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How to Fertilize Plants in the Winter

By Jacob J. Wright ; Updated September 21, 2017

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Things You Will Need

  • Compost
  • Fresh soil

Tips

  • Consult with your local Cooperative Extension office to learn if there are certain crops or plant types in your region that benefit from a special fertilizer application in winter. In some climates a lawn fertilizer is applied in midwinter, for example.
  • Plants still need nutrients in winter if they are still growing. However, to best prepare these plants, they are given a fertilizer in autumn that is rich in potassium and phosphorus. These nutrients must be available and absorbed before winter sets in.

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.

About the Author

 

Jacob J. Wright became a full-time writer in 2008, with articles appearing on various websites. He has worked professionally at gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Wright holds a graduate diploma in environmental horticulture from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware.