Why Fertilize Your Trees

McFarland’s Arborists generally recommend fertilizing trees in the fall. When discussing fertilization with our clients, we have found three questions reoccur. Here are those questions and our answers to them:

Q. Why is it necessary to fertilize my trees when it appears the ones growing in a forest environment seem healthy without it?

A. Trees growing in designed landscape settings are not the same as those growing in a forest. Leaves and debris that fall from forest trees remain there. Breakdown of these materials creates a less compact and more nutrient-rich soil that is rarely reproduced in the average yard.

Leaves in yards are usually raked up and hauled away. Ground covers (ivy, pachysandra, etc.) and grass (the worst of all) are in competition with tree roots. Therefore, your trees must work much harder to get the water, oxygen and nutrients they need.

When you walk through a forest, you may notice many trees which are dying. Typically, that is not a problem because other trees will fill in and replace those that die. However, in your yard which has a limited number of trees and space, losing even one tree can be devastating to your landscape.

Q. Doesn’t fertilizing just make my trees grow faster and therefore accelerate the need to prune?

A. If your trees are growing more, they are healthier. Using a slow-release fertilizer in the late Fall, we create a gradual breakdown of nutrients, encouraging root growth over the winter and some new growth the following Spring. This is the optimum method of fertilizing trees and comes closest to the way trees feed themselves in the forest.

In most cases, pruning trees more often is less expensive than removing and replacing them when they die. Who wants to wait 20 years for the new trees to grow?

Q. Will fertilizing burn trees already stressed due to this summer’s drought?

A. The fertilizers we use do not burn trees. They release Nitrogen and the other necessary nutrients slowly into the soil over the course of the entire year. In fact, the extended drought over recent years is another reason to fertilize. When trees are stressed due to drought, their roots die.

Fertilizing encourages root regeneration, helping trees cope with drought stress in the future. Stressed trees are more susceptible to insect and disease problems that are killing so many of our trees in the Philadelphia region.

Providing adequate nutrients keeps trees healthy longer, and helps them not to succumb to problems as they age.

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