Fertilizing in winter: should you or shouldn’t you?

Nutrients break down more slowly with cooler soil temperatures.

Using a fertilizer spreader works well for even coverage.
Using a fertilizer spreader works well for even coverage.
Foto: Shutterstock

There’s a lot of debate about whether or not you should do fertilizing in winter. For the most part, conventional wisdom says you shouldn’t fertilize during late fall and early winter if it’s going to promote new growth. Promoting new growth this late in the season will leave new shoots and branches vulnerable to freezing temperatures. So should you or shouldn’t you fertilize in the winter?

Palm trees

If you live in a warmer climate in the South such as Florida or out West, palm trees are the main exception to this ongoing debate on fertilizing in winter. Palms can and should be fertilized in the winter with potassium, manganese, and magnesium. There are several granular fertilizers called palm special fertilizers that are specifically formulated to prevent common nutrient deficiencies that palms are susceptible to.

Prepping lawns for fertilizing in winter

Preparing your lawn for those long winter months is best done by late November. First, give your lawn a good raking to remove leaves and other yard waste. Leaves and yard waste may harbor fungus and molds that can leach into the soil around plants and create problems for next season.

Next, mow your lawn one last time, but be sure and lower the blade on your mower. If you leave your lawn with blades of grass longer than even 2 inches it can end up trapping inner moisture, which leads to the perfect breeding ground for diseases that often develop in spring. Now it’s time to consider aerating your lawn to allow movement of water and air. Also, lawn fertilizers may not be able to penetrate the soil well if the soil is too compacted.


If your lawn has any bare patches, this is the time to seed before fertilizing in winter. The cool weather makes it possible for seeds to germinate without the encroachment of all those pesky weeds. This is also where your aeration comes into play. If you did it, it will improve germination. Your bare patches should fill into the surrounding grass before the ground has a chance to freeze.


There is some debate about this, but since fertilizing in winter is not practical in most states, late fall is your last chance to prep your lawn for spring. Strengthening your lawn now will help, so apply fertilizer no later than the end of November.

Since nutrients break down more slowly with cooler soil temperatures, use a sustained release-type fertilizer to ensure your lawn receives not only the nitrogen it requires but such things as potassium, phosphorous, and partially-blended sulfate, which is needed for speedier greening come springtime.

Tip: Using a fertilizer spreader works well for even coverage. Once you’re done, give your yard a final soaking with water to help activate fertilizer, and you’re all set.