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Winter Fertilizer Basics

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As your lawn browns and goes dormant for the winter, it might seem like the last thing it needs is a dose of winter fertilizer. Yet when you fertilize for the winter, you give your turf a head start for the following season, as the nutrients are stored in the roots and are immediately accessible once it begins to warm. Winter fertilization is a process of feeding a lawn that has lost most if not all of its color and is no longer actively growing; this is a different fertilizing step than that done in early fall, when the lawn is still active. Here are some basic tips for applying winter fertilizer at the end of the season.

Reasons to Apply Winter Fertilizer

When you take time to fertilize your lawn in late fall before the onset of winter, what you are essentially doing is strengthening the grass roots, giving them a solid base for next spring. Anything that’s not utilized right away is instead absorbed by the roots and stored there over the winter. Winter fertilizer has also been shown to improve cold tolerance, making your grass much more durable when faced with freezing temperatures and harsh snows.

Important Nutrients in Winter Fertilizer

Fertilizer formulas typically represent the distribution of nutrients in a particular application, indicated by three numbers that directly correlate to N-P-K, or its nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium content. In essence, nitrogen promotes plant growth and helps them “green up,” phosphorous encourages strong roots, and potassium promotes flower production, cell function, and the absorption of trace elements. Unlike spring, summer, and early fall fertilizer applications that feature nitrogen as the main active ingredient to encourage greening and blade growth, winter fertilizer gives a phosphorus push at this late stage that will do wonders for your lawn. Although nitrogen is still present in winter fertilizers, the extra phosphorus works to stimulate root growth until full-on winter sets in, thereby contributing to the development of a heartier lawn more resistant to disease and other consequences of harsh winter weather.

When to Apply Winter Fertilizer

As stated earlier, winter fertilizer needs to be applied once the lawn has gone dormant, usually sometime between late October and early December. Since climates vary, your best bet is to look for certain clues indicating that your lawn has reached this phase. This is also an excellent time to test your soil for pH and nutrient levels to see what your lawn may be lacking. Once you get the results, speak to a lawn professional to determine the best way to restore your soil for the following season.

In the long-term, winter fertilizer is an important part of maintaining a healthy, vibrant turf. By proactively providing your lawn with what it needs for the harsh winter and rigors of spring, you can ensure that your lawn will be healthier and more beautiful for seasons to come.

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