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Hold Off Fertilizing Woody Plants

Your woody plants, especially shrubs, may look a bit stressed on these hot summer days. Your first diagnosis may be that they’re hungry so you should feed them. Resist the temptation! They may be thirsty but they’re not hungry.

Don’t fall victim to that common misconception that you can feed plants with fertilizer. Plants make their own food through photosynthesis. Nutrients from the air and soil enter into the process, too, and fertilizer replenishes the nutrients in the soil that have been depleted.

Nutrients are carried by water, which is absorbed by the plant roots and carried to the leaves. In summer, water is often scarce so plants slow down their nutrient–laced water absorption until fall. In fact, woody plants’ roots absorb the most water in spring and fall. Consequently, these are the seasons of greatest root growth.

The food they make in the fall is stored in the roots to sustain them through the winter and to break dormancy, flower and leaf out next spring. In spring, the plants need extra energy for new growth. Applying fertilizer in the summer may encourage tender late growth that may not have enough time to harden off for the winter.

If you want to give your summer-stressed woody plants a treat, make it water instead of fertilizer. They’ll appreciate it more, as will the environment and your wallet since you won’t have to buy fertilizer. When deciding which plants to water, start with any young trees and shrubs. They need it most. Some of your other shrubs may appreciate water, too. Large, mature trees have found water so you can skip them unless they look extremely stressed.

You can leave fertilizing to our professionals if you’d rather not have to worry about formulation and timing. Our Plant Health Care professionals will apply just the right formulation when it will be most beneficial to your trees and shrubs.

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