We get tons of phone calls and emails daily, and one of the most common questions about seedlings is “do I or don’t I fertilize my seedlings” the first year? The correct answer is: Yes, you do. Many nurseries will recommend not fertilizing the first year, and that just makes zero sense to me. What does make sense is that those nurseries don’t trust their customers with fertilizer. They’re scared the seedling will be over fertilized, perish, and the customer will call or email with complaints and wanting replacements. Would you not feed a newborn baby for fear it will over eat? No, you feed a newborn properly, to provide adequate nutrients for optimal growth and a lifetime of health.
Much like animals, plants need optimal nutrition at the beginning stages of life to thrive for the remainder. A newly planted seedling needs proper fertility to quickly develop a large root system, which in turn translates into to “drought insurance” for making through the first summer. What does a healthy root system enable? It enables the plant to process more moisture and nutrients, which enables the plant to grow more above ground. This healthy growth increases exponentially because the plant has all the resources it needs, both above and below ground, to thrive.
The key to not overfertilizing seedlings is to place the proper amount fertilizer in the root zone (underground), but don’t place the fertilizer in direct contact with the roots.
For more information about proper technique, check out this video: