What You Need to Know If Your Thinking of Offering Tree and Shrub Fertilization to Your Customers
You’ve had a few customers ask for tree and shrub fertilization, but you currently do not offer it. Read on to see what you should know about offering tree and shrub fertilization to your customers.
Why would you want to start offering tree and shrub fertilization?
- The material cost for fertilizing is low. The most significant expenses are labor and equipment to get started.
- Additional income. The tree and shrub timeframe for fertilization tends to occur when lawn care services have not begun or have ended. So, in a time you would not usually be bringing in money, now you can. For instance, even before applying pre-emergent treatments, you can offer tree and shrub fertilization. In fact, when the ground thaws enough to get the soil probe in the ground, you can fertilize. Also, you can provide tree and shrub fertilization in the late fall when all your lawn care applications for the season have been completed.
- Even more additional income. Often, when LCOs start offering tree and shrub feeding, there will be cases where it leads to conversations like this:
Customer: “What’s wrong with this plant [tree or shrub]?”
LCO: “You have insects.”
Customer: “Can you take care of that?”
Customer: “What do you mean, no? Why did I hire you guys?”
Frequently, when LCOs start fertilizing for trees and shrubs, the service will open the door to insect and disease control treatments, which can then lead to full-fledged tree and shrub programs. Now, you are not only are feeding the plants a few times a year, but you are also spraying for insects and diseases throughout the year, too. Note: You will need a license to treat ornamentals for disease and insects.
Usually, a tree and shrub fertilization program consists of one or two feedings a year, depending on the type of fertilizers used. Typically, we fertilize in the early spring and late fall. We can use NPK slow-release fertilizers or quick-release fertilizers, but we often use a combination of both. Supplemental nutrients can also be used depending on the geographic area and particular plant problems, like chlorosis.
Placement of the fertilizer will depend on the size of the plants involved and the location (i.e., out in the turf or mulched beds). We want to place our fertilizer from the soil surface (just under the mulch) down to approximately 4-8 inches for trees. The feeder roots of most trees are near the surface and do not require us to put our fertilizers very deep.
We also want to fertilize on the drip line of trees, which is the farthest point a branch reaches with its leaves (if the tree has grown up in that spot). The roots can reach the fertilizer easier if applied on the drip line. Do not apply fertilizer around the base of the tree.
Typically, most of our shrubbery is very shallow rooted. Therefore, we are trying to put the fertilizer just under the ground, one or two inches, depending on the size of the shrub. Generally, we reduce the rate when fertilizing shrubbery.
We can fertilize with both granular fertilizers and liquids. When we talk about liquid fertilizers, we have dry products and liquid formulations that are added to water, which allows us to inject the fertilizer into the soil from 1 inch to 8 inches deep (depending on the plant and its location). Liquid fertilizer is the most popular fertilizer to apply on trees and shrubs. It’s faster and more efficient.
Tree feeders, like the Hudson Rootfeeder with the JD9 gun or the Ross Root Feeder, can be used to fertilize with liquid for trees and shrubs. To use these feeders, we need a spray unit (tank) capable of holding our liquid (50 to 200 gallons) with an agitation system capable of suspending or dissolving our chosen fertilizer. These units should have 300-400 foot hoses and a pump capable of providing 150 psi to 300 psi.
To use the feeder to fertilizer trees and shrubs, first, you hook the feeder to the hose and the tank that contains the fertilizer. After that, punch holes in the ground and inject the fertilizer down into those holes.
Granular fertilizer is typically broadcast in bed situations where we can apply our material on the surface and have rain or irrigation water carry it to our plant roots. This method works well unless the mulch is too deep, in which case we need to pull the mulch back and then fertilize. A handheld or chest broadcast spreader is often used for feeding trees and shrubs granularly.
You may come across trees and shrubs that do not have a mulched bed around them, just turfgrass. Applying granular fertilizer on the surface of that turfgrass is not recommended. The turfgrass eats most of the nutrients in the fertilizer, leaving little for the tree or shrub.
Also, applying granular fertilizer to the surface is very time-consuming. Typically, we’d take a heavy steel bar, like a spud bar, and punch several holes in the ground to ensure the fertilizer contacts roots. Then, we’d fill those holes with the granular fertilizer. It’s very slow and hard work unless you are only doing one or two trees.
When offering fertilization for trees and shrubs, your customers may have certain incorrect assumptions. A few common false assumptions are:
- Fertilizing fixes all problems with trees and shrubs. If a tree or shrub has a history with disease or insects, depending on the plant, feeding it with fertilizer will most likely not bring it back. The underlying disease and insects must be addressed. However, can we help a plant that has been under some stress that has not gotten too severe yet? In a lot of cases, yes.
- Poor planting procedures or location do not matter. Depending on the plant, overcoming poor planting procedures and where the tree or shrub is growing may not be possible. Fertilizer is not magic.
If you are interested in offering tree and shrub fertility for the first time, your ATS Sales Rep can help you get started.
Special thanks to our Youngstown, Ohio, Facility Manager, Frank Meyer, on helping put together this article.