
Number of studies: 5
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Background information and definitions
Fertilizer application can be used to improve the establishment of planted trees after forest restoration.
- Two replicated, controlled studies in Canada and Portugal found that applying fertilizer after planting increased the size of the planted trees. One randomized, replicated, controlled study in Australia found that soil enhancers including fertilizer had a mixed effect on seedling survival and height.
- Three studies (including two randomized, replicated, controlled study) in France and Australia found no effect of applying fertilizer on the size and survival rateor healthof planted trees.
About key messages
Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.
Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A controlled study in 2001-2003 in Mediterranean type shrubland in France (Larchevêque et al. 2008) found no effect of sewage sludge compost application on survival or size of planted downly oak Quercus pubescens seedlings. Seedling annual survival rate (93-100%), height (30.6-33.0 cm) and basal diameter (5.9-6.1 mm) were similar between treatments. About 50 seedlings were planted in May 2001 in each of three 0.13 ha treatment plots: control without compost, 20 and 40 kg compost/seedling. Data were collected in 2002 and 2003.
A replicated, controlled study in 1999-2006 in boreal forest in Quebec, Canada (LeBel, Thiffault & Bradley 2008) found that fertilizing increased the height of planted black spruce Picea mariana seedlings. Seedling height was higher in fertilized (76 cm) than control plots (57 cm), while annual relative growth was similar between treatments (4.7-4.9%). Data were collected in 2005 and 2006 in six fertilized (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium mineral fertilizer at time of planting) and six control plots established within a 0.2 ha area. Each plot was planted with 10 black spruce seedlings at 1 m spacing in June 2000.
A replicated, controlled, randomized study in 1995–2007 in a limestone quarry in Western Australia (Ruthrof, Bell & Calver 2009) found that adding fertilizer to the soil did not increase the survival, height, diameter or health of tree seedlings. One experiment found that the fertilizer did not affect survival (no data), height (fertilized: 3.2–4.9 m; unfertilized: 4.4–5.2 m), diameter (fertilized: 0.3–12.9 cm; unfertilized: 4.6–7.8 cm) or health class (fertilized: 4–5; unfertilized: 3–4.4) of tuart Eucalyptus gomphocephala and limestone marlock E. decipiens seedlings. Another experiment found that the fertilizer did not affect survival (no data), height (fertilized: 1.6–6 m; unfertilized: 1.6–6.8 m), diameter (fertilized: 2.8–6.2 cm; unfertilized: 2–7.9 cm) or health (fertilized: 2.3–5; unfertilized: 3.5–4.5) of tuart, limestone marlock and coojong Acacia saligna seedlings. Experiment one consisted of four blocks each containing six plots (6 × 10 m). Experiment two consisted of four blocks each with four plots (5 × 6 m). Half of the plots in each experiment were fertilized once (superphosphate: 400 kg/ha and potassium chloride: 100 kg/ha). Five seedlings of each species were planted/plot. After 12 years, the survival, height, diameter and health class (index based on stress, herbivory and nutrient deficiencies, 1: dead; 5: healthy) of all seedlings was assessed.
A replicated, controlled, before-and-after study in 2002-2007 in maritime pine Pinus pinaster forest in Portugal (Pires & Xavier 2010) found that fertilizing increased the size of planted maritime pine trees after cutting and chipping but not after cutting and removal of understory vegetation. After cutting and chipping, growth of maritime pines was greater in fertilized plots compared to unfertilized plots (fertilized: 48 m 3 /ha; unfertilized: 32 m 3 /ha). After cutting and removal, growth of maritime pine was similar between treatments (fertilized: 31; unfertilized: 25 m 3 /ha). Maritime pine trees were measured in July 2002 (immediately after cutting and removal/chipping) and in 2007 in three replicates of fertilized (20 g nitrogen/tree in September 2002) and unfertilized treatments (
800 m 2 ) in cut and removed (all plants except maritime pine clearcut and removed) and three in cut and chipped plots (all plants clearcut and chipped). Maritime pine trees were planted in 1996 at 1,333 trees/ha.
A randomized, replicated, controlled study in 2008–2009 in two sites in degraded tuart Eucalyptus gomphocephala woodlands in Western Australia (Ruthrof et al. 2012) found that a range of soil enhancers including fertilizer did not increase tuart seedling health, but had a mixed effect on seedling survival and height. At one site, seedling survival and height were greater in plots treated with fertilizer tablets (survival: 96%; height 50 cm), fertilizer + moisture retaining chemicals (survival: 80%; height 39 cm), fertilizer + moisture retaining chemicals + metal ion retaining agent (survival: 82%; height 37 cm) than in untreated plots (survival: 54%; height 28 cm). At a second site, there was no effect of treatments on seedling survival or height (see paper for details). Health class was not affected by any of the treatments, at either site. Each site had three blocks each with six plots (6 × 10 m) containing 20 tuart seedlings. Each plot received one of the following treatments: fertilizer tablets, a clay-based amendment, a biological stimulant for soil microbes, fertilizer + moisture retaining chemicals, fertilizer + moisture retaining chemicals + metal ion retaining agent, or was left untreated (for details see study, fertilizer treatments differed). After one year the survival, growth and health of all seedlings was assessed. Seedling health class was based on general vigour, crown density, colour and amount eaten by herbivores.
Trees planted in an urban environment are subjected to a wide variety of stresses. For example a tree planted in a small green area between a sidewalk and a road or a building and a road can become restricted in its ability to gather the necessary amount of nutrients needed as the tree grows in size. Soil compaction resulting from vehicle traffic or excessive foot traffic over the roots of a tree can cause root damage which will also hinder its ability to collect nutrients. Or maybe some mechanical wounding agent – lawn mower, car, snowplow, etc. – has visually scared a tree causing an interruption in the movement of nutrients between the roots and the crown.
What can be done to help a stressed tree? One useful tool is the proper use of fertilizer.
What commercial formulation of fertilizer is best? It has been said there is no best fertilizer, but it is generally agreed that a complete fertilizer with a high nitrogen content is necessary. Complete fertilizers have a minimum of 20 units of the three important elements – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash. Commercial fertilizers such as 10-6-4, 10-10-10, 7-8-6, or 10-5-5 are some of the suitable mixtures. The first number of a complete fertilizer analysis denotes the nitrogen, the second, the phosphoric acid, and the third the potash.
How do each of these elements affect a tree? Nitrogen influences rate of growth of cells and thus helps produce healthy twigs, wood and foliage growth. Nitrogen also helps a tree to synthesize chlorophyll, a deficiency of which results in chlorotic foliage. Phosphorus aids root growth and in making stored carbohydrates available for spring growth. Potassium or potash helps in the formulation and movement of sugars and starches and strengthens, toughens and matures the tree’s parts.
Organic fertilizers (plant or animal materials) are good for trees and do add humus to the soil but their benefit to the tree is much slower although longer lasting than chemical fertilizers.
After the right formulation of fertilizer has been selected, the question arises “how much is needed”? For large trees the amounts generally used are three pounds of fertilizer for each inch in diameter at breast height of the tree. For small hardwoods use one to two pounds per inch*.
How should the fertilizer be applied? Since it is desirable to get all elements possible to the roots, the usual method is by perforation of the soil. Due to little lateral movement of the fertilizer in the ground, the holes should be spaced closer together (12-15) inches) and farther out beyond the spread of the branches when fertilizing trees in poor condition. A second method is by surface fertilizing and cultivation which is best used on porous soils and for shallow-rooted trees. This method consists of broadcasting the fertilizer over the root area, and raking or hoeing it into the shallow surface. In fact, simply broadcasting fertilizer over the root area as in fertilizing lawns shows good results on trees in good-porosity soil. With the use of commercial apparatus some fertilizers can be put into the soil by pressure, which gives the added important advantage of loosening and aerating the root-soil area. Regardless of which method is used to fertilize a tree it is highly important to follow-up with a thorough watering of the soil, especially in dry periods. Moisture is necessary to put the fertilizer elements into solution to make them available for root absorption.
When should trees be fertilized? It may be done in the spring to early summer and in the fall after leaves have dropped. These are the two periods of most rainfall and soil moisture. Trees should not be fertilized in late summer because this will result in additional development of tender growth which won’t have time to harden-off before cold weather arrives, thereby allowing winter injury.
Stressed urban trees occasionally need help. By first determining the type of stress being placed upon the tree the proper type of fertilizer can be selected. When applied at the proper time, at the proper dosage rate, and administered so it reaches the roots in solution, this fertilizer can help a stressed tree to return to a healthy state.
* This dosage rate is based upon former mentioned formulations of commercial fertilizer. If the formulation of fertilizer selected is higher in nitrogen, then reduce the amount of total fertilizer used. For further information contact the Insect & Disease Laboratory, 50 Hospital Street, Augusta, ME 04330-6514.
MAINE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, CONSERVATION AND FORESTRY
Maine Forest Service – Forest Health and Monitoring Division
I live in Ruidoso. In late December 1996, I planted ten dwarf Alberta spruce; in April 1997, I planted ten green mound junipers, and then seven mugo pines. All the plants are very small, but I used no fertilizer when I planted them. They are looking good now, but I wonder when I should begin fertilizing them. Also, what type of fertilizer should I use? I have them surrounded with pine bark to prevent water loss. I want to xeriscape my new home at this 7000 ft. elevation.
Regarding fertilization of newly planted trees — don’t! For at least the first year, their nutrient needs will be minimal. During this time they are establishing their root systems, and fertilizer (especially nitrogen which stimulates stems and leaves) will not be appropriate. You may begin a light fertilization a year from now as the leaves are forming, but for this year, be patient.
The type of fertilizer is not especially critical. You can purchase fertilizers which are specially formulated for trees, or you can use a general purpose fertilizer. Just be certain that the fertilizer is not a “weed-and-feed” product containing a postemergence herbicide which could harm the trees.
When applying the fertilizer around the tree, don’t put it too close to the trunk and be certain not to put it all in one spot – it can burn the tree if too much salt is absorbed by the roots. General purpose fertilizers contain nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and in some cases trace nutrients. Nitrogen is needed for growth of stems and leaves. Phosphorus is needed for good plant health and energy in the plant. It stimulates flowering and fruit development, not your main purpose in growing pines, juniper, and spruce. The potassium is needed for good root development and plant health. Trace nutrients are used in very low concentrations but are sometimes a limiting factor in plant growth in New Mexico. The nutrient the trees will need most is nitrogen; however, they also need the others.
It would be wise to take a soil sample to determine what your soil needs to support good tree growth. Your local County Extension Service can advise you as to the proper method to collect the sample and tell you where you can get the soil tested. They can also help you understand the results of the soil test if you need help.
As to the xeriscape, you are off to a good start. Some people who live at lower elevations in New Mexico may question the mugo pines and dwarf Alberta spruce, but at your elevation they are appropriate if irrigated properly. The spruce will need more irrigation than the pines, but the needs of each species can be supplied with a properly designed irrigation system. The use of mulch is also a good idea, especially when starting trees as it not only reduces evaporation of water from the soil, it keeps grass from competing with the developing root system of the trees, and it keeps lawn mowers and weed whackers away from the tender bark of the young trees.
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: [email protected], 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 [email protected], or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.
Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!
The Mission of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) is to improve the lives of New Mexicans, the nation, and the world through research, academic programs, and extension.
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Dormant Feeding -A Safe and Easy Way to Fertilize Shrubs, Trees and Perennials
Many arborists and landscapers, especially in the north, do most of their tree and shrub fertilizing from late fall through late winter or even early spring up until when plants are actively growing above ground. You can fertilize heavier at this time, without the risk of leaf burn. Here is why it makes sense:
In the fall, plants stop sending water and minerals up to the leaves. Instead, they will use these nutrients to increase root mass, and to store up food for the winter as well. The changing of the color and dropping of leaves accompanies this phase of the growth cycle. By fertilizing at this time of the year, you allow the shrubs and trees to store up food as it sees fit for next year’s growth. We call this a dormant feeding, since above ground growth has stopped. But underground these plants are not dormant at all. The roots are very active (until the ground freezes) and will grab the fertilizer quickly. You can apply fertilizer much heavier at this stage without fear of leaf burn or flower drop.
How to Fertilize
We suggest a liquid soil drench for dormant feeding. Soaking the soil this way gets nutrients into the soil fast. You can apply with just a watering can, or use a hose-end sprayer for larger areas. Let the rain or even snow move the nutrients down deeper into the roots as the fall turns to winter. You can apply the fertilizer right over the plant and the surrounding soil where the roots will spread to. For older trees, you don’t need to fertilize too close to the trunk. (See below)
What to Use
One of our favorite All-Purpose fertilizers for shrubs and trees is our 10-8-8 Bio-Enhanced Liquid Fertilizer. This contains all the basic nutrients and is good for flowering and non-flowering plants and trees alike. If you are fertilizing mostly evergreens or non-flowering trees or plants you could also use our LAWN FORCE 5 (a 14-3-7 fertilizer) if you have some extra to spare. The beneficial root fungus (mycorrhizae) in LAWN FORCE 5 is especially great for shrubs and trees this time of year.
Where to Fertilize Trees
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Summary: When homeowners ask “How to Fertilize a Tree” it is often recommended that they broadcast fertilizer under the complete canopy of the tree, but is that the best way of fertilizing a tree? Let’s look at an alternative tree fertilizing method.
Question: I want to know the best way to fertilize a tree. I have heard of using a drop spreader to put fertilizer under the canopy, other people say to use fertilizer tree spikes. What say you on fertilizing trees in the yard? Kellen, Dothan, AL
Answer: Kellen, a tree expert looks at growing grass in shade in disgust arguing that the grass takes plant food from the soil for its own subsistence and robs the trees.
The sod grower looks skyward, shaking his head as he sees the stately oak living in luxury upon the food which is sorely needed by the struggling grass sometimes called a lawn under the tree.
Several factors enter in to the problem of establishing and growing grass under trees. It is necessary, first of all, to sow the right kind of grass seed.
Then, the grass and trees should be fed at regular intervals. Without enough plant food even the grasses proper for shade cannot survive. The theory of feeding trees is (and we are glad to have others share their views) that if you give a tree enough food the roots will not come up so near the surface to rob the grass of its necessary supply.
A good method of feeding trees is briefly described as follows:
The feeding roots of trees are located from the trunk out about as far as the branches spread, in fact, the root development below the ground usually balances the branch development above the ground.
To make plant food easily available to these roots it is necessary to distribute it pretty well underneath the spread of the tree. That is how many would recommend fertilizing a tree – spreading fertilizer on top.
A better way of applying fertilizer around a tree, especially if you plan on growing grass under the tree is to dig small holes about 10 to 12 inches deep at various places above the root system.
The necessary number of these is four times the number of pounds of fertilizer to be used according to the following table (this is an estimate):
- 10 foot trees – 2-1/2 pounds
- 25 foot trees – 16 pounds
- 50 foot trees – 65 pounds
- 100 foot trees – 250 pounds
Distance from tips of branches on one side of tree to tips on opposite side.
In other words a tree with a 25 foot branch spread would need 64 holes. About one-quarter pound of a good plant food containing a high nitrogen content would be poured into each hole with an improvised funnel to avoid spilling on on the grass.
This work will not harm the lawn if the sod is carefully cut out with a hand trowel before digging the hole. A crowbar or other sharp pointed tool is best for digging the holes.
After the fertilizer has been put in enough soil should be added to fill up the hole and then the sod can be replaced without damage to the lawn.
Most trees need to be fed occasionally but those suffering from disease or injury should be fertilized several times during the year. A healthy tree is able to resist the attacks of many insect enemies and diseases.
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A fertilization program is used to maintain trees and shrubs in a vigorous condition and to increase their resistance to injury from diseases and insects. But the addition of any soil nutrient is recommended only if soil or plant foliage tests indicate a deficiency. Trees and shrubs that need fertilization to stimulate more robust and vigorous growth include those exhibiting pale green, undersized leaves and reduced growth rates and those in declining condition (for example, dead branch tips, called dieback) resulting from insect attacks or disease problems. Trees and shrubs that should not be fertilized include newly planted specimens and those with severe root damage from recent trenching or construction. The root systems of these plants need to re-establish before fertilizers are applied. Older, established trees do not need to be fertilized every year.
For trees and shrubs in northern Illinois, the two most common causes of nutrient problems are high pH (alkaline) soils, which can lead to chronic deficiencies of nutrients in some tree species, such as red maple and pin oak, and nitrogen-deficient soils. Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) are essential plant nutrients and these are most commonly applied. A list of soil testing services is available.
How and When to Fertilize
Fertilizers are labeled to indicate proportions of available nutrients. For example, a label showing a 20-5-5 formulation indicates 20% nitrogen (N), 5% phosphorus (P) as phosphoric acid, and 5% potassium (K) as potash. Thus, a 50 pound bag of 20% nitrogen fertilizer contains 10 pounds of actual nitrogen (50 x .20 = 10).
The following general recommendations apply to trees and shrubs needing a fertilization program. Soil and foliage test results may indicate more specific nutrient requirements.
For all trees and shrubs. If needed, the best time to fertilize is late April or early May, or late fall once plants are dormant. The recommended fertilizer should be spread evenly across the soil surface. The amount of actual nitrogen applied should be 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Do not use fertilizer containing herbicides, such as those formulated for use on lawns. The nitrogen content of the fertilizer should be 12% to 30%, with phosphorus and potassium at 3% to 12%. Fertilizer application rates are based upon the area occupied by the roots. Roots spread well beyond the branches on established trees and shrubs; therefore, the area beneath the plant to be fertilized should be 1.5 times the diameter of the branch spread. For groups of plants, estimate the surface area underneath the entire planting to be fertilized.
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What’s The Best Fall Fertilizer For Trees?
It’s not just your grass that could use a boost this time of year. You often need to consider a fall fertilizer for trees and shrubs, too.
Most soils in Michigan can typically provide an adequate nutrient reserve to meet the needs of trees and shrubs. Even those that are planted next to lawns can get some of their nutrients from lawn fertilizers. That being said, depending on the properties of your soil, nutrient deficiencies can occur.
So, let’s take a look at why you should consider fertilizing your trees in the fall and what the best fall fertilizer is for them.
When To Apply A Fall Fertilizer For Trees
It used to be that trees and shrubs that needed a nutrient boost got their annual fertilizer application in early spring. It’s the time just before active growth begins for the year. Many experts accepted this timing for years. And although early spring is a good time, new research indicates there is an even better time.
Now a majority of arborists consider late September or October a great time to consider a fall fertilizer for trees and shrubs. They say to apply it then, or about a month after the first killing frost. Why? Because plants (including trees) will use the nutrients they need in different ways throughout the year.
Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies In Trees
Here are the three most common nutrient problems that homeowners in Michigan typically see in trees and shrubs. They are deficiencies of nitrogen, iron, or manganese.
Nitrogen deficiencies may occur in trees since it is the element that is needed in the largest amounts. The reasons that trees become deficient in nitrogen include:
- Most of them are located in mulch beds that use up nitrogen as they decompose.
- It is lost from the soil over time through leaching.
- Removing leaves each fall interrupts the natural recycling of nitrogen that occurs in native forests.
Think about that last one the next time you’re raking leaves.
Iron and manganese deficiencies are common in certain landscape trees . These deficiencies are typically associated with alkaline soil pH. In both cases, soils may contain adequate amounts of the element, but availability and uptake are reduced by alkaline soil conditions.
The Best Fall Fertilizer For Trees
Most experts recommend applying 1 to 3 pounds of slow-release nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of tree bed and cultivating lightly. But to figure out the exact amount of fertilizer you’ll need, you’ll have to do some math.
Start by calculating the square footage of your beds. Then take those measurements with you to your local garden center and determine how much you’ll need.
Using a slow-release fertilizer is important. That’s because there will still be nutrients in the soil come spring when your plants start to grow. A slow-release fertilizer also ensures that your trees get the right amount of nitrogen and not too much at one time.
If you have a tree or shrub that does not flower well, a dose of superphosphate will help promote flower growth. However, if the plant is not located in the right spot, all the superphosphate in the world won’t make it flower.
When Not To Fertilize A Tree
And keep this in mind. Don’t fertilize newly planted or newly transplanted trees. These are trees that were planted or transplanted less than two years prior.
Applying fertilizer to newly transplanted trees can excessively dry roots. This is called burning. Wait until after the third year before you consider fertilizing it. At that point, it will be considered an established tree.
Let Safari Tree Help
Safari Tree’s year-round applications include a fall deep-root-feeding that delivers nutrients straight to the root system of your trees. This helps your plants recover from the long hot summer and prepares them for the cold winter season ahead.
You’ll also get a fall anti-desiccant spray. It winterizes your evergreen trees and shrubs.
If you’re going to need help winterizing your yard, contact us today. We’ll be happy to help.
Are any Treasure Trees mother trees?
Planting Privacy Trees
By: Kate Bolkin
When you type “tree fertilizer advice” into Google, you may notice that a lot of unclear or conflicting answers pop up. I’ve seen websites insist that fertilizing a tree is unnecessary and harmful, while others recommend fertilizing every single year. So, what’s the answer? What’s important for you to know?
We’ve developed a simple tree fertilizer guide for your trees at home. All this info has been gathered from the International Society of Arboriculture and expert arborist services.
Know what to look for.
Many trees can go their entire lives never needing fertilizer and be ok. But if a tree is short on nutrients, it can be fatal. Common symptoms of a nutrient-deficient tree include chlorosis (the yellowing of leaves), smaller leaves, and shorter twig growth. Keep in mind that these are also symptoms of other tree disorders as well, and may not necessarily mean there is a nutrient deficiency. That’s why soil testing and/or calling an arborist is so important.
Test, test, test!
Before applying fertilizer, get a soil test done! A soil test will tell you what nutrients (if any) your soil is lacking. I cannot stress how important this is because most fertilizers only contain the three most common macronutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This means if your soil is lacking secondary or micronutrients like magnesium or iron, a standard fertilizer will not solve this issue. You can obtain a free soil test through your local NC Cooperative Extension office or at any gardening store for a low price. More info about soil testing here.
What kind should I use?
The most common limiting nutrient is nitrogen, so odds are you will need a fertilizer with nitrogen content (but of course, test first!). Just as fertilizer can improve a tree’s health, a fertilizer that is too strong or releases its contents too quickly can be damaging. For trees, using a slow-release, low-salt fertilizer is desirable. This type of fertilizer will release nutrients over an extended period of time, which reduces the chances of fertilizer “burn”. Fertilizer “burn” occurs when the ions (or salts) in the fertilizer draw out water from the roots, making the tree thirsty and giving the leaves a “burned” look.
How much do I apply?
The rate of fertilizer application can vary depending on the tree’s species, size, and health, site conditions, form of fertilizer, and application method. In general, when using a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer, apply 2-4 pounds per 1,000 square feet of root area. Apply only 1-3 pounds if using quick-release fertilizer. Too much fertilizer can leach into waterways and cause environmental damage.
When do I apply?
Nutrient uptake is typically high in the spring because the tree’s metabolic rate is the most active as new leaves grow. Fertilizing in the fall can also help replenish some of the nutrients lost during the summer. Trees also readily absorb fertilizers when water levels are adequate, so be sure to water properly and apply mulch to retain moisture. Do not apply fertilizer within the first year of planting.
You tried all that and nothing is helping.
If you notice that the state of your tree is not improving even after applying the correct fertilizer in the correct amount at the correct time, that’s when it’s time to call a certified arborist to check it out. Sometimes the surface application of fertilizer leaches or gets absorbed by grass before the tree can even get to it. Sometimes trees have root issues that inhibit the uptake of nutrients. Arborists can apply different kinds of fertilizer methods that could help your tree out and diagnose any underlying problems.
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Many people think fertilization is a two-step process: buy the fertilizer and then apply it. Sounds simple enough, but there is actually a whole lot more to fertilization than many people realize! Fertilizing trees and shrubs can be complex. In this article, we will break down the best time to do so as well as the steps you can follow. Presto-X, formerly Fischer Environmental is happy to help you at any point along the way as fertilization can get a bit complicated!
The Best Time to Fertilize Trees and Shrubs
The beginning of springtime isn’t the best time to fertilize, like traditional advice probably told you. That’s because a springtime application only helps the immediate growth instead of the health of the plant, overall.
A great time to fertilize is actually in late fall, after the first major freeze. This is because the plant is going dormant at this point and the fertilizer soaks into the roots. This strengthens them allowing for a better established root system.
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How to Fertilize
How you fertilize your trees and shrubs really depends on the type of soil you have and what stage of growth your plants are in. Loose soil, for instance, doesn’t retain fertilizer as well and may require more attention throughout the year. Here is a quick breakdown on what you should consider when fertilizing your trees and shrubs.
- Which Fertilizer to Use: Most fertilizers will have a combination of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. The most important thing to note is that phosphorous and potassium are great at remaining in soil long after you apply fertilizer, whereas nitrogen is quickly depleted.A fertilizer high in phosphorous and potassium is a great pre-plant fertilizer because it sets up the soil for your trees and shrubs before the roots dig deep into the ground. Post-plant fertilizer, however, is usually higher in nitrogen to help make up for all that may have been lost over time. Get a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer, because too much nitrogen at once can burn your plants!
- How Often to Apply It: This really depends on your soil. If you have a sandy type of soil that moves a lot then you will want to fertilize in lower doses several times per year. A nice, dense soil, on the other hand, can take a good slow-release fertilizer once a year and hold onto the nutrients for months to come.
- Different Application Methods: There are many different ways to apply fertilizer to your plants, many of which are actually not worth the effort (or extra cost!). So here are the top three that we recommend:
- Liquid soil injection provides high-pressure injections of concentrated fertilizer into the soil. Many professionals opt for this because it is quick and easy. You can also use a slow-release fertilizer with this option, which is perfect for most people.
- Drill a hole into the ground and then spread your fertilizer to have a great reach deep into the soil. Sounds pretty easy, right? It actually takes a bit of organization. Drill 8-12 inches into the ground and spread the holes a couple feet apart to have the best outcome.
- Surface application is the most popular way to apply fertilizer for homeowners. That’s because it is as easy as tossing it by hand or using a handheld spreader. That’s it! Load your hand or the spreader with the fertilizer and walk around the area you want to fertilize while dropping the contents freely.
Fertilization Can be Tricky! Let Us Help!
If this sounds a bit complicated, don’t worry, we can help with any questions or concerns you have. We offer customized root zone fertilization and even trunk injections for urban areas. We understand the importance of a proper nutrient balance and have all the tools to apply it in the best way possible.
When it comes to fertilizing trees, the ABCs begin with knowing the N-P-K. Trees, like people, are unique, so taking the time to commit to learning about the species is the only way to keep the tree healthy – with the ability to produce shade, mast and beauty.
The first and foremost issue a grower needs to understand when it comes to fertilizers is the N-P-K ratio (the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) in a given fertilizer. Having the knowledge of your soil’s chemistry and the minerals beneath your feet needs to established ahead of time in order for the tree to prosper. Although this may sound complex, a simple soil test will determine the ratio, and reading the label on the fertilizer bag will tell you the proper ratios and application rates of the product you’re purchasing. (Always pay attention to the label!)
For the sapling/seedling, the greatest amounts of nitrogen-based fertilizer should be applied during the early spring and summer (late March through early June); but as the tree matures, several light applications a year are all that’s needed to keep that tree achieving optimal health. Fertilizer application has the greatest benefit when it’s made before new growth begins; whereas, fall fertilization should be made approximately one month after the first killing frost. Many are a bit fearful to fertilize in the late fall, worried that it could cause new growth if a trend of unseasonable warm weather comes along, but it’s a fact that this time period is actually more effective in promoting plant growth than spring applications.
When it comes to the ‘how,’ fertilizer should be spread evenly over the entire root zone by sprinkling it on top of the soil or mulch and then lightly watering. Always remember to spread the fertilizer evenly under the branches, because dumping it in one spot can cause the roots below to burn and die out. Waiting until the foliage is dry is also a necessity so that the fertilizer will not stick and, again, cause burning.
There are many tales about the benefits of organic versus chemical fertilizers, but the fact is that organic fertilizers, being that they’re created from natural resources, bring the most benefits by adding nutrients to the soil and increasing root development. However, being harder to find and more expensive, chemical fertilizers are the most frequently used. These are excellent products, complete with N-P-K, but the benefits to the soil are few.
Patience is also necessary when growing a tree, and all too often a person will automatically assume that if the tree isn’t doing well – short twig growth, wilting foliage, etc. – then extra fertilizer will solve the problem. Unfortunately, that’s not so. Inadequate soil aeration, adverse climate conditions, incorrect pH – the cause can be many and must be determined before ever turning to fertilizer as the solution.
Let there be light! Knowledgeable tree management plans are essential to minimize shade problems; such as, the decline of turf growing under trees as the canopy becomes more and more dense. When it comes to letting the light in, removing trees that offer no benefit to the landscape, or selective pruning of tree limbs, will greatly improve the amount of morning and afternoon sunlight reaching the turf. When it comes to increasing photosynthesis for healthier leaf tissue, a mowing height should always be maintained in those shaded areas, and removing fallen tree leaves will automatically improve the supply of sunlight.
The wealth of fertilizer types and brands can be overwhelming when you go to make a purchase. But there are many products that are incredibly popular that offer complete solutions. Plant BioLogic Tree-Paks provide for easy, convenient planting or supplemental fertilization. These products come in all forms in order to focus on whatever job you’re trying to accomplish. If you wish to improve hunting by attracting deer, there is a specific Whitetail Tree-Pak that includes an assortment of trees specially designed to keep food on the ground throughout the entire season; increasing nutrient content and producing nutritious yields from both mast and fruit trees. The Wild Turkey Tree-Pak includes an assortment of Plant BioLogic Rapid Mast trees specially designed to produce the right amount of tastes to enchant and hold turkeys on the property.
But whether focusing on hunting or improving nature, adding an assortment of trees that produce mast is one of the best ways to attract wildlife. Enhance the yield, increase the beauty of the area, and give back to Planet Earth all at the same time.