Like all living things, trees need to be supplied with nutrients so that they can thrive. Most people assume that trees are able to create and provide their own food through photosynthesis, but that process does not create certain vitamins and minerals that are necessary for healthy life. Read below for helpful insight from an expert tree care specialist about how to properly feed your trees.

Trees get these nutrients from the soil they grow in — but when that soil doesn’t have the right nutrients, trees begin to be susceptible to disease, insect problems, rot issues and will ultimately have a shorter lifespan. Fortunately, you can correct your soil’s nutrient levels by applying fertilizer as needed.

Determine the Need for Fertilizer

The best way to determine if you need fertilizer is to conduct a simple soil test before the tree is planted and every three to five years thereafter. You should be able to get a soil test kit online or at your local hardware store.

If you are unable to get a soil test, you can actually look to the tree itself to tell you whether it needs fertilizing. If the new shoot growth over the past year is more than six inches in length, you probably don’t need to fertilize. If it’s under six inches, you should consider fertilizing.

Leaf color is another way to tell if your tree is thriving. Off-color or yellow leaves on trees that should not have them normally can be an indicator that your tree needs fertilizing.

When to Fertilize

It is best to fertilize before your tree goes through its major growth spurt during the spring. Once the ground is workable after winter is a good time to fertilize. If you have a sandy soil, apply once in early spring and again in mid- to late May.

Your trees won’t always tell you they need fertilizing at the ideal time of the year. If they display signs of nutrient deficiencies at any time of the year, it is better to go ahead and fertilize than to wait. Be sure to provide ample water after you apply fertilizer, especially in the hot summer.

What and How to Apply

Unless you know a specific nutrient your soil is deficient in, you will probably want to use a fertilizer that offers added nitrogen. Be careful about the one you choose, though. Some plant fertilizers come with added herbicides, and these can damage trees. The fertilizer should come with guidelines on how to fertilize trees, but you will want to be sure to adjust the level of fertilizer that you apply based on the tree’s growth.