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Fall is for Feeding

Fall is my favorite time to putter in the garden – adding plants, rearranging the ones I already have – but there are also tasks that really need to be done now.  And I’m not just talking about raking, though I’ve already started in on that chore.  I’m talking about feeding!

Lawns Need Food

The lawn at Nemours Garden wouldn't look this good without fall feeding.
The lawn at Nemours Garden wouldn’t look this good without fall feeding.

Turfgrasses are not self-sustaining plants!  They need extra nutrients applied yearly, and fall is the absolute best time to feed them – best for the lawn, best for avoiding run-off into our streams.  It can be done right up until the ground freezes, but aim for getting it done by November 15.  Three products that Behnkes recommends job all project the Bay because the contain no phosphorus, so they’re perfectly safe.  Greenview Fall Lawn Food contains nutrients at 30-0-12, Turf Trust is 24-0-12 and Espoma’s Organic Lawn Food is 8-0-6.  We’ve heard customer success stories about all of them.

If your lawn needs lime (as indicated by a soil test), spread it after all fertilizer has been applied and before the ground freezes.  Any good soil test will tell you the amount of lime needed.

Trees and Shrubs?  Maybe

When:  In order to avoid stimulating new leaves to pop out now, wait until after the leaves have fallen and the plants are dormant.  Late fall is the best time of the year for feeding trees and shrubs, even better than spring.

New Arborvitaes and Boxwoods in my front yard need a good fertilizer to stimulate more growth.
New Arborvitaes and Boxwoods in my front yard need a good fertilizer to stimulate more growth.

Which ones:  Newly planted and very young trees and shrubs benefit the most from fertilization, as well as trees that haven’t been fed for 3-4 years and seem to be growing slowly.  Trees that are surrounded by lawn get some fertilizer when the lawn is fed, so probably don’t need additional feeding.

Well established trees and shrubs only need fertilizer when there’s a problem, like poor leaf color, premature fall coloration and leaf drop, or reduced twig and branch growth.

What product:  Slow-release products are best, like Espoma’s Plantone.  For acid-loving plants, use Hollytone at one-half the usual rate that would be applied in the spring.  The acid-loving group includes all azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and almost all evergreens – with the exception of yews and boxwoods.

How to apply:  Fertilizer should be applied over an area twice as large as the crown spread or dripline, not concentrated around the stem or trunk.  Sprinkle the fertilizer on top of the soil or mulch, and water lightly.  There’s no need to remove the mulch, since the fertilizer will quickly move through it to the soil below.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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