Can you “cure” a sick tree by improving the soil? It seemed like a far-fetched
idea 20 years ago when Jos Zamzow started giving customers at his Boise, Idaho nursery a brown liquid organic fertilizer in used two-liter soda bottles. The product was so successful, especially for fruit trees and vegetable gardens, that customers soon had to bring their own bottles. By mid-summer the 55-gallon drum that contained the experimental batch was empty. Zamzow named the product Save-a-Tree, and started marketing it.
When Jos met with me a few years later and told me his story I was skeptical… until I took some home and tried in on a tree and some shrubs that were struggling a little bit, and Whoa! did it ever work! Within a few weeks they were thriving again. Then I began experimenting with it on things like raspberries, and tomatoes. I had the best crop of tomatoes I’d ever had. So I knew I had to stock it in my garden center. Within weeks we had customers coming in telling us their stories of how incredibly healthy Save-a-Tree made their plants- huge leaves, flowers, and fruit. Within a few years Save-a-Tree became one of our biggest selling products, and it still is.
The story of Save-A-Tree begins in the 1940s when the Zamzow family business focused on animal feed. Livestock health was declining even though the feed formula was exactly the same. Working with local university scientists with a focus on organic gardening, they learned that the minerals were being depleted in the soil, and they needed to add vitamins and minerals to the feed to keep animals healthy. A half a century later, the Zamzows were seeing similarities with tree health. The trees — particularly fruit trees — were growing, but suffering from insect infestations and disease. They thought the problem might have a similar cause.
Jim Zamzow, known as “Dr. JimZ” because of his constant focus on research,
began working with scientists at Boise State University to develop an organic fertilizer
to improve the soil and, by extension, boost the health of plants. “We told customers that we could sell them a pesticide, which is a short-term cure for this year’s problems,” said Jos Zamzow, son of Dr. JimZ. “We explained that they also needed to improve the health of the tree, because tree disease and insects are not as likely to attack healthy trees or plants.”
Save-a-Tree’s most famous success story was in 1999 when the Harrison Tree, planted near the Idaho Capitol building in Boise in 1891 by President Benjamin Harrison, was dying and scheduled to be cut down. Dr. Jim donated Save-a-Tree. Even he said the tree had only a 50-50 chance of survival. However, the tree returned to health and grew more in one year than it had in the past three years combined. Unfortunately, it was later cut down to make room for the Capitol building’s expansion.
Save-a-Tree’s base is sugar cane molasses, selected because it smells good,
does not attract ants and discourages nematodes, a type of parasitic worm.
Ingredients include nitrogen, phosphate and sulfur. Additional components of the
organic fertilizer are a secret, but include “just about everything that Dad’s research
has shown to be beneficial to plants,” Jos Zamzow said. All ingredients are natural, and there are no animal byproducts. Save-a-Tree is manufactured in Nampa, Idaho. Products are tested on vegetables and fruit trees at an organic gardening test farm in Emmett.
Unlike many fertilizers, Save-a-Tree is safe to use around children, pets and
fish, and does not affect ground water. “It stays where you put it,” Zamzow
explained. “To our knowledge, it is the only manufactured non-leaching organic
fertilizer in the world.” Tests by microbiologists at Boise State University showed that 24 hours after an application of Save-a-Tree, there was an increase of 70 percent in beneficial bacteria in the soil. After a week, there was a 400 percent increase.
“Save-a-Tree is an ideal product for organic gardening, especially those focusing on vegetable gardens and fruit trees. It works because it increases bacteria, and bacteria carry a mucilaginous substance around their body. This substance increases drainage in heavy clay soil and improves water-holding capacity in sandy soils. Because the nutrients stay in the soil, the plant can draw on them exactly when it needs them,” Zamzow explained.
Traditional fertilizers, Zamzow noted, are aimed at quick growth. “You can
force-feed a plant by applying high doses of water-soluble fertilizer, and get a 10-foot
tall tomato plant or rose bush. But the quality of the roses or the tomatoes may not
be what you want. Plants like roses may become more susceptible to aphids, because
rapid growth means thin cell walls, and it is easier for the aphids to attack. Today’s
organic gardeners understand this.”
When we first started selling Save-a-Tree at Town & Country Gardens it was primarily for trees, especially trees that were struggling. But now the vast majority of our customers are also using it as their primary plant food for fruit trees, berries, and vegetable gardens. People grow vegetable gardens for better flavor, better quality, and safer, healthier produce. And Save-a-Tree delivers… in spades.