Q. Is deep root fertilization a good way to fertilize our African sumac tree, purple sage bushes and the purple plum tree? I’ve seen advertisements from some landscapers for this process.
|Where are the roots of trees and shrubs growing|
in a lawn?
A. There is nothing special or magical about deep root fertilization from landscapers or done by yourself. If done properly, and many do not, the fertilizer is injected into the soil at the depth of the roots. This is usually only a few inches beneath the surface of the soil.
Deep root fertilizer applications have made a name for themselves mostly where trees and large shrubs are growing in a lawn. By applying it beneath the surface of the lawn, high rates of fertilizer are applied without damaging or killing the lawn or causing the lawn to have dark green spots of tall grass where the fertilizer is injected. The rates of fertilizer applied is quite high so the “saltiness” of the fertilizer (all fertilizers are salts of some sort) would normally kill the grass if that fertilizer is applied directly to the lawn.
|These are the brown spots in your lawn that will occur|
if you drop fertilizer on one spot or place it too shallow
under the lawn. It should be 6 to 8 inches under the surface.
Also, lawn grasses are fertilizer “hogs”. Because of their fibrous root system they take fertilizer, nitrogen in particular, easily and quickly from the soil thus robbing it from deeper rooted trees and shrubs. By placing a complete fertilizer (one containing all three elements, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) several inches beneath the soil surface, it places the slower moving phosphorus and potassium right at where the roots are feeding.
Commercial companies will usually use a liquid fertilizer and inject it with what is called a “soil needle” or deep root feeder. This is a probe that is connected to a tank on the back of a truck containing a fertilizer solution. A hose comes from the tank through a pump and, under high pressure, the liquid fertilizer is injected into the soil.
|Granular fertilizer placed next to a bubbler in wood mulch so |
the fertilizer will be moved to the roots by the water
coming from the bubbler.
Real fancy units will allow the operator to squeeze the handle on the injector (a probe with holes in it to allow the fertilizer solution to injected into the ground) and inject a precise amount of fertilizer solution with each injection. The operator can inject the soil in dozens of places under the tree very quickly an be on his or her way.
You will know if they are doing it correctly by how deeply they push the injector. If they push it too deeply, the fertilizer will be placed beyond the plant roots and a large amount will be wasted. If they don’t push it deep enough and it is in a lawn, then you may have burn spots in the lawn. Burn spots are usually less of a problem in the winter months.
You can do deep root fertilize your own trees and shrubs by using tree and shrub fertilizer stakes and pounding them into the soil beneath the soil surface a few inches. You can also do it by irrigating the lawn and, while the soil is still moist, pushing a shovel into the soil in spacings about two feet apart under the canopy.
|Fertilizer stake. The plastic cap is placed over the fertilizer|
stake so that it does not shatter when pounded into the
wet soil under a tree near the source of water.
The shovel is pushed into the soil all the way, pushed forward so that the slit cut by the shovel is open, and dropping some fertilizer into the open slit. You then pull the shovel out and push the slit closed with your foot. Irrigate immediately after you are finished.
If your trees are in a desert landscape with drip irrigation then the whole idea of deep root fertilizer comes into question. When trees and shrubs are watered by drip irrigation then I would question whether deep root fertilizer applications are necessary. All the fertilizer will be “pushed” by watering from the drip emitters.
Roots of trees and shrubs in a rock or desert landscape will not grow like they would in a lawn. Instead, with drip irrigation, roots grow profusely near the emitters and do not go “searching” for water or grow toward water. They are not psychics.
With drip emitters is best to drop your fertilizer in slits next to the emitters or use tree fertilizer stakes at the emitters.