Maple trees, with their beautiful colors and attractive shapes, make a striking addition to any landscape. If you're considering adding one to your yard, you may be wondering how best to fertilize it so that it stays healthy and beautiful. Wonder no more! We've done the research, and we have the answers for you!
To fertilize your maple tree, use a slow-release fertilizer formulated for trees, with an NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) ratio of 10-4-6 or 16-4-8. The best fertilizers for maple trees include:
- Granular: Tree Help Premium Fertilizer for Maples
- Liquid: BioAdvanced Tree & Shrub Fertilizer
- Spike: Jobe's Tree & Shrub Fertilizer Spikes
- All-natural: Old Farmer's Almanac Tree & Shrub Fertilizer Spikes
In this article, we'll explain when to fertilize your maple tree, what qualities to look for in a fertilizer, and how to apply various forms of fertilizer. We'll also discuss whether two common gardening products, MiracleGro and Epsom salt, are good for maples. And we'll describe how to keep your maple tree healthy, from planting through maturity. Keep reading to learn more!
Best Fertilizers For Maple Trees
The first three years are the most important times to fertilize maple trees. Mature maples typically do not need fertilizer, as their extensive root systems extract all necessary nutrients from the ground. However, there are times when even an older maple may need a nutrient boost. Consider fertilizing your mature maple if you notice any of these signs:
- Slow twig growth
- Smaller or fewer leaves than usual
- Leaves yellowing or dropping early
Maples require lots of nitrogen, which stimulates leaf and twig growth. They also need potassium and phosphorus for photosynthesis and root growth. When you're shopping for fertilizer, look for a product formulated for trees with an N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) ratio of 10-4-6 or 16-4-8. Choose a fertilizer that releases its nutrients slowly: a quick-release product will flood your tree with too much nitrogen all at once, damaging the roots.
Tree fertilizer comes in three forms: granular, liquid, or spikes.
Granular fertilizers are simple to use: shake them from the container or broadcast them by the handful. Read the directions on the container to determine how much to use; then spread it evenly on the ground around your maple. You want the fertilizer to reach the tree's feeder roots, so start about a foot from the tree's trunk, continue to the dripline (the outer edge of the tree's canopy), and then an additional foot beyond the dripline for every 5' of your tree's height.
Because granular fertilizers lie on top of the soil, some nutrients are wasted when the granules are washed away by heavy rains or dispersed by foot traffic. Alternatively, you can put the fertilizer in the ground, as follows:
- Dig a series of 6"-deep holes, 30" apart, around the circumference of the tree's dripline.
- Partially fill the holes with fertilizer, placing an equal amount in each hole.
- Fill the rest of each hole with soil.
- Water deeply.
Granular fertilizers should be used in the late fall after all the leaves have dropped or early spring before new growth begins.
Recommended: Tree Help Premium Fertilizer for Maples
This professional-grade granular fertilizer was developed specifically for maples, with slightly higher levels of nitrogen and phosphorus than generic tree fertilizers contain. It includes a variety of natural ingredients that promote maples' resistance to pests and diseases. Its patented slow-release formula ensures that your tree will get just the right amount of nitrogen throughout the year.
Liquid fertilizers are another option for providing nutrients to your maple tree. Unlike granular or spike fertilizers, liquid fertilizer is used monthly during your maple's growing season. It generally comes in the form of powder or granules, which you dissolve in water before applying it to the ground around your tree. Choose a slow-release formula so your maple's tender feeder roots will not be overwhelmed by an influx of nitrogen.
Recommended: BioAdvanced Tree & Shrub
This product provides a good balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It also features the best slow-release feeding among the liquid fertilizers. In addition, it protects against insect pests year-round.
Fertilizer spikes are simple to use and easier to handle and store than granular or liquid fertilizers. They come in different strengths and sizes, so it's important to read the directions on the package to determine how many spikes your tree needs. Drive them into the ground at equal intervals around the circumference of your tree's dripline. They are designed to release their nutrients slowly into the surrounding soil.
The major drawback of fertilizer spikes is that their effect is concentrated in the soil closest to each spike, with less effect farther away from the spikes. This can cause uneven root growth, as new roots form in clusters in the highly fertilized areas.
Recommended: Jobe's Tree & Shrub Fertilizer Spikes
Jobe's spikes have a slightly higher nitrogen concentration (60%) than most other fertilizer spikes. This is a bonus for maples, which love nitrogen. They are easy to handle and sturdy, unlike some other spikes that tend to break or distort when driven into the ground. Use Jobe's spikes twice a year: once in the early spring and again in the late fall after all the leaves have dropped.
Various all-natural options provide excellent results if you prefer not to use chemical fertilizers on your maple tree. You can spread manure or compost around the tree -- starting a foot beyond the trunk and extending past the dripline -- and work it into the topsoil. Or you can apply 2" of organic mulch such as pine straw or cured wood chips to the same area; the mulch will release nutrients as it decomposes. If you prefer the ease of fertilizer spikes, there are several good all-natural options.
Recommended: The Old Farmer's Almanac Tree & Shrub Fertilizer Spikes
These eco-friendly fertilizer spikes contain only natural ingredients and skip the plastic sheathing that other spikes use. Although the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in each spike is slightly lower than in some chemical fertilizers, there are still plenty of nutrients here to give your maple the boost it needs to thrive.
Is MiracleGro Good For Maples?
Many gardeners like to use a granulated MiracleGro designed for trees. Although it is not formulated specifically for maples, as is the Tree Help fertilizer described above, it still contains an appropriate mix of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It also includes several natural ingredients - kelp, earthworm castings, feather meal, and bone meal - promoting soil fertility.
If you choose to use MiracleGro on your maple, note that you must apply it every three months rather than once a year.
Is Epsom Salt Good For Maples?
Epsom Salt is the common name for magnesium sulfate. It contains two elements that can help maple trees: magnesium, which helps the tree absorb nitrogen and phosphorus, and sulfur, which neutralizes soil pH. However, if you are already using fertilizer on your tree, adding Epsom salt can cause the roots to absorb too much nitrogen too quickly.
A good rule of thumb is: if your tree shows yellowing leaves and stunted growth, AND if you've ruled out issues like poor drainage or insufficient moisture, then try applying Epsom salt dissolved in water.
How Do You Keep A Maple Tree Healthy?
The most important factor in growing a healthy maple tree is planting it properly. Follow these steps to give your new maple its best possible start:
- Make sure your soil is moist and well-drained.
- If the consistency is too much like clay, add bagged topsoil at a 1:1 ratio. If the soil is too sandy, mix in bagged topsoil and peat moss.
- Check the soil's pH (a measure of its acidity or alkalinity). Maples prefer a pH between 5.5 (somewhat acidic) and 7.3 (neutral).
- If the pH is above 7.3, mix in soil sulfur, aluminum sulfate, chelated iron, or organic compost. If the pH is below 3.7, add limestone pellets.
- Before removing the tree from its container, water the root ball deeply.
- As you remove the tree from the container, loosen some of the outer feeder roots so they can spread more quickly into the soil.
- Dig a hole 4' in diameter and just barely deeper than the root ball's height; the roots need room to spread laterally.
- Place the root ball in the hole so that its top is level with the soil surface.
- Fill in the hole with prepared soil.
- Water thoroughly so that the ground is moist down to the bottom of the root ball.
- Throughout the first months after planting, check the soil moisture regularly; water deeply when the soil begins to dry out.
First Three Years
Continue to check the moisture of the soil regularly throughout your maple's growing season. If the soil becomes dry, water deeply. As your tree matures and its root system spreads, it will gradually need less and less watering from you.
Protect your young tree's trunk from the Winter sun: swaddle it in a tree wrap during the winter months, and remove the wrap in Spring before new growth starts. Also, if you live in an area with snow and ice, do your best to keep road and driveway salt away from your tree: maples are particularly sensitive to salt.
If you choose to prune your maple for shape, the first three years are critical. Prune in summer, after all the leaf buds have opened. Minimize your cutting while still getting the shape and canopy density that you desire. During the early years, concentrate on pruning off low-hanging branches. Alternatively, many homeowners nowadays don't prune at all, allowing their maples to develop naturally.
Fourth Year And Beyond
Beginning in about your maple's fourth year, it will need very little care and maintenance. During periods of extreme drought, water it deeply if you see the leaves browning or curling. If your tree's shape is important to you, prune it as needed. And, if you see signs that it's not getting the nutrients it needs- less growth than usual, smaller leaves, or leaves dropping early- apply fertilizer.
How Much Water Does A Maple Tree Need?
During the first two years after you plant your maple, make sure the ground stays consistently moist but not soggy. As your tree matures, it will gradually need less watering. By its fourth year, it should be able to draw enough moisture from the ground without your help, except in periods of drought.
How Much Sunlight Does A Maple Tree Need?
Maples prefer full sun but will tolerate mild to moderate shade. The more sun they get, the denser and thicker their foliage.
How Big Do Maple Trees Get?
Small maples, such as the Japanese, Rocky Mountain, or Vine varieties, grow to 25'.
There are only a few medium-sized maples -- topping out at 30' - 50' -- including Norway and Silver maples.
Most varieties of maple trees grow tall -- from 70' to 150'. The best-known varieties of large maples include Sugar, Red, and Black.
What Maple Trees Grow The Fastest?
Silver and Red maples are the fastest-growing types of maple trees. Silver maples grow at least 3' (and up to 7') per year, while Red maples typically grow three feet per year.
Adding a maple tree to your landscape provides beauty, shade, and value. By ensuring that it has the right soil, good drainage, an ample supply of water, and nitrogen-rich fertilizer, you can keep your new maple healthy and enjoy it for years to come!
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