7 Best Fertilizer for Pine Trees | How and When to Use

The fragrant pine (pinus) is an evergreen conifer that thrives in a broad range of climates. Its seeds uniquely form, not from flowers, but in woody cones that have become familiar symbols of winter. 

Pines can reach 260ft tall, with varying widths. In-home gardens can easily be pruned to a manageable size. Dwarf varieties can be grown as topiaries. 

Infertile soil, a well-balanced NPK is usually enough. But, if your conifers need a boost, the best fertilizer for pine trees is just a quick read away. 

Best Pine Tree Fertilizers 

For effective ways to apply nutrients to your pines, be sure to read all the way to the bottom. But, if you’re simply looking for the best fertilizer for pine trees, below are my top three recommendations. 

Down to Earth All Natural Tree & Shrub Fertilizer Mix 4-2-4

Best Organic Fertilizer

Down to Earth Tree & Shrub Fertilizer Mix 4-2-4

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. 

Jobe's Tree And Shrub Fertilizer Spikes

Best Fertilizer Spikes

Jobes Tree and Shrubs Fertilizer Spikes 15-3-3

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.

Espoma TR4 Tree-Tone 6-3-2

Best Slow-Release Granules

Espoma TR4 Tree-Tone 6-3-2

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.

Choosing Fertilizer for Pine Trees 

To encourage branches that are full of vibrant, thick pine needles, you’ll want to get a closer understanding of the specific nutrient needs of these evergreens. 

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. 

Out of roughly 120 varieties, only 40 are commonly grown in home gardens. All of them develop cones, which form from nodes along sturdy branches.

In order for all this majestic, seasonal beauty to appear in a healthy, unforced way, a low and slow approach to fertilizing will provide mature conifers with the steady flow of nutrients they need.

This should start with new saplings, using a slow-release option 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 and what your soil is already offering. To do this you’ll need to carry out a soil test.

Every fertilizer label includes a three-numbered N-P-K 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 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 

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 adapted to in their natural habitats.

Yet, it has also shown the most successful pH, for healthy growth, is between 5.5 and 6.5. So, despite their tolerance, the soil pH around your trees should still be monitored.

When the pH is below 5.5, micronutrients start to become more mobile. Meaning they become too abundant and are absorbed in excess of what the trees need. In a low pH, nutrients get locked in the soil and are 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 inundate plants with nutrients, all at once.

Of course, it’s tempting to go for fast results, especially if you live in a region with a short growing season. But, large doses of fast-acting nutrients are going to be absorbed just as fast. This can cause irreparable damage to your pine trees, considering that accidental over-feeding is common. 

Yet, liquid fertilizers do have their benefits. 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 be needed 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 topiaries. 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 evergreens can become compacted, making it difficult to push spikes into. Luckily, they can be broken up and evenly worked around them. 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 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 personal preference and end-result expectations. However, an understanding of how each works and affects your environment can support an informed 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 healthy, 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. The following are my picks for the top 7 performers, based on NPK results, versatility-of-use, and product features that can accommodate most soil types.  

Pros

  • Provides nutrients using only natural organic ingredients
  • Less chance of fertilizer burning even for saplings
  • Gentle enough to use directly on young tree roots

Cons

  • Natural ingredients will smell slightly

This all-natural slow-release granular fertilizer is formulated to nourish mature trees and newly planted saplings. 

It is fortified with 11 types of mycorrhizal fungi, plus the potassium-based natural ingredients in this formula all contribute towards providing protection against common tree stresses such as drought, frost, and even transplant shock.

For me, Down to Earth is a kinder way to introduce nutrients to your soil, and for that reason, it’s my pick for the best organic 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 have 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.

Pros

  • Will return lush green foliage to browning evergreen trees 
  • Easy to use and mess-free
  • No strong odor once inserted beneath the soil

Cons

  • 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. 

Applying these with their N-P-K ratio of 15% nitrogen resulted in vibrant foliage and strong branches when I used them on my around my mature pines and arborvitae. These results lasted throughout winter too. 

Jobe’s offers a range of pack sizes depending on how many trees you have to fertilize. 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, then tap the included driving cap with a 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.

3. Espoma TR4 Tree-Tone 6-3-2

Best Slow-Release Granules

Espoma TR4 Tree-Tone 6-3-2

Pros      

  • Versatile enough to benefit shade and full-sun fruit and ornamental trees
  • Shows quick results with ailing trees

Cons

  • A larger amount of product may be needed to achieve expected results
  • Not intended 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 but within the tree’s dripline. 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 increased pines’ resistance against environmental stresses and an influx of summer pests. 

How To Use: Measure out 9 cups (3lbs) 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.

Pros: 

  • Easy to use 
  • All-purpose fertilizer proving to be great value 
  • Dependable results 

Cons: 

  • Use half the amount to avoid over-fertilizing

These water-soluble granules from J R Peters have a well-balanced NPK and can provide versatility and peace of mind, not to mention a wide range of applications through your yard and garden.

I have a row of privacy pines growing next to my vegetable garden, so the soil there is really fertile meaning I tend to dilute the quantities needed by half when mixing with water. And when watered down further, this feed can be shared with my vegetables too. I even use it as a houseplant fertilizer. 

Conversely, it’s often the case that the soil around mature pines may become depleted of nutrients, over time. When that happens, this triple 20 blend can 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 one to two weeks until conditions improve. 

Pros      

  • Fast-acting results
  • Organic ingredients
  • Great value for money

Cons

  • Has an odor that dogs find attractive

I tested my second Espoma selection on a few other mature pines around my property and 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 made them very happy. Because now they have improved access to nutrients.

Containing proprietary Bio-Tone microbes, this Holly-Tone mix increased flowering on my hydrangeas and rhododendrons, too. 

How to use: Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the fertilizer into 3 inches of soil along the dripline of your pine trees. Avoid exceeding the manufacturer’s recommendations on quantities as this can cause root burn.

Pros      

  • Beneficial NPK for well-composted soil
  • Fast growth in just one season

Cons

  • Not recommended for smaller pine varieties

These slow-release granules work really well for pines and other conifers that have yellowing foliage. 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 spread over every sq ft of the growing area within the drip line feeds for up to 2 months. Work granules into the top 3” of soil and water thoroughly.

Pros      

  • Results in just two days
  • Formulated for healthy feeding of flowering and non-flowering shrubs

Cons

  • It May result in burning if not watered in thoroughly

The higher percentage of nutrients in this Miracle-Gro Shake n’ Feed is good to go when it comes to reviving depleted soil around mature trees and shrubs. 

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 and 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. Be sure to provide a very generous watering after application.

How to Fertilize Pine Trees 

Effective fertilization of your pine trees is one of the hallmarks of productive success. But remember, conifers require only what’s needed, just twice per growing season. 

As mentioned, they’ve learned to adapt to differing degrees of soil fertility. They don’t need a lot of it, if at all. If you have pine trees growing on a lawn, this will most likely be the case. They will indirectly benefit from the fertilizer you apply to your lawn and won’t require anymore.

If the soil around them has been depleted of nutrients over time, or if you observe stunted growth, a low and slow approach will provide an equally steady flow of nutrients. Without risking harm to the roots and damage to the tree.

If you have more than a few conifers, applying granules using a spreader will make quick work of this for both mature and newly planted trees. This method also puts the fertilizer exactly where it will benefit the tree, without inadvertently feeding the weeds and grass around them, too. 

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, for pine saplings, per 1000 sq feet. 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.  

If you have a privacy barrier to conifers, you could simply measure the distance from one end of the conifer wall 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 over-application of it. That’s why it’s important to test your soil to make sure your evergreens actually need it. And take measurements to make sure you are applying the most effective amount. 

Too much liquid nitrogen can burn roots when applied to the soil and needles when sprayed. Too much potassium and phosphorus can leave excessive salts in the soil that will quickly absorb all the moisture in the soil and dehydrate your trees.

Symptoms of over-fertilization include:

  • A developing crust on the soil surface
  • Yellowing or wilting of branches and pine needles
  • Out of season needle drop

If caught early, there are steps you can take to try and revive your pine tree. Remove the dying or wilting branches and needles, and thoroughly water the area where you previously fertilized. Then, cover the root zone with mulch. 

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, or just as new branches and shoots begin to appear.

If you feel your pine trees need a second dose, apply it no later than mid-July. Slow-releasing fertilizers need time to take effect. Fertilizing any later than this will stimulate growth that can be damaged by an early frost and leave the tree, as a whole, vulnerable. 

If your pines experience summer drought stress, fertilizer should not be applied a second time. Roots weakened by a lack of water can become burned or shift into survival mode. Sending out new growth and cones when it lacks the proper energy 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 in 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, 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 Fertilizer for Pine Trees 

Best Organic Fertilizer

1. Down to Earth All Natural Tree & Shrub Fertilizer Mix 4-2-4

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. 

Jobe's Tree And Shrub Fertilizer Spikes

Best Fertilizer Spikes

Jobes Tree and Shrubs Fertilizer Spikes 15-3-3

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.

Espoma TR4 Tree-Tone 6-3-2

Best Slow-Release Granules

3. Espoma TR4 Tree-Tone 6-3-2

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