How do I Choose the Best Fall Fertilizer?

T. Carrier

Along with seeding and weed removal, fertilizer is one of the most important components of growing healthy plants. The substance enriches a plant and protects it from stressors like weeds and disease. Temperature and environmental variations may impact the efficiency of fertilizer, however. For autumn gardening, two prominent elements should be considered in fall fertilizer choice: nutrient content and release type.

Fall fertilizers should contain high concentrations of potassium or phosphorus.
Fall fertilizers should contain high concentrations of potassium or phosphorus.

Several considerations go into choosing a proper fertilizer, including soil condition, the amount of common disturbances to the plants like animal traffic, natural water amounts, and temperature conditions. All of these factors are impacted by seasonal forces, and as such, the type of seasonal fertilizer one will use is vital to plant sustenance. Many types of fertilizers exist, but all share one common goal: provide plants and their soil with needed nutrients. Soil tests can help confirm the existing nutrient level of soil, and do-it-yourself testing kits can be found in many gardening outlets.

Three primary nutrients compose most fertilizers: potassium, phosphorous, and nitrogen. While nitrogen is generally the guiding ingredient in choosing a fertilizer for the growing season, certain fall conditions can actually make nitrogen harmful. If a fertilizer contains high amounts of nitrogen, it can cause molds or dead matter to cover plants. In the fall, phosphorous or potassium becomes the nutrient that should comprise the highest concentrations in fertilizer. Winter fertilizer — which is high in potassium content — may work best in regions with harsher seasons, as it protects plants against added cold and stress.

One should also consider whether to utilize a fast-release fall fertilizer or a slow-release fall fertilizer. The former option gets nutrients to a plant quicker, but it also raises nitrogen levels and may actually burn the soil in sun-heavy areas. Slow-release fertilizers, on the other hand, produce more consistent plant growth and help prevent some of the aforementioned fall plant conditions. One drawback is that slow-release types are not as efficient in cold soil, so it may be best to use this type in early fall. Organic and pellet-form fall fertilizers are two popular slow-release types.

Fall fertilizer is particularly helpful for grasses, especially cool-season grasses that grow in the early fall like bluegrass, rye, and fescue. Weeds and insects are less abundant, so the grass has the time to heal itself. This quiet period also offers grasses and other hardy plants an opportunity to grow and sustain a deep and healthy root system.

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