5 Best Maple Tree Fertilizers (And How To Use Them)

Hands planting a maple tree seedling in a flower pot

Growing trees (especially maple trees) can be a difficult task, especially since many of them can encounter problems with things such as nutrients. As nutrient problems arise, you can often begin to see your tree slow down or grow weaker. With this arises the question, “What fertilizer is best for my maple tree?” 

The best fertilizers for maple trees contain nitrogen. Nitrogen is one of the essential nutrients for growing and sustaining maples, so high nitrogen fertilizers are critical for fast and healthy growth. In truth, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are ideal for a maple tree fertilizer.

Read on to learn more about what classifies maple trees, how they grow, and how their growth relates to their fertilizer needs!

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What Is A Maple Tree? How To Identify

In order to identify and understand what your tree wants, it is first important to be able to recognize that your tree is maple in the first place (or to recognize what specific type of maple it is.) 

Red yellow and green colorfull leaves.

In general, most common maples have large, palmate leaves that have 3-5 lobes and fairly prominent serrations. When flowering, maples usually produce small red flowers that form clusters.

Their fruits are yellow/reddish and form into little winged shapes, forming what people commonly call ‘helicopters.’ In addition to this, maple leaves are deciduous, meaning in the fall/winter, their leaves begin to turn red/orange/yellow and begin to fall off.

What Should Be In Maple Tree Fertilizers?

Aside from specialty fertilizers that are formulated for specific plants/trees, most fertilizers have very similar (or in some cases the same) compounds. 

To generalize, except for special additives in fertilizers, most quality maple tree fertilizers should contain mostly large portions of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are all crucial to helping and maintaining a plant’s healthy and fast growth. 

What Do Maple Trees Use Fertilizers For?

When people talk about fertilizing and helping plants, they often simply say that it will just help the plant grow.

However, this often leaves questions surrounding how plants and maple trees actually use these compounds and how to tailor the compounds to promote growth.

Nitrogen For Maple Trees

Nitrogen is one of the most vital compounds that all plants need. In fact, some plants even have evolved with bacteria to be able to take nitrogen for themselves from the air (often called nitrogen fixers). 

In plants and maple trees, nitrogen is one of the main components of chlorophyll, which is the pigment associated with the capture of light energy and the creation of chemical energy. In addition, nitrogen is associated with the building of new, healthy, dark green leaves. 

This means that if your maple tree is showing yellowing leaves, it could have a nitrogen deficiency.

Phosphorus For Maple Trees

Phosphorus is another very common and important molecule that is found in almost every plant cell. It is involved with the main maple tree functions such as energy creation/transfer and photosynthesis.

In addition, due to the nature of phosphorus in biology, phosphorus is also used to make things like special sugars, energy components, and genetic material used to make new cells and reproductive aspects (such as seeds and fruits). 

Potassium For Maple Trees

Potassium (also known as “K” on common fertilizers) may seem like an odd addition to fertilizers; however, it is very vital to the maintenance and growth of healthy plants. 

In maple trees, potassium has many uses. To start, potassium is connected to the movement of water, solutes, and nutrients in plant tissue, meaning it is vital for proper functioning and survival. In addition, scientists are currently making connections to potassium and the activation of things like enzymes. 

To apply the idea of potassium fertilizers to plants, potassium will cause your plant to have better drought resistance and faster root growth! 

Identifying Maple Tree Nutrient Deficiencies

Red maple acer (acer rubrum) aka swamp maple, water maple or soft maple tree

Now that we know what maple trees are, what common fertilizers are (and how they work), we can discuss the specifics of maple trees, what they need, and what they thrive on with fertilizers. 

To begin, it is important to assess if your tree even needs fertilizer. As home gardeners, we can often misdiagnose our trees/plants, which can lead to other unforeseen consequences.

For example, if your tree is perfectly healthy nutrient-wise and you decide to heavily fertilize it in the name of ‘saving it,’ this can do many things such as burn the roots, cause tree damage, or even slow growth for a large period of time. 

Identifying Maple Tree Phosphorus Deficiency

Going along with this, most deficiencies are easy to see in the leaves of trees and plants (especially broadleaf trees such as maples.)

To start, if your maple tree has a phosphorus deficiency, it can cause extremely slow growth and the darkening (in a green/purple color) of the leaves and stems. 

Identifying Maple Tree Nitrogen Deficiency

For a nitrogen deficiency, it’s easy to get this confused with leaves yellowing due to the Fall season.

If your maple tree has a nitrogen deficiency, this can cause the leaves to start yellowing. Nitrogen is known as a “mobile nutrient” because it can be shuttled from cell to cell. This means that leaving yellowing leaves on could be beneficial, as it allows all of the nitrogen to e moved elsewhere in the plant.

So, if you see leaves yellowing during the warmer parts of the year, you may need fertilizer.

Identifying Maple Tree Potassium Deficiency 

Potassium deficiencies in maple trees can often be indicators of other problems, as well.

In total, potassium deficiencies will cause maple leaves to scorch/burn at the ends and possibly cause the leaves to yellow on and in between the veins. Especially during warmer months, look out for sudden changes in leaf color and a brown, potentially spotted mark around the edge of leaves.

In general, maple trees can be pretty hardy with what they want and what they need. The most common deficiency/need of maples is nitrogen. This means that finding a fertilizer that is relatively high in nitrogen with the supporting nutrients of phosphorus and potassium is key to healthy and fast growth. 

5 Best Types Of Maple Tree Fertilizers

Now that we have discussed what is in fertilizers and what maple trees need specific, now we can get to what specific fertilizers are best for maple trees (keeping in mind that nitrogen-heavy is their preference.)

Another good thing to mention is slow-release and fast-release fertilizers. Most people opt for slow-release, as it gives a more natural, longer-lasting effect on your trees. 

Maple Tree Fertilizer Spikes

The first form of fertilizer that many people use for their maple trees is spikes.

Maple tree fertilizer spikes work to slowly release nutrients into the soil over time. To do so, you have to pin them into the ground near your tree. In addition, most people also cite that for spikes to work, you have to have semi-consistent rain.

Spikes can be fairly useful and are commonly bought and used due to their ease of function. In fact, to use them, you normally just have to put them in the ground, and you are good. 

Some downsides to spikes are that they usually aren’t organic (or in worse cases, they can be toxic to other life forms), they can be tampered with by pets, and some people claim that they only affect a small area of the root system, especially when compared to other forms of fertilizer. 

A quality fertilizer spike, Jobe’s Tree Fertilizer Spikes 16-4-4 contain 16% nitrogen, 4% phosphorus, and 4% potash, which is a blend of potassium carbonate and potassium salt.

As is important with any fertilizer, DON’T overuse it, or else you could risk damaging the tree. Make sure to follow all proper product instructions and start with fewer spikes if needed, assess the tree health after a few weeks, and apply more if needed.

Maple Tree Liquid Fertilizer

Liquid fertilizer is another common form of fertilizer used. It is either sold in full liquid form or in special crystals that you can dissolve in water. 

In the event that your fertilizer is already in full liquid form, you should follow the instructions on the bottle (which usually recommend heavily diluting with water.) On the other hand, if yours are dissolvable crystals, it is always important to fully dissolve them in lots of water before use. 

Liquid fertilizers are often used nowadays for their fairly easy function (and for the fact that they often feel more effective when compared to other fertilizers). 

Liquid fertilizers have many benefits, such as an increased amount of control. For instance, you can choose to only water one side of a large tree, or you can water an entire field if your tree is large and requires nutrients. This ease of use and control can often allow you to monitor the number of nutrients that your plants get. 

As for negatives, liquid fertilizer is normally non-organic, which is a turn-off for most home growers. In addition, if you don’t read the label or mess up measuring, it can be fairly easy to under-fertilize or even burn the roots of your prized plants.

Great tree fertilizer is BioAdvanced 701810A Systemic Plant Fertilizer and Insecticide. It protects against several kinds of tree-harming insects, along with being a slow-release fertilizer. It contains a mix of 2% nitrogen, 1% phosphorus, and 1% soluble potash, along with two active insect repelling ingredients.

Granular Fertilizer For Maple Trees

Granular fertilizer is characterized by being in the form of small pellets/grains that you can spread. This fertilizer is usually a more natural brown/black/grey color; however, in non-organic brands, it may be colored. 

Granular fertilizer works by spreading over an area and slowly releasing over time (usually as it interacts with water from rain or sprinklers.)

Thus, your maple tree will get a nice release of nutrients whenever it’s properly watered.

To use granular fertilizer, you should use gloves. Go over to the area you want to fertilize and spread the grains around the root zones of the plants. In the case of maple trees, most people recommend fertilizing 1 ft of radius around the tree for every 5ft the tree is in height.

This is because as trees grow above the ground, they also need to grow below the ground, requiring more of their roots to absorb water and nutrients. 

In some cases, depending on manufacturer instructions, you may actually place the granules in the ground near the tree roots.

Granular fertilizer has many benefits, the first of which is ease of use and cleanliness. When compared to liquid fertilizers, granular fertilizers are nice because you can store them in their bag when not in use and simply open and use them when needed, whereas liquid fertilizers require large jugs or water mixing jugs. 

Another pro of granular fertilizers is that they can be slower acting than liquid fertilizers, which is more beneficial to plants and the environment. In addition, you can normally get more control with granules, spreading them over specific areas as compared to liquid fertilizers. 

With this, granular fertilizer has some cons; first of all, it is that common brands are usually non-organic. In addition to this, you most definitely need gloves to use them and follow all product instructions and warnings fully.

If you’re looking for a quality maple tree fertilizer, take a look at TreeHelp Premium Fertilizer for Maple, which contains 8% nitrogen and is designed to be slow-released for maple trees.

All-Natural Maple Tree Fertilizer

Japanese maple (acer palmatum) in autumn colours

All-natural fertilizer is another common thing to use. It usually comes in any of the previously mentioned forms. However, it is organic and natural in nature. This means that instead of using artificial and inorganic compounds, it uses natural ingredients like compost or bone meal. 

As natural fertilizer comes in many forms, it is hard to say the specific way to apply it, so it’s recommended to simply read the specific label thoroughly and follow the instructions closely. 

All-natural fertilizer has many pros, especially to the common gardener. The most apparent pro is that it is, of course, all-natural and organic; this means that you generally don’t have to worry about ruining the environment or introducing toxins to your area.

Another benefit is that most natural fertilizers as also slow acting. This is normally due to the natural compounds that require more time to be broken down and used. This is beneficial to all of your plants (not just maple trees) and can increase the overall health of your garden with time. 

One main con with all-natural fertilizer is that it can be much more expensive than conventional fertilizers. This, however, shouldn’t be a turn-off, as most people agree that the benefits far outweigh the cost.

If you’re looking for an organic maple tree fertilizer, check out Happy Frog Japanese Maple Organic Plant Fertilizer, which contains both phosphorus and potassium, specifically to promote Japanese maple growth.

Home Additives/Compost For Maple Trees

Home additives and compost are great options for people working on a budget.

Compost is simply the broken down bits of food that turn into the rich new substrate. Home additives refer to a large swath of things like coffee grounds or Epsom salt that are natural and contain compounds that trees love. 

While you can find things like Epsom salt and coffee grounds in your home, you will have to make or find compost if you want to use it.

To make compost, you have to create a “compost pile” that consists of lots of food/organic waste mixed with “carbon” waste such as paper, hair trimmings, leaves, etc. This needs to wait for a few months (with you turning it every few days), after which you will have rich and beneficial compost. 

In addition to creating compost, you can also source it. Many outdoor stores sell compost; however, this can be expensive (yet still effective). You can also try looking online or at local forums to see if anyone is selling or giving away homemade budget compost. 

The main benefits to these options are cost and environmental impact. To start, they are normally very cheap or free, with you often being able to find or make them in your house/backyard. In addition, these options are also natural (similar to natural fertilizers) and are slow-acting in nature, meaning you don’t have to worry about hurting your local wildlife. 

One main con is time. Especially with compost, creating it yourself can take time, and compost/additives actually having an effect actually takes time. This also shouldn’t be a turn-off, as using these options can natural/cheaply increase the growth of your maple tree while also possibly benefiting the environment over time! 

That’s A Wrap!

In the end, maple trees have lots of requirements that they need for proper and healthy growth.

Some of these main requirements include nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, etc. These can often be found in many fertilizers such as spikes, granular fertilizers, or even home additives such as compost or Epsom salt. 

Each of these aspects has different functions and effects that you should take into account with your specific tree. Either way, though, it is hard to over fertilizer strong and healthy trees, so go outside and have fun connecting with your tree! 


Jean-DavidMooreJ.-D. Moore and RockOuimetR. Ouimet. Effects of two Ca fertilizer types on sugar maple vitality. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 40(10): 1985-1992.

Moore, J. D., & Ouimet, R. (2014). Effects of two types of Ca fertilizer on sugar maple nutrition, vigor and growth after 7 years. Forest Ecology and Management320, 1-5.

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  1. A question about your recommended granular maple tree fertilizer. Apparently it’s NPK is 10-30-10 or something similar. I think you indicated that an N-heavy fertilizer is best. Am I misunderstanding this? Thank you!

    1. Hey Paul! The level in that product is fine for slow release. If you’d like a higher nitrogen fertilizer, you could try the recommended fertilizer spikes which can work well also at 16-4-4 (16% nitrogen.) Too much quick release nitrogen can damage the tree, so just make sure whatever you use is slow release.

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