The Q&A Archives: Applying Tree/Shrub Fertilizer

Question: Where do you apply tree fertilizer when on a yearly basis you have pruned the tree or shrub, thereby changing its dripline... at the "pruned" dripline thinking the root system has stayed there too, or should you assume that the root system is extended out further (and if so, how much further) since you have altered the extension of the plant's foliage?

Answer: I wouldn't worry too much about the exact placement of the fertilizer over the dripline. Trees and shrubs tend to have feeder roots in a wide band around the circumference of the trunk, not just at the drip line. Spreading the fertilizer in a fairly wide band will ensure that it reaches these roots. You might take into consideration the age and size of the tree. If it's a mature plant, the feeder roots probably extend out farther than a fairly young one. For a mature plant that has been pruned regularly, I would center the band of fertilizer at the pruned dripline, and spreading it in a band a foot or so wide for a shrub, and in a larger band for a tree. If the tree/shrub was pruned back severely--say, it was 5' in diameter when you acquired it, and it you have now pruned it back to 3' and kept it that way, I would extend the fertilizer out to the 5' mark. The shrub would have established roots all the way to that point and they would still be there.

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