Pine trees (pinus) are fragrant, evergreen conifers that thrive in a broad range of climates. From these, seeds uniquely form. Not from flowers, but from woody cones that have become familiar symbols of winter.
These botanical monoliths can reach anywhere from a “dwarf” 4 feet tall to a towering 260 feet tall. However, home-grown cultivars can easily be pruned to a more manageable size. Dwarf varieties can even be shaped into topiaries.
When pine trees are grown in fertile soil, an equally-balanced NPK (ie. 10-10-10) is typically sufficient. But, if yours are yellowing and need a boost, the best fertilizer for pine trees is just a quick read away.
- Best Pine Tree Fertilizers
- Choosing Fertilizer for Pine Trees
- Best Pine Tree Fertilizer Reviews
- 1. Down to Earth Tree & Shrub Fertilizer Mix 4-2-4
- 2. Jobes Tree and Shrubs Fertilizer Spikes 15-3-3
- 3. Espoma TR4 Tree-Tone 6-3-2
- 4. Jacks Classic No.4 20-20-20 All Purpose Fertilizer
- 5. Espoma Organic Holly-tone 4-3-4
- 6. Scotts Tree Fertilizer Continuous Release 11-7-7
- 7. Shake 'N Feed Tree and Shrubs Plant Food 18-6-12
- How to Fertilize Pine Trees
- When to Fertilize Pine Trees
- Verdict: Best Fertilizer for Pine Trees
- FAQ’s Fertilizing Pine Trees
Best Pine Tree Fertilizers
For effective ways to supply nutrients to your pines, be sure to read all the way to the bottom. But, if you’re simply looking for a quick recommendation, below are my top three.
Best Organic Fertilizer
Containing all-natural ingredients and enhanced with mycorrhizal fungi, this organic feed improves root strength and protects against stresses for both new and established pines.
Best Fertilizer Spikes
Designed with convenience in mind, these pre-measured fertilizer spikes need only to be pushed one inch into the ground, for a slow release of nutrients for up to 3 months.
Best Slow-Release Granules
Slow-release granules, complete with their patented bio-tone microbes, support plant health by improving aeration in soil for effective absorption of water and oxygen.
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Choosing Fertilizer for Pine Trees
To encourage branches that are full of thick, vibrant pine needles, you’ll want to get a better understanding of a pine tree’s specific nutrient needs.
Pine trees have been around for thousands of years and have adapted to thrive in different levels of soil fertility. They don’t need a lot of it, if at all.
Yet, nutrient deficiencies do happen, especially with pines grown in pots. In these cases, a healthy, unforced method of fertilizing has proven the most effective at encouraging the kind of majestic, year-round beauty you’re looking for.
This process should start with new saplings, using a slow-release option and applying it throughout the growing season, as they become established. That said, a faster-acting liquid feed may be occasionally appropriate in less-than-fertile soil, to support rapidly growing, young trees.
Pine Tree Fertilizer N-P-K Ratio
Choosing the right NPK is easy when you understand what your conifers need vs. what your soil is already offering. A simple soil test can determine this for you. But, what is an NPK, exactly?
Every fertilizer label includes a three-numbered ratio, indicating its proportions of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
For example, a 4-3-4 NPK has 4% nitrogen, 3% phosphorus, and 4% potassium. Every plant requires these three elements for optimal health, just in different proportions.
Nitrogen (N) – is a key component in chlorophyll cell formation, encouraging green color and the creation of plant food via photosynthesis.
Phosphorus (P) – plays a major role in the growth and overall structure of trees. Promoting healthy root development and accelerated tree maturity.
Potassium (K) – drives the circulation of water, nutrients, and carbohydrates throughout plants, shrubs, and trees.
Soil pH and Nutrient Uptake
One key factor in facilitating optimal absorption of these nutrients is your soil’s pH level. Luckily, Pine trees can be tolerant of and thrive in a broad range of pH levels. Research suggests this to be due to the vastly different soil conditions these evergreens have adapted to in the wild.
Yet, it has also shown that despite their tolerance, Pine trees may not thrive in adverse pH levels. The ideal pH for healthy growth and longevity is between 5.5 and 6.5. For this reason, the soil pH around your trees should still be monitored.
But, why this particular pH range? When the pH is below 5.5, micronutrients start to become more mobile. Meaning they become too abundant in the soil and start to saturate the roots of your Pine with more than they need.
In a soil pH above 6.5, nutrients are restrained in place, unable to reach roots. This issue inevitably leads to deficiencies and stunted growth problems within the trees.
Granular Vs Liquid Fertilizer
Slow-release, granular, and spike fertilizers are commonly preferred over liquid options that tend to (like a low pH) inundate plants with nutrients, all at once.
Naturally, immediate results sound better than having to practice patience, especially if you live in a region with a short growing season. But, immediate results do not always equate to reward. Large, consistent doses of fast-acting nutrients can cause irreparable damage to your pine trees.
Yet, when used appropriately, liquid fertilizers can offer great rewards. When pine trees are initially planted in less-than-fertile soil, they immediately receive the nutrients they need to thrive.
Even if you regularly use slow-release fertilizers, a quick boost of specific liquid nutrients may offer more support during big growth spurts, as cones emerge, or in times of drought.
Controlled Release Fertilizer Spikes
Spikes are really convenient to use, especially if you have a garden full of potted Pines. Pre-measured in various sizes, they’re easy to push into loamy soil, and being slow-releasing, they run little risk of burning.
The soil around mature evergreens can become compacted, making it difficult to push spikes into. Luckily, these can be broken up and evenly worked into the soil. Providing the same convenient nutrient flow but without frustration.
Nutrients are released from these by microorganisms in the soil, carrying the added benefit of stimulating an increased resistance to disease and pests. Unused portions can then be stored until needed.
Organic vs Synthetic Fertilizers
Deciding between organic and synthetic fertilizers for pine trees is simply a matter of where your comfort zone lies. However, an understanding of how each works and affects your environment can help inform your decision.
Organics are plant or animal-based and contain nutrient levels that mimic what evergreens would naturally have access to in the wild. They also increase soil fertility and nourish plants for longer, while encouraging proper aeration and drainage.
Convenient to use when organics are unavailable, synthetic fertilizers are mass-produced using minerals and chemical compounds. They can provide a big boost to branch and needle growth by providing higher levels of nutrients than plants would normally have access to. But, have little to no impact on health, microbial, soil activity, soil texture, or long-term fertility.
Best Pine Tree Fertilizer Reviews
I have a number of different pines around my garden, so I’ve had the opportunity to test several different fertilizer options. While the following 7 options are formulated for many different plant types, these all showed remarkable results. Ranking them high on my list of best pine tree fertilizers, based on NPK and secondary nutrient combinations, versatility of use, and value for money.
- Provides nutrients using only natural organic ingredients
- Increased nitrogen for healthy foliage growth
- Gentle enough to use on young and mature tree roots
- Natural ingredients have an earthy odor
These all-natural, slow-releasing granules are formulated to nourish mature pines and promote the rapid establishment of newly planted saplings.
Fortified with 11 types of mycorrhizal fungi, this NPK contains enough potassium to protect against common tree stresses such as drought, frost, and even transplant shock.
For me, this fertilizer has proven to be a gentle and effective way to nourish your trees, while increasing your soil’s fertility. For this reason, it’s my pick for the best organic pine tree fertilizer.
I recently added some new pines and evergreen shrubs to my garden design. After working 2 cups of these granules into the backfill soil, I was surprised to see how quickly new growth had sprouted. A clear indicator of healthy root establishment. This is definitely the best fertilizer for trees and shrubs that I’ve used in a long time.
How to use: For new plantings mix 1-3 cups of fertilizer into the backfill soil. For existing trees either dig in or pour into holes drilled 3-6″ deep around the tree drop line to avoid a run-off.
- Will return lush green foliage to browning evergreen trees
- Easy to use and mess-free
- Safe to use around pets once inserted beneath the soil
- Spikes need to be kept dry once the packet opened
Jobe’s fertilizer spikes are formulated to send consistent, slow-release nourishment directly to the roots of all types of evergreens.
I used a hammer to insert these nitrogen-rich spikes into the soil around my mature pines and arborvitae and within a week, hints of bright green began to emerge throughout all the browning. Once fully grown, the vibrant color of these new needles lasted throughout winter.
Jobe’s offers a range of pack sizes to support your needs. Buy them in packs of 5, 9, 15, and 150 spikes. I found a pack of 15 was enough to feed 3 trees for a whole season.
How to Use: For easy insertion, I found it best to clear away any fallen debris, water the application area well, and then tap the included driving cap with a hammer or rubber mallet, just until the top is level with the soil surface.
Then, hammer or push the required number of spikes along the tree’s drip line. For pine trees, use one spike for every 3 feet of height.
- Increased phosphorus for a higher pinecone yield
- Shows quick results with ailing trees
- A larger amount of product may be needed to achieve desired results
- Full doses may be too strong for potted trees
These effective, slow-releasing granules from Espoma may be labeled for fruiting trees but the increased nitrogen in the 6-2-3 NPK, I’ve found, is perfect for pines. Especially if you want a few more cones for holiday crafting projects.
I also found that this works best when applied below the soil’s surface, within the tree’s drip line. I used a small auger to make holes into which I poured the granules.
I made just two applications per year – one in spring and the other in fall – and saw a marked increase in the pines’ resistance to environmental stresses and an influx of summer pests.
How To Use: Measure out 9 cups (3 lbs) of fertilizer per inch of the tree trunk. Sprinkle the required measure of granules onto the soil around the tree trunk and within the dripline. Apply once in early spring and again in early fall.
- Easy to use
- A versatile, all-purpose fertilizer with great value for money
- Dependable, consistent results
- Using half the instructed amount is recommended to avoid over-fertilizing
These water-soluble granules from Jack’s Classic offer well-balanced nutrition that’s profitable in both results and value for money. Not to mention, a wide range of applications for your entire garden. What more could you ask from a great pine tree fertilizer?
I have a row of privacy pines growing next to my vegetable garden, so the soil there is really fertile. In these areas, I’ll dilute the recommended dose by half. After watering it down a bit further, I can share this feed can be shared with my vegetables too. I even use it as a houseplant fertilizer.
As is often the case, the soil around mature pines can become depleted of nutrients, over time. When this happens, a full dose of this triple 20 blend will help revive tired soil and green up pine trees quickly.
How to use: Apply through a sprayer hose or watering can by adding 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. For severely depleted soil this feed can be used every 1-2 weeks until conditions improve.
- Fast-acting results
- Organic ingredients
- Great value for money
- Has an odor that dogs find attractive
I tested my second Espoma selection on a few other mature pines around my property and given its generous percentages of nitrogen and potassium, I discovered that it’s not just for Holly.
Formulated for acid-loving plants, these slow-release granules lowered the soil pH around my evergreens and drastically improved the absorption of nutrients.
Containing proprietary Bio-Tone microbes, this 4-3-4 mix increased flowering on my hydrangeas and rhododendrons, too.
How to use: Make 3″ holes around the dripline of your pines and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of fertilizer into each. Avoid exceeding the manufacturer’s dosage recommendations, as too much can cause root burn.
- Beneficial NPK for well-composted soil
- Fast growth in just one season
- A full dose is not recommended for small or newly planted pine trees
These slow-release granules work really well for pines and other conifers that are experiencing chlorosis (yellowing needles). With mine, this was due to a nitrogen deficiency. This 11-7-7 NPK had just enough to remedy that, in addition to boosting available phosphorus and potassium levels in the soil.
It also contains a beneficial amount of acid-raising sulfur to ensure that nutrients are properly absorbed in pines and all other plants that thrive at a lower pH.
How To Use: 1 cup per 1 sq ft of growing area within the drip line feeds for up to 2 months. Work granules into the top 3” of soil and water thoroughly.
- Results in just two days
- Formulated for healthy feeding of flowering and non-flowering shrubs
- It May result in burning if not watered in thoroughly
The higher percentage of nutrients in Miracle-Gro’s Shake n’ Feed works wonders when it comes to reviving depleted soil around your pine trees.
While not considered organic, this granular option does contain beneficial soil microbes that convert nutrients into a form that pine trees can more easily absorb and metabolize.
It also contains sulfur to balance pH levels around evergreens, flowering trees, and shrubs for improved nutrient absorption.
How To Use: Shake the recommended amount (depending on tree size) onto soil within the drip line. Water generously after each application.
How to Fertilize Pine Trees
Effective fertilization of your pine trees is one of the hallmarks of productive success. But remember, they’ve learned to adapt to differing degrees of soil fertility. So, they require very little for a lush, healthy return.
If you have pine trees growing on a lawn, fertilizing them will be even easier. They’ll indirectly benefit from the fertilizer you apply to your lawn and won’t require any more.
If the soil around those in garden beds or privacy barriers has been depleted of nutrients over time, you may notice stunted growth or excessive yellowing. In these cases, I find that an initial dose of a 20-20-20 liquid NPK will immediately jumpstart new growth and greening. Then, you can return to a low and slow fertilizing schedule, using granules or spikes.
To make quick work of fertilizing privacy barrier conifers, apply granules using a spreader for both mature and newly planted trees.
Use The Tree Drip Line
Application rates are typically recommended in lbs per 1000 sq ft. As a general rule, apply 2 to 4 lbs of fertilizer per 1000 sq feet, for pine saplings. For mature trees, 1 lb/1000 sq ft is usually enough. How do you calculate this, you ask?
We’ll use the tree’s drip line to measure. The drip line is the distance between the needle tips on one side to the needle tips on the other.
A single pine tree with a drip line that is 5 ft across would roughly span 25 sq ft of soil space. 1000 / 25 = 40, 2-4 lbs of fertilizer / 40 = .05 – .10 lbs of fertilizer for that tree.
With privacy barriers, you would simply measure the distance from one end of the barrier to the other and use that as your ‘drip line’ measurement.
Avoiding Pine Tree Fertilizer Burn
The most common cause of fertilizer burn is the incorrect use of it. That’s why it’s important to test your soil to make sure your conifers actually need it. Taking dripline measurements ensures you are applying the most effective amount.
What can happen to your trees with too much fertilizer? Disproportionate amounts of nitrogen can burn roots when applied to the soil, and needles when sprayed. Excessive applications of potassium and phosphorus can leave salts in the soil that will quickly absorb all the moisture in the soil and dehydrate your trees.
Symptoms of over-fertilization include:
- A white crust on the soil surface
- Yellowing of branches and pine needles
- Needle drop
If caught early, there are remedies you can take to try and ease these symptoms. If just a few, trim off the yellowing branches and deeply water the area that was over-fertilized. Then, mulch the root zone to ensure adequate moisture uptake and flushing of excess fertilizer.
When to Fertilize Pine Trees
Most evergreens experience a rapid surge of growth in spring, as they rouse from winter dormancy. Then, slow down a bit in summer and autumn. To get the highest benefit from your fertilizer, you’ll want to apply it before new shoots begin to appear.
If you feel a second dose is necessary, apply it no later than mid-July. Slow-releasing fertilizers need time to take effect. Fertilizing any later than this will stimulate new growth that can be damaged by an early frost.
If your region experienced above-normal, summer temperatures, fertilizer should not be applied a second time. Roots weakened by drought can easily burn and start sending out new growth and cones when they’re not healthy enough to do so.
Another timing factor will be soil condition. For pine trees planted in sandy soil, splitting the applications has proven effective. Once in early spring and again in late spring.
Fertilizing Pine Trees In Winter
Every plant, shrub, and tree goes into at least a partial dormancy in winter when climate conditions are not conducive to healthy growth. When all seems asleep above ground, lots of life-sustaining activity is happening below.
Biological processes within are now working hard to strengthen roots, trunks, and branches. Especially in harsh winter climates where they go into full dormancy.
Because pines, and other evergreens, are focusing on things other than new growth, applying fertilizer at this time may actually harm them. They’re not able to metabolize fertilizer in dormancy. Thus, burning is more likely to occur.
If you want to help your pines better withstand harsh winters, you can apply a slow-release feed that will last up until late fall, but no later. This will aid in increasing tolerance for sub-zero temperatures, so they emerge from dormancy healthy and ready to grow.
How Often to Fertilize Pine Trees
How often to fertilize will also factor into the brand and application method you choose. Most fertilizers are made to accommodate different plant types. So, it’s important to keep in mind the specific nutrient needs of your pine trees based on their stages of growth.
Saplings go through a seed leaf, juvenile leaf, scale leaf, and then pine needle stage. Once it reaches that final stage, it’s considered a mature tree.
Prior to maturity, the drip line application method, mentioned above, should be followed every two to four years. Once maturity is reached, far less fertilizer will be needed, if at all.
In my experience, Down to Earth, All Natural Tree & Shrub Fertilizer Mix works really well when using the drip line application method. But, if you’re more comfortable using granules or spikes, Scotts Tree fertilizer granules or Miracle Gro’s spikes work just as well.
Verdict: Best Fertilizer for Pine Trees
Well, it looks like we have our verdict! The best fertilizer for pine trees is dependent primarily on soil quality and tree age.
So, what will it be? For a product with 100% natural ingredients then you can’t go wrong with Down to Earth Tree and Shrub. This fertilizer has been designed to support tender new saplings and mature pines alike. Use it to protect your trees against stresses and to strengthen root structure.
Or, after conducting a good soil test, you might find you need to supplement certain nutrient deficiencies. When more nitrogen is needed, evenly distributing Jobe’s evergreen fertilizer spikes will increase the availability of this vital macronutrient. Resulting in healthy green leaf and needle growth, with enhanced photosynthesis properties.
If improving soil quality is on your bucket list then choose Espoma’s Tree-tone slow-release granules, which are fortified with beneficial soil microbes, and will be your ticket to healthy, majestic conifers.
Best Organic Fertilizer
Containing all-natural ingredients and enhanced with mycorrhizal fungi, this organic feed improves root strength and protects against stresses both for new plantings and established pines.
Best Fertilizer Spikes
Designed with convenience in mind, these pre-measured fertilizer spikes simply need to be pushed one inch into the ground for a slow release of nutrients for up to 3 months.
Best Slow-Release Granules
Slow-release granules, complete with their patented bio-tone microbes that support plant health by improving aeration in soil for effective absorption of water and oxygen.
FAQ’s Fertilizing Pine Trees
When should you fertilize pine trees?
Fertilize pine trees in late winter to early spring before new growth starts. This timing allows the trees to utilize nutrients for healthy spring growth.
Is 10-10-10 fertilizer good for evergreens?
Yes, 10-10-10 fertilizer can be used for evergreens. However, evergreens typically benefit from a fertilizer with a higher nitrogen content, such as one with a ratio of 20-10-10.
What helps pine trees thrive?
Pine trees thrive with proper soil drainage, adequate sunlight, and well-timed fertilization. Pruning to remove dead branches and control pests also contributes to their health.
Can you over-fertilize pine trees?
Yes, over-fertilization can harm pine trees. Excessive fertilizer can lead to nutrient imbalances, weak growth, and environmental pollution. Following recommended application rates is crucial.
Is 12-12-12 fertilizer good for evergreens?
A balanced 12-12-12 fertilizer can be used for evergreens, but a formulation with higher nitrogen content, like 20-10-10, is generally more suitable for promoting healthy growth.
Is it better to fertilize trees in the fall or spring?
Fertilizing trees in the fall is generally recommended. Fall fertilization promotes root growth and nutrient storage before winter dormancy. Spring fertilization can also be effective, but fall is preferred for many tree species.
Do pine trees like Epsom salt?
Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate. If your soil pH is too high or too low, the magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen in these salts may be a good choice.
Studies have even found that magnesium sulfate helps increase the absorption of key nutrients. Unlike other similar compounds, Epsom salts don’t build up over time, and they can be used in both dry and water-diluted forms.
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