By Elizabeth and Crow Miller

Do You Feed Your Tree's ?

Trees should be fed just like your vegetable-producing and ornamental plants, and fall-early-winter is the time to do this. It doesn't matter what kind of trees you have; nut, fruit-bearing, evergreen or deciduous ornamentals, get out your soil amendments: cottonseed meal, granite dust, kelp meal, fish meal, bone meal, compost and rock phosphate, make up your own organic fertilizer or buy a all put together balanced blended organic fertilizer like. 4-6-4, 3-8-3 or 7-7-7, and start feeding your trees.

Now, some people bring up the argument that most trees appear to do very well in the forest, although they obviously are not fed by anyone. Trees growing on your grounds, in your landscape are growing in a artificial environment, and it's up to you to make them feel at home by creating the condition which they have been used for a hundred-thousand years. There's no turf or grass in the forest, only the forest floor, rich in decayed leaves and organic litter. But you've probably got a healthy, vigorous lawn over your tree's root systems to rob them of the water and nutrients they need. And, like a good organic gardener, you probably haul away their leaves to the compost pile, or you spread them around your smaller plants.

That's what your trees are up against, loss of the growing conditions they require in order to flourish in a healthy state, plus competition from plants that normally do not grow in the forest. But, admittedly, trees and turf look well together on your home grounds, so it's up to you to keep them both happy and well, by giving them what they need. Forget the forest primeval myth, it just doesn't exist on your well-manicured, man-conditioned home grounds. Instead, start feeding your trees and giving them the nutriment they lack.

Mostly it's a matter of placing the organic fertilizers where the roots can reach and absorb them. Since a tree's root system can't reach out for nutrients quickly and efficiently like a vegetable or flowering plant, you've got to help the tree.

Nutrients are absorbed by smallest roots. The feeding roots usually occupy the outer band of a circular area whose circumference lies just beyond the spread of the outermost branches. The width of this band is equal to about 2/3 of the radius of the circle. With most trees, few feeding roots lie within the center 1/3 of the circle. A rule-of-thumb method for determining the region in which most of the roots occur is, as follow- the radical spread of the roots in feet is equal to the diameter of the tree (one-foot above the soil) in inches.

For example, a tree whose diameter one foot above the ground is 9-inches, will have most' of its roots within a 9-foot radius and its feeding roots in the outer 6-foot-wide band.

My method of feeding a tree calls for making holes in the sod or turf and then placing the organic fertilizer in the holes 18-inches down, close to the tree's feeder roots.

I believe that broadcasting fertilizer to trees, except the shallow-rooted evergreens, is a waste of time and money, a fine way to grow grass, weeds, shrubs and unwanted tree seedlings. By thickening the turf, surface fertilizing also tends to lessen the tree roots water and air supply. The usual professional method of tree feeding is to thrust food down to where the roots run, or even lower to attract roots downward, and improve their grip on the ground.

I punch 18-inch holes into the soil under the drip-line, spacing them at 2-foot intervals, and working with a 3-foot pipe, or crow-bar. When the tree is large, a series of holes is tapped, and filled with such organic nutrients as: rock phosphate, fish and kelp meal, and then pluged with compost. This method may sound strenuous, but it will bring the kind of results you want.

By now, it should be pretty obvious that you owe it to your trees, to feed them the right way. I think the deep-root-feeding program is perhaps the best for the reasons given. Its up to you to create growing conditions around your trees that are similar to those prevailing in the forest.

Tree feeding is important. Besides fall-early-winter root-feeding, there is foliar spraying at 3-week intervals with micro-nutrient (fish/seaweed mix) through the growing season.

Mulching with straw, pine needles or leaves is also a recommended fall practice, particularly with evergreens. Such mulches prevent wide fluctuation in soil temperature and help the soil hold moisture. The mulch can be left on all winter, and then worked into the soil in the spring.

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On-Line / row Miller, Syndication.Landscaping/Grounds Maintenance