The pros get superior growth rates feeding this way in the fall.
The way to feed trees and get really fast growth (and great health) from them is to feed in the fall and not in the spring.
Use A Fertilizer With No Nitrogen
Using a zero based nitrogen fertilizer, you apply both phosphorus and potash to the tree. This means you’d look for something with a zero for the first number. 0–25–25 kind of label.
I’m not overly strict with this. If my local farm store has a 5–30–30 or something like that, I’ll use it.
As long as the first number (nitrogen) is 5 or below, it works well. Your local garden center isn’t likely to carry this — they’re too busy selling you lawn feed with high nitrogen counts. 🙂 So find a local farm supply store.
Feeding trees in the fall
If you don’t want to watch the video, the main idea is that tree roots don’t go dormant but store up energy for growth in the spring. (slowly because its cold but not frozen 2–3 feet below the ground — depending on your location.)
If you give them readily available food, they’ll store more and you’ll get better growth and healthier trees.
But, we don’t give them nitrogen because we don’t want to force them into putting that out to the tree buds.
Think of nitrogen as gasoline for the plant engine — too much at the wrong time and the plant engine goes into high speed. We want our tree/shrub roots idling over and tuning themselves up — not getting into spring racing mode. So no nitrogen for anything but lawn grass in the fall.
How Do I Do This?
There’s a scientific way to set this up but most of us aren’t ever going to go to that trouble. Here’s my practical system.
- I go to the drip line of the tree and then I walk in a circle around the drip line.
- At step one, I take a small handful of fertilizer and toss it in front and to the outside of me in a wide arc. (You want the bulk of the fertilizer outside of the drip line where the small feeder roots congregate.)
- Then I walk to the edge of where that fertilizer fell and toss another handful in a wide arc.
- Then I walk to that next edge and repeat the tossing.
- When I’ve followed the outline of the drip line and I’m back to the beginning, I’m done.
- So it could take three handfuls or ten depending on how big your tree/shrub is.
Do This Instead To Save On Fertilizer
If you want to cut this back a bit (because it does use more than you think possible), then you can skip every second tossing.
In other words, toss and walk 10 steps instead of 5. The tree will still get fed more than it would have otherwise (and be happier) but you’re not feeding as much.
If this is your first time feeding trees this way and particularly if you’re feeding young trees, I’d recommend you do the “saving” system above. If you make a mistake, the tree will shrug it off. And if in doubt, feed less than this. More isn’t good when it comes to feeding trees.
But For Young Trees and Shrubs — Important!
A really small tree (newly planted) only gets two handfuls. One on each side of the tree. Same for shrubs. One to each side of the bush.
Caution! Spread it out evenly and broadly. Concentrating it in small space will burn/kill tender roots.