Fall Fertilization is the Key to a Good Spring Start

Spray TechThe growth of your landscape is way ahead of the actual season. Like athletes building up for an important contest, your lawn and landscape plants will be preparing all through the winter for their burst of growth next spring.

In the fall, the turf, plants, and trees are as hungry as bears before hibernation. They are capable of consuming a tremendous amount of food in the fall. In many cases, food use is higher during this time of year than through any other period of the season. As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, plants begin a complex process of growth and preparation which continues (mainly out of sight in the root system) throughout most of the winter months. This natural process occurs every fall on its own and without any outside help, but its effects and benefits are greatly improved with correct and timely fall fertilization.

The entire process of improving the root system and building adequate food reserves has significant and direct positive results on your plants. Below are a few of the reasons your landscape and lawn should be properly fed every fall:

  1.  The healthier root systems of fall-fed plants are deeper and more extensive. This allows the plant to better withstand the stress of both heat and drought as the season progresses. In drought conditions - especially when temperatures are also high - the plant loses a tremendous amount of moisture into the atmosphere from evaporation (with turf this loss can amount to 97% of all the water absorbed by the roots). Weak or shallow roots are often unable to keep up with the demands of the plant. This results in plant stress, generally poor performance, and increased susceptibility to disease and insect damage.
  2. Heavy fall feeding increases resistance to some cool-weather fungus diseases by maintaining better overall plant health. Potassium in particular has been found to assist in increasing disease resistance.
  3. Improved winter color of both turf and evergreens is also directly related to food availability in the fall. On turf, this is greatly affected by fall mowing practices. Grass left very long in the fall tends to fall over on itself and is much more prone to winter disease invasion as well as a browning of all the ends of the grass blades.
  4. Well-fed plants don’t dry out as much through winter. Proper feeding increases water-holding ability. The cells of the plant become turgid - or stiff with water. The difference is similar to that between a balloon full of water and one that is empty or only partially full. The cell walls are more rigid and better able to withstand the drying and browning effects of colder winter winds and temperatures. Increased turgidity - or water
    levels - also reduces winter wear and tear to dormant or semi-dormant lawns caused by foot traffic.
  5. Good fall fertilization programs can also improve blooming performance of some flowering trees and shrubs.
  6. Density (or thickness) in your lawn is also improved. Although the results will not usually be seen until spring, there is a direct relationship between the health, size and depth of the root system and the density of the lawn. Most turf varieties form new shoots from the tillers and rhizomes (surface stems and roots) of the grass plant, which are improved and increased by a heavy feeding in the fall.

Although proper fall feeding is just one part of a good overall annual program, it’s very important and often underrated. Many people see fall feeding as an optional “snack before bed” for their landscape plants. This is a misconception. Fall feeding is probably the most important feeding of the entire year since it has a direct effect on plant performance through the whole next season.

As with the growth and health of people and animals, both your lawn and landscape need regular, healthy food to maintain vigor, fight off sickness, and discourage pests. Although the feeding cycles are different between people and plants, it’s just as true that depriving your valuable landscape plants of proper nourishment when they need it the most will lead to much poorer performance and possibly higher maintenance costs in the long run.

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