How to Fertilize Trees and Shrubs

While trees and shrubs are living beings, you can also look at them as investments whose value grows with time. When provided with the right care, trees and shrubs remain in good health and grow at a good pace.

Fertilizing, watering and pruning are some of the effective ways in which you can take good care of the trees and shrubs growing in your garden or yard.

A lot of people feel that looking after trees and shrubs takes a lot of time and effort. This is not true. Setting aside a few minutes every day to give proper care to your trees and shrubs would be enough. Also, the amount of care required by a certain plant might differ from another.

There are many drought-tolerant plants that do not need water when a dry spell occurs. Similarly, many fully-developed trees and shrubs growing in areas that are marked by healthy soil conditions need minimal or no fertilizer. So let’s find out how to fertilize trees and shrubs:

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Table of Contents

Why is Fertilizer Needed?

The term “fertilizer” has a variety of meanings. The definition of fertilizer is an organic substance meant to be applied to plant tissues and soil to provide the plants with enough nutrients. When you want trees and shrubs to flourish, one of the most essential things you can do is fertilize them.

With the help of photosynthesis, plants make their food which is mostly sugar. A fertilizer provides plants with the nutrients or minerals that help in making their photosynthesis and growth process smoother. When the soil surface suffers from inadequacy of minerals, you should add fertilizer to it.

When you use fertilizer for your trees and shrubs, there are a few things you must keep in your mind. Liquid fertilizer is not supposed to be a cure for plants that are weak or ailing. Fertilizer proves to be effective only when it is really required. Using it at the right time, in the correct amount and in the right way is essential if you want to see any concrete results.

To ensure that your plants remain in good condition, you must follow the right process while planting them in the soil. Watering them carelessly could lead them to become weak in due course of time.

fertilizing trees

Should You Use Fertilizer or Not?

Analyzing certain factors is important before you decide to use fertilizers on your trees and shrubs. Here are a few factors you must consider in detail before making this decision:


When you grow trees and shrubs in your garden, you must keep a close watch on them and find out if they exhibit any sign of weakness. Some of the most common indicators of poor or limited growth include poorly colored leaves, below-par annual twig growth, branch or twig dieback and abnormal leaf drop or fall coloring.

It’s important to remember that not every problem faced by trees and shrubs can be resolved by a fertilizer. Fertilizers are not designed for problems like heavily compacted soil and insect-caused stress. Therefore, before you invest in an expensive fertilizer, you must find out the reason behind your trees or shrubs being in poor condition.

Soil Test

Conducting a soil test is essential to find out the amount of alkalinity and acidity level in the soil. It helps you determine the nutrient level in the soil. After analyzing the results of the soil test, you should figure out the number of nutrients that are required to be added to the soil to balance out the deficiencies in it.


If you have a soil surface that receives fertilizer on a regular basis, you will not be required to fertilize the shrubs and trees regularly. When you apply fertilizer to the lawn or garden, the trees and shrubs growing on them will absorb or draw out some of that fertilizer for themselves.

However, if you are growing trees and shrubs in planting beds, you might need to offer fertilizer to them separately. Sandy soils comprise almost zero organic matter. On such surfaces, it becomes essential to fertilize plants extensively.

Planting Age

Before choosing a particular fertilizer for your plants, you must remember how old they are. When you apply fertilizer regularly in the formative years of newly planted trees, you can be sure about them growing fast. For younger plants, slow-release fertilizers prove to be highly effective.

Popular Nutrients

The most popular nutrients for enabling plant growth are phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium. Some of the other nutrients that prove to be beneficial for plants are sulfur, magnesium and calcium. Soil surfaces, in some areas, are replete with sulfur and magnesium. Therefore, on this kind of surface, you should avoid using fertilizers that contain these ingredients in large quantities.

In many fertilizer products, micronutrients like iron and zinc are used in large quantities. In case your tree or shrub suffers from a micronutrient deficiency, you should opt for a fertilizer that contains that particular micronutrient.

Type of Fertilizer

When it comes to choosing a granular fertilizer for your trees and shrubs, you will primarily get two options to choose from. There is fast-release fertilizer and a slow-release fertilizer.

Fast-Release Fertilizers

Fast-release fertilizers, also referred to as water-soluble fertilizers, tend to be more affordable than slow-release shrub fertilizers. The nutrients present in a fast-release fertilizer percolate through the soil quite fast. Using a fast-release fertilizer in well-drained soils proves to be a good idea as it passes through the root system effortlessly. When rainfall happens or soil is irrigated properly, the transfer process becomes even more seamless.

Slow-Release Fertilizers

As compared to fast-release fertilizers, slow-release fertilizers have quite extended or slow-release periods. In slow-release fertilizers, the nitrogen is mostly coated in sulfur. A large portion of nitrogen present in these fertilizers tends to be water-insoluble. Slow-release fertilizers emerge as a sensible choice in areas where there is a high chance of a runoff taking place. As the release process of the nutrients is slow, there is a limited possibility of the occurrence of water contamination and fertilizer damage.

soil ph

People Also Ask

What is the best fertilizer for trees?

Trees thrive when fed a fertilizer with a 2-1-1 or 3-1-1 ratio (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium). The most typical fertilizers with a 2-1-1 or similar ratio are 18-6-12, 12-6 6, 10 6 -4, and 10 8 -6.

When Should fertilizer be applied to trees?

Fertilize your strawberry plants about a month after transplanting, or as needed. Late April or early May is the best time to fertilize but do it anytime during the fall when plants are dormant. The recommended fertilizer should be applied uniformly over the soil surface. 3 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet is what should be used in practice.

Are tree fertilizer spikes effective?

Tree fertilizer spikes may be effective, but they should be used sparingly. Because you can’t easily apply them in a uniform manner, it’s possible that some parts of the tree won’t get enough nutrients and others will get too much. We recommend applying liquid fertilizers for healthier trees.

tree and shrub roots

How often should I fertilize my trees?

There is no definitive answer to this question. The frequency with which you need to fertilize your trees will depend on a number of factors, such as the type of fertilizer you are using, the size and age of your trees, and local climate conditions. Generally speaking, most types of fertilizer can be applied 2-4 times per year.

Do I need to fertilize mature trees?

Mature trees don’t usually need to be fertilized unless they are showing signs of nutrient deficiency. If your tree is losing leaves, becoming stunted, or getting less fruit than usual, it may benefit from a fertilizer application. In this case, we recommend consulting with an arborist before proceeding.

Is it too late to fertilize my trees?

It is never too late to fertilize your trees, though you should avoid doing so during the winter. If you need to fertilize a tree that is dormant or bare, it’s best to wait until early spring when all of the leaves have come back in, but before they start growing out of control.

organic fertilizers

Can you use lawn fertilizer on trees?

Yes, you can use lawn fertilizer on trees. However, it is important to be careful and follow the instructions on the label carefully. Not all fertilizers are created equal, and some formulations may be harmful to your trees if used incorrectly. We recommend consulting with an arborist before applying any kind of fertilizer or chemical to your tree.

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Oliver Wright

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