Best Fertilizer For Trees In Texas – Is mulch really that important? As explained in our article on proper mulch, there is a big difference between urban soil and natural tree habitat. Mulching can significantly improve the quality of the soil around a tree, but it is not always possible to mulch all trees well. In such cases, or when faster results are desired, fertilizers can be used to increase the nutrient content of the soil so that the tree can thrive.
In most of North Texas, our urban soil is a dark gray or black alkaline soil. This type of soil is prone to compaction and often cracks during long periods of drought. Also, most of the area is relatively shallow limestone. These conditions create a lot of competition for nutrients in the topsoil layer as the roots cannot penetrate deeper due to compaction and rocks.
Best Fertilizer For Trees In Texas
In general, tree roots have two main functions: nutrient absorption and stability. Stabilizing roots are what most people think of because they are usually larger than feeder roots and can grow deep into the soil. Feeder roots, on the other hand, are thinner and mostly found in the top few inches of the soil, where most of the nutrients are found. Therefore, when supplying a tree with nutrients, it is important to fertilize the roots with a minimum of food and reach at least the growing root system.
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Proper mulching and composting to improve soil conditions are essential to providing trees with an environment in which they can thrive. Many trees and shrubs will benefit from fertilizer, especially when compared to weeds, or when there is inorganic material around the tree that prevents nutrients from reaching the soil.
While all fertilizers require water to be activated and taken up by plants, they can come in liquid or solid form and can be applied to the soil surface, soil, seeds or wood, or directly to the trunk.
For surface application, the area around the trunk is filled with a fertilizer solution (“basal irrigation” or “root drenching”). This allows the fertilizer to reach the tree’s main nutrient-absorbing roots, which are usually in the top few inches of the soil. This is a method we use at Texas Tree Surgeons. However, soaking the soil may not be effective if there is shrubbery or ground cover around the tree and underground application is required (see below).
Liquid fertilizers can also be incorporated into the soil using a pressurized system that penetrates the mulch and grass, a technique often referred to as “deep root” fertilization. Injection is the preferred method of fertilizing trees when surrounded by grass or other ground cover. A high-pressure delivery rod penetrates below the root surface and injects the fertilizer solution several inches underground, where competition is least and the tree can access nutrients more easily. Additionally, the high pressure compaction used helps to aerate the area, improving the overall soil quality. At Texas Tree Surgeons, we use deep root fertilizer when a tree is surrounded by grass or other material that prevents the tree’s roots from reaching the soil surface.
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Using artificial grass around a tree can prevent the soil from developing properly and make it difficult to apply fertilizer. Typically, artificial grass must be pulled back from the root zone of the tree to allow soil to penetrate, or a deep root filler rod to break up the grass and any substrate to get to the real soil. Furthermore, artificial turf can have a lasting negative effect on trees because the material prevents nutrients from reaching the soil.
In some cases, direct application of liquid fertilizer to the tree can be used. Using a foliar spray can make nutrients available immediately to the leaves to support photosynthesis. Trunk injections can deliver nutrients directly into the tree’s vascular system, bypassing the roots. However, these two methods are not long term solutions as they do not help to improve soil quality. Once the applied fertilizer has been used, the tree will revert to its previous state if a continuous supply of nutrients is not ensured.
While there are many commercially available fertilizers, not all are equally effective and care must be taken before using them. Fertilizers designed for lawn growth may not help trees and, in fact, may harm them. So-called “weed and feed” fertilizers contain herbicides that can affect woody plants. If applied to the root zone of a tree or shrub, these herbicides can cause stress or death.
Subsurface application of dry manure, including the use of fertilizer tips, is generally not recommended. Even with proper watering, pockets of fertilizer material or spikes will not break off and be unable to move through the soil. As a result, the soil develops areas of high chemical concentration, surrounding these areas of nutrient deficiency. This chemical imbalance can cause severe burns and do more harm than good.
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An inorganic fertilizer is a solid or liquid product chemically formulated to add specific amounts of nutrients to the soil. Inorganic fertilizers are usually labeled with three numbers (called “NPK” numbers), which indicate the relative content of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in that order. Inorganic fertilizers are used because of their consistency and because they generally contain higher amounts of NPK macronutrients than organic fertilizers. However, due to the high percentage of certain chemicals, inorganic fertilizers can cause “burn” due to oversaturation of a certain element. In addition, runoff from chemical fertilizers can contaminate water and pose a threat to wildlife. Before using an inorganic fertilizer, it’s important to understand what the soil needs and apply the proper amount. Soil tests, such as those provided by Texas A&M, can provide guidance on selecting a suitable inorganic fertilizer for a specific situation.
Organic fertilizers consist of natural organic matter. While mulch and compost can both be considered organic fertilizers, the term generally refers to a solid or liquid produced as a soil amendment. Compost tea, bone meal, manure and biosolids are common examples of organic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers can contain both macronutrients (usually nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, or “NPK”) and micronutrients, but the amounts of these nutrients are not always listed on the label. Additionally, some organic fertilizers contain beneficial microorganisms (such as bacteria and fungi) that can further improve soil quality. Since organic fertilizers are produced through natural processes, they generally have a lower NPK content than inorganic fertilizers. As a result, organic fertilizers are less likely to burn and don’t pose the same environmental risks as inorganic fertilizers.
Compost is partially decomposed organic material that is added to the soil to increase the amount of nutrients. Like mulch, unlike fertilizer, compost can improve overall soil structure, which generally supports plants, but has no long-term effect on soil quality. Compost and mulch can be combined with soil amendments such as fertilizer to help plants in the short term and improve the soil over time. If you live in an urban area and don’t have the time or space to compost on your own, consider using a composting cooperative. If you are in the Dallas area, we recommend Turn Compost. Check out their website to see if they serve your neighborhood!
At Texas Tree Surgeons, we have three different formulations of fertilizers and soil amendments that are applied in the spring, summer and fall. Each seasonal treatment is designed to provide trees with the nutrients they need at each stage of the growing season. We can also add specific micronutrients (like iron) for certain trees. Contact one of our certified arborists to get an estimate for a year-round fertilization program! Trying to figure out how to fertilize trees and shrubs can be a little confusing. After all, they are much bigger than the plants in our house and the flowers in the garden! The required formulas are different, and the methods we use to implement them can be quite different. Want to give your trees and shrubs a boost so that they bloom in spring with lots of color and vigor? Learn how to fertilize trees and shrubs in this easy guide!
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If you use granular fertilizer, a cyclone or spreader will help you apply it correctly. This method is called streaming. To obtain the best coverage, it is recommended to apply half of the measured fertilizer on one side and the other half on the other side, in the first application. Always water the soil before and after applying fertilizer to encourage dispersion of the formula and reach the roots.
If the soil is very compact, it is good to aerate the soil first. Packed soil has poor drainage, which can result in yield loss if the fertilizer fails to reach the plant’s roots. You can do this with a plug aerator, which pulls a cylindrical “plug” of soil out of the ground. Alternatively, you can just use a handheld aerator with spikes.