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The Importance of Fall Fertilization

If you fertilized your trees, shrubs and perennials in the spring, it should probably be done again now.

The best rationale for fall fertilization is explained in the process a plant uses to convert the nutrients it consumes into food. Although you place fertilizer around the base of your plants, you aren’t “feeding” the plants. You’re actually replenishing soil nutrients. Before arbitrarily applying fertilizer, we test the soil to determine if nutrients are depleted. If they are the soil cannot replenish them by itself. The only way to replenish them is with fertilizer and organic matter.

The nutrients that a plant receives from the soil aid in photosynthesis, which is the plant’s food making process that takes place in the leaves. The comparison between plant and animal needs that I find most easily understood is comparing fertilizer to the vitamin supplements that many of us take. Plants require three major nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, as well as, trace nutrients zinc, copper, selenium, chromium, cobalt, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, calcium, magnesium and sulfur. If you check these against the label on your multi vitamins, you’ll see that many are the same.


The plants that you fertilized in the spring have probably used most of the nutrients that were replenished during fertilization. They were needed for the plants’ intense spring and summer food making process. Although it’s October already, the plants still need to make a lot of food before all the leaves fall. Like animals that hibernate for the winter, deciduous plants have to binge feed so they have enough stored to sustain them through the winter and provide enough energy to break their buds to flower and leaf out next spring. Even after the leaves fall, the roots remain active until the ground freezes.

The fertilizer you would apply would no doubt, be granular, in which case, you’ll have to water the area thoroughly. Fertilizer only works when it’s dissolved or suspended in water. The roots then absorb the fertilizer laced water and send it up the plant. After the photosynthetic process has taken place, the food is distributed throughout the plant. Any food that’s left is stored in the roots until needed.

If we fertilize your plants, we place it directly in the ground, near the roots, in liquid form. No additional watering is needed and the roots can begin absorbing it and putting it to work right away.

Fall fertilizer can be applied until the ground freezes but the sooner it’s applied, the sooner it can go to work helping your plants get ready for winter.

3 comments on “The Importance of Fall Fertilization

  1. It’s interesting to know that we can actually fertilize our soil during the fall season until the ground freezes up. I want to prepare my front yard during this season so when spring comes, it will be more than ready for the landscape design I wanted. It might also be a good idea to look into plants that grow well in our area so we can start planting them on fertile soil.

  2. Even in our mild climate, it is getting late for fertilizer. Because we get a slight bit of frost, we do not want to fertilize the marginal evergreen plants too late. Otherwise, they can resume growth and get damaged by frost.

  3. Thanks for the reminder, I planted 6 trees this spring and I should help them through the winter.

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