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Grant Wood

Fall fertilizing of trees, shrubs and lawns is not recommended in Saskatchewan. In warmer parts of the country, it may be a common practice, but not in the cold prairies. Because fertilizers encourage growth, fall fertilizing may stimulate plants to continue growing when they should be "hardening off" in preparation for winter. Plants that have not hardened off properly will likely suffer from some sort of winter injury.

Seasonal Growth Patterns

In early spring, buds which have been dormant over winter begin to grow in response to warming temperatures and lengthening days. With most trees and shrubs, growth occurs rapidly and continues only until about early or mid-July. At this time growth ceases, and the plants begin to harden off and prepare for the winter. You can check this by examining the tree or shrub. If the leaves at the outer tip are the same size as the leaves lower down on the branch, then you know that growth has ceased. Look carefully and you should also see a bud at the base of each leaf, and a terminal bud at the very tip of the branch.

Some plants, such as raspberries and elderberries, tend not to cease growth in July, but continue growing slowly, sometimes right up to killing frost. When this occurs, the plant has not hardened off properly and, as a result, tip die-back occurs. Any plant that continues growing until late in the fall is susceptible to this form of winter-kill. When fertilizing trees and shrubs, it is best to apply the fertilizer in early spring when the plant is actively growing. By early July, fertilizing should cease.

Lawns are an exception to this; ideally, urban lawns should be fertilized three times a year (May 15, July 1, August 15). Lawns should not be fertilized later than mid-August, for this will encourage growth too late in the fall. Because lawns are low to the ground and usually have a good snow cover, they are more protected from the winter environment and therefore less susceptible to winter-kill that trees and shrubs.
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