How to Fertilize Plants in the Winter


The lack of warmth, intense sunlight and moisture associated with winter often finds plants dropping leaves, slowing growth or becoming fully dormant. Even plants that are grown in the tropics or indoors will slow their growth in winter, even though there is no frost. Although a person's reaction would be to fertilize a plant in winter to bring it back to life, fertilize in spring and summer instead, when growing conditions are conducive to growth. If fertilization must be done in winter, it is always in minute amounts, such as 1/8 to 1/4 the strength or dosage listed on product label.

Step 1

Add a small amount of compost or fresh topsoil or potting media to the root zone of the plant. There are trace minerals in the compost or new soil that will sustain any plant's needs until a regular fertilizer regime can be made in the warmth and lengthening days of spring.

Step 2

Apply a liquid or granular fertilizer to the plant's root zone at a diminished rate. Consult the product label's directions and dilute the fertilizer to 1/8 to 1/4 the usual dosage or scatter granular fertilizer at very light rate, also at 1/8 to 1/4 the usual recommendation on the label.

Step 3

The following autumn, fertilize your plant according to product label directions no later than October so the nutrients are absorbed and available in the soil before the winter's short days and weaker sunlight. These lingering nutrients will readily sustain the plant until the spring when fertilizing should resume.

Tips and Warnings

  • Avoid fertilizing plants, in general, in winter as the weaker sunlight, cooler temperatures and shorter days naturally causes plant to slow their growth rates. Fertilizing tropical plants in winter can result in an abundance of new growth that is scraggly, weak or not fully green and lush. Spreading fertilizer outdoors on turf, trees or other plants that are dormant in winter's cold will not be absorbed immediately, but will be available to plants in spring once their root growth resumes. Don't spread fertilizers atop snowcover.

Things You'll Need

  • Compost
  • Fresh soil


  • The Myth of "Winterizer" Fertilizer
Keywords: winter maintenance, when to fertilize, winter fertilizing

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.