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Spreading slow release fertilizer on plants.

Fall Lawn and Garden Fertilization

Excerpted from: How to Fertilize Your Garden or Lawn in Late Fall By Kelly Burke

A Bag of Fertilizer graphic A late fall fertilizer application is a good idea in cold-weather climates where winters are a period of dormancy. A mild feeding of ornamental garden beds or vegetable gardens can also replenish soil that has been heavily depleted by growing plants over the season. Late summer and fall are especially good times to fertilize turf lawns.

  Why Fertilize In Fall?

Fall is the time when cool-season grasses recover from summer stresses such as drought, heat, and disease. If the lawn has been properly fertilized in the late summer and fall, turf grass can begin to store carbohydrate reserves in the stems, rhizomes, and stolons. These carbohydrate reserves help grass resist winter injury and disease, and serve as a source of energy for root and shoot growth the following spring. Late fall fertilization will also provide better winter color, enhanced spring green-up and increased rooting.

Test your knowledge: Fertilizer Quiz

  When Is The Best Time To Fertilize?

Although the exact timing can vary due to weather conditions and climate zone, the final fertilizer application should be made sometime in November in most regions, at the point when the grass has stopped growing or has slowed down to the point of not needing to be mowed. Do not wait until the ground freezes, however. Ideally, there is still active growth occurring, but not enough to warrant mowing.

Proper timing is essential. If fertilizer is applied too early while grass or garden plants are vigorously growing, it can invite winter injury and snow mold the following spring. Do not ever apply fertilizer to frozen soil or over snow or ice.

  How Much Fertilizer Should Be Applied?

Nitrogen is the most important nutrient for a fall fertilizer. A recommended dose for lawns: is one pound of soluble nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet or one and a half to two pounds of slow-release nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet.

  A complete fertilizer with a high ratio of both nitrogen and potassium (K) is essential for enhanced rooting, cold hardiness, disease resistance, and wear tolerance.

  Be wary of applying a fertilizer with too much phosphorus (P), since run-off of this nutrient can be very damaging to rivers and streams.

  What Is The Right Fertilizer Mix?

Drop Spreader   Lawn Applications: In early fall use a regular lawn fertilizer with N-P-K ratios of 3:1:2 or 4:1:2. For example, a bag may list 21-7-14 or 32-8-16. Amounts don’t need to be exact but should be similar to the suggested ratios. Hold off on applying “winterizer” fertilizers until late October or early November.”

The reason that fall fertilizing is so effective is because plants respond to external triggers in fall to start the process of preparing for winter. These triggers are things like daylength and temperature changes. As days shorten and air becomes cool, plants — including turf grass — respond by slowing growth and shifting food reserves from leaves to roots. Although air temperature continues to fall, plant roots remain active in soil.

Shifting excess nutrients to roots is the secret to plants’ return each spring. Those stored food reserves fuel the spring wake-up. The same is true of your lawn. By fertilizing grass in fall, you’re feeding the active roots and giving them even more nutrients to store for winter.

  Garden Applications: The recommendations for flower and vegetable gardens are similar. A mild fertilizer feeding in the fall will replenish the soil and prepare it for a quicker green-up when planting begins the following spring. Gardens do better with this approach than with a heavy dose of fertilizer in the early spring.

  How To Avoid Over-Fertilization

Too much nitrogen can be as damaging to plants as too little, and using natural sources of nutrients, such as compost on the garden or mulching lawn clippings rather than bagging them, can replace some of the traditional chemical fertilizer applications. One late- to mid-summer feeding of a lawn, followed by a light fall feeding, produces a better lawn than the old recommendation for three or four major feedings for each growing season

Flower or vegetable gardens similarly can thrive with fewer fertilizer applications than once believed, especially if they are properly amended with compost and other natural organic materials. Most gardens do very well with one feeding shortly after planting and one as the growing season concludes, although plants that produce large quantities of vegetables or very large, plentiful flowers may need more.

More Gardening Tips:

 How To Use Coffee Grounds In The Garden
 How To Use Eggshells In The Garden
 Provide Spring Nesting Materials For Birds
 Best Practices For Perennial Plant Fertilization
 How To Use Rooting Hormones
 Spring Pruning Basics

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