Feeding your tree – the do's and don'ts!

Feeding your tree – the do's and don'ts!

Last Edited: 10/02/2017

When it comes to buying a tree, it's a big decision. It may not feel it at the time as you look at the small or mid-size plant in its tub at Todds Nursery. However, over time, they will become mature trees and will grow much larger and need far more attention (a bit like children). It's not quite the same as planting instant hedging.

Some trees are easier to maintain than others, which is why it is important to make the right decision for you, your business and the environment it'll be in - and the type of gardening maintenance you have. Part of the success of your trees will come down to how you look after them - knowing the do's and don'ts of feeding your tree will be invaluable. 


Being able to water your trees regularly is ultimately crucial for their survival, although those that root deeper will naturally be able to get more nutrients from the ground over time. Initially, though, when you are first planting the tree, it will need some extra tender loving care. In the transplantation process, the tree can lose up to 90% of its roots.

To begin with, you will need to water the tree approximately two times a week with the hose on a low trickle. As a tree can be very hungry for water, you ideally need to leave your hose on the root of the tree for around 10-15 minutes. 

For a quicker solution, you could use a watering can - about three to four loads will do. Just make sure all the water is going directly to the base of the tree rather than running away from the roots. Try to get the water as deep as possible - ideally to at least 12 inches. The slower you can water the tree, the better. Saturate the soil.

It is important to keep a close eye on your tree during these initial few weeks and months. Every two to three days, check how the soil feels. If it is dry (which will be particularly common during warmer summer months), you will need to water again. Increase the regularity depending on how the tree feels for you; ultimately, trust your gut instinct on what it needs. 

Just be sure that you don't over-water it, especially if it is a tree that thrives in drier conditions. This will prohibit the oxygen getting to the tree, which is also important for growth. You will need to keep this up for at least the first two years.

Although semi mature trees and fully grown mature trees are less demanding, they still need water - especially during the summer. It's a good idea when temperatures soar to give your tree a good water at least once a week - either with the hose, watering can or a sprinkling system. Just make sure you don't get the leaves wet as this can scorch them. In hot periods, it is always advised to water your plants and trees either early morning or late evening when the sun is down.

The amount of water you need for your tree will vary but a good guide is to use around two gallons for every inch of trunk diameter for young trees, twice a week. For mature trees, you'll need to use about 10 gallons per inch of trunk with each watering session.

Fertiliser and feeding

Pesticides and fungicides can feel like words from a whole other language. When it comes to using fertiliser, you won't need to use this on your newly planted tree until it has reached the second growing season. In the initial growing process, your focus needs to be on encouraging root growth rather than stimulating any leaf canopy growth. If you use fertiliser too early, it can damage the roots. 

When you get your tree from Todds Nursery, our modern feeding and watering system adjusts the pH and the balance of nutrients supplied, not only according to the species and size of the plant but also based on its growth stage and the season. This helps to ensure that every tree or shrub produced grows to its maximum potential and is as healthy as possible. It gives the trees you buy the best possible start in life before their final planting.

For mature trees, you will generally be able to tell when they're ready for fertiliser as their leaves will start to fall early in the season. This is a good indicator that your tree needs feeding. 

There are a number of different food options available to you but, ideally, you need to find a feed that is high in macronutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, calcium and magnesium. These will help to stimulate improved growth; if your tree is deficient in these nutrients, it will also slow the growing of your tree and cause visible symptoms. For example, a lack of iron can cause the yellowing of the leaves between the veins.

You will also need a feed that offers your tree micronutrients, although these are only required in small amounts. This includes manganese, zinc, copper, iron, boron, chlorine and molybdenum. If you check the label of the feed, this will give you an indicator of what nutrients it contains and by what percent. 

There is also the choice of organic (naturally occurring) and non-organic (synthetic) fertilisers. This is very much a decision that you need to make based on how you want to grow the tree, your budget for feeding it (as organic can be more expensive), and how environmentally conscious you want to be, etc.

In terms of how often you need to feed your tree, along with the symptoms that your tree is showing, it is also important to consider where it has been planted. If it is in an urban environment, it will often be under high stress conditions as a result of having low moisture availability, potential physical damage, construction nearby, soil compaction, and competing with nearby plants and shrubs, etc. Although feeding your tree won't eliminate these problems, it will help to prevent it from undergoing any further stress and will ensure it continues growing well.

If you're still not sure, you can also conduct a soil test, which will determine what nutrients are lacking. In the event that you're unable to do this, you can also check for new shoot growth. If it is more than 6 inches in length, chances are you don't need to fertilise your tree. When it is between 2 and 6 inches, you should apply feed to your tree. Anything less than this will require a more intensive feeding schedule.

Get in touch

We work with DEFRA and Fera to help eliminate disease and, where possible, source our trees from UK destinations with full traceability and record-keeping. To find out about the trees we have in stock, contact us today.