Although I’m a huge fan of fertilizer, there is one time of the year when it shouldn’t be applied and that is during the Fall season.
Fertilizer sends nutrients to your plants that gives them the message that it’s time to grow which is why it’s important to use it in the spring and summer months during the active growing season for trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals. When the days get short enough, chlorophyll isn’t produced any longer and the leaves change color and eventually fall. Plants don’t like longer, cooler nights and shorter days so the sap slows as well in preparation for winter. All of these processes prepare your plants for the dormant state that is quickly approaching.
In the Fall, Mother Nature is sending the message that it’s time to slow down. Why would you want to feed a plant to encourage it to grow when nature is telling it that it’s time to stop? It’s counter-intuitive.
There are a few exceptions to my no fertilizer in the fall rule though. One is Winterizer Fertilizer or other lawn food for your lawn. You will want to use this to strengthen the root systems in your grass before the arrival of winter. Since grass is a relatively small plant above ground, but with a good root system below the surface of the soil, it’s important to give it one final boost heading in the cold season.
Another exception would be your houseplants. They will enter a semi-dormant state through the winter months, but you can still give them some fertilizer, though it isn’t necessary. If you do choose to give them some food, cut it to half strength and don’t apply it very often. Make sure you cut back on the water too because they will require less of that too since they aren’t actively growing now. In short, give them enough food and water to keep them alive and healthy, but don’t overdo either.
When the days begin to lengthen as we move towards Spring, be sure to resume your fertilizing schedule. Generally an application in April, June, and a final one in early August will do for most trees and shrubs. You shouldn’t apply fertilizer after about August 10th, because by then plants will be starting their Fall shut down processes.
There is a time and place for fertilizer no matter whether you choose an organic or conventional preparation. Consider how you would look or how healthy you’d be if you didn’t eat on a regular basis – it’s the same for your plants. If you carefully choose which fertilizer to use and how often to apply it, you will keep your outdoor landscape and your indoor plants happy and healthy until next Spring when they’ll start to actively grow once again.