Determine cultivar needs: Different trees and shrubs require different nutrients, so make sure to confirm what your specific cultivar needs before fertilizing.....PROCEED.FULL.READING>>>
Consider age and growth rates: The age and growth rates of your trees and shrubs will determine if and how much fertilizer they need. Measure growth and look for signs of below-average growth to determine if fertilization is necessary.
Test your soil: Conduct a soil test to determine if your soil is deficient in any nutrients. This will help you choose the right fertilizer to optimize your soil for your specific cultivar. Apply fertilizer in late fall or early spring for optimal results.
Planting trees or shrubs in your yard adds beauty, boosts curb appeal, and can even offer a scrumptious supply of fresh fruit like apples. First, decide on what kind of tree you want to plant. Maple trees, like sugar maple, bring a bold pop of color in fall, boxwood shrubs provide year-round greenery, and fruit trees like cherry trees or pear trees supply delightful fruit.
Once you pick a type of tree, it’s beneficial to provide it with the nutrients it needs to thrive. Learn how to tell if you should apply fertilizer, and the best kinds of fertilizer to use for trees and shrubs.
Should You Fertilize Your Trees and Shrubs?
Fertilizer for apple trees in a home orchard
There are a few things to check first. Deciding whether the trees and shrubs in your yard need fertilizer helps you avoid unnecessary applications.
Check if Your Cultivar Benefits From Fertilizer
The nutrient requirements of different trees and shrubs vary widely. So, before fertilizing, always confirm what your cultivar needs. For instance, evergreen trees and shrubs like plenty of nitrogen to support their vibrant green foliage. Then, flowering shrubs like rhododendrons prefer a fertilizer that moderates pH because they like mildly acidic soils (pH of 4.5 to 6).
Moderate Age and Growth Rates
Age and growth rate are other considerations that vary by cultivar. So, before enriching the soil check how fast your cultivar should grow at its age and then measure its growth.
For example, new apple trees need fertilizer if they aren’t producing fruit yet and are growing less than 12 to 18 inches per year. Then, mature apple trees (already growing fruit) require fertilizer if they grow less than 8 to 12 inches yearly. However, fertilizing apple trees with above-average growth (for their age and cultivar) reduces fruit yield.
You can also watch for general signs that indicate below-average growth, such as pale foliage in a light green or yellow shade, leaves that are tinier than the previous year, and foliage that falls earlier than usual for your cultivar.
Avoid nitrogen fertilizer when planting new trees because it burns roots. Wait until the second year after planting before using nitrogen fertilizer. Then, tailor the amount and type of fertilizer to your cultivar.
Test Your Soil
A soil test is a great method for clarifying whether you should fertilize trees and shrubs. Obtaining a soil test provides insight into the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of your soil, and which — if any, nutrients are missing. When you know exactly what nutrients your soil is deficient in, then choose a fertilizer that amends the soil to optimize it for your cultivar.
If the soil test, growth rates, age, and cultivar all indicate that you should fertilize, then, apply fertilizer in late fall (October to December) or early spring (February to April). Fertilizing in the proper season promotes healthy growth when your tree or shrub is most active.
1. Organic Compost
Organic compost is rich in NPK nutrients like nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Nitrogen encourages gorgeous green foliage in trees and shrubs. Then, phosphorus, stimulates healthy roots, blossoms, and fruit. While potassium, improves root growth, boosts resistance to diseases, and encourages healthy flowers. When fertilizing trees and shrubs with compost, spread 1 inch of organic compost evenly over the ground around your tree.
2. Shredded Leaves
leaf foliage around the base of a tree
Shredded leaves aren’t just an excellent type of fertilizer, they are also a superb mulch for trees and shrubs. Skip raking and mow the autumn foliage on your lawn until the leaves are in tiny pieces. Then, create an even 3 to 6-inch layer of shredded leaves around your tree or shrub. Leave 3 to 5 inches of space between the mulch and the base of the trunk. As the leaves decay they will slowly release nutrients like potassium and calcium into the soil.
Calcium has benefits on a cellular level. It encourages plant cells to develop healthy cell walls. For example, when growing fruit trees like apple or cherry trees, calcium helps fruit form properly.
3. Bone Meal
Bone Meal Fertilizer
When planting a new tree, bone meal is helpful because it doesn’t have a high concentration of nitrogen, however, it does contain plenty of phosphorus. Phosphorus spurs root growth, helping your tree or shrub settle in. As a general guideline, add 1 pound of bone meal per 100 square feet. Place the bone meal directly in the planting hole and blend it into the soil with a trowel before you plant your tree.
4. Dry Lawn Clippings
manual lawn mower spraying grass clippings in the air while mowing the lawn
Dray lawn clippings or grass clippings are a low-cost, eco-friendly fertilizer. They are rich in nitrogen, a key nutrient for chlorophyll, the green pigment in foliage. Chlorophyll helps plants like trees and shrubs convert sunshine into energy. Provide a natural source of nitrogen by creating a 1 to 2-inch layer of dry lawn clippings evenly over the soil that surrounds your tree or shrub.
After mowing, use a garden rake to spread out clippings evenly. Let them completely dry in the sun before you use them because if you use freshly cut blades of grass it encourages mold.
5. Complete Fertilizer
fertilizer for cherry tree
Complete fertilizers for trees and shrubs generally have nutrient ratios higher in nitrogen than phosphorus or potassium, like 10-6-4 fertilizer. Broadcast or spread the fertilizer granules over the surface of the soil, in a circle around the tree. Start 4 to 6 inches away from the base of the trunk and continue to the tree’s drip line (edges of the foliage), scattering it beneath the canopy. Then, water the soil after fertilizing, according to your cultivar’s irrigation preferences.
Tips for Measuring the Proper Amount
As a general guide, shrubs need a ¼ ounce of nitrogen (N), small trees require ½ ounce of nitrogen, and large trees need 2 to 3 pounds of nitrogen for every 1000 square feet you are scattering the fertilizer.
In the examples below, the amount of nitrogen is divided by 0.10 because that is the amount of nitrogen in 10-6-4 fertilizer for trees and shrubs.
Shrub example: (¼ ounce of N) divided by (0.10, N in fertilizer) = 2½ ounces of fertilizer
Small tree example: (½ ounce of N) divided by (0.10, N in fertilizer) = 2½ ounces of fertilizer
Large tree example for 625 square feet: (2 pounds of N) divided by (0.10, N in fertilizer). Then, multiply this by (625 or actual square feet, divided by 1000 square feet) = 12.5 pounds of fertilizer.
Remember, fertilizer quantities differ by the type of complete fertilizer as well as your cultivar’s growth rates and age. Always customize fertilizing practices.
The Impacts of Overfertilizing
Excessive fertilizer has negative impacts. Overfertilizing stunts root growth, and decreases tolerance to droughts, because your tree is spending too much energy growing leaves instead of a strong root system. Then it also impacts ecosystems. When roots don’t soak up fertilizer it trickles into ground and surface water. It then stimulates an overabundance of algae and reduces the oxygen available for aquatic wildlife like fish. Avoid overfertilizing by checking if your tree or shrub needs it first.
Fertilize Properly for Terrific Trees and Shrubs
Fertilizing trees and shrubs supplies the soil with a bounty of nutrients for healthy foliage, roots, and fruit. However, it may not need fertilizer. So, before applying, check cultivar requirements, then monitor growth rates for your tree’s age, and obtain a soil test. That way you can avoid stunting growth or impacting the environment with excessive fertilizer. Finally, apply organic compost, shredded leaves, or a complete fertilizer to support growth.
What are your top picks for fertilizing trees and shrubs? Share your gardening tips in the comments below!
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