Embassy Shares Tips For Caring for Plants During a Drought

Posted By: Date:


Feed plants during a drought? (Garden Talk)

Jefferson County Cooperative ExtensionBy Jefferson County Cooperative Extension 
on November 23, 2016 at 9:58 AM, updated November 23, 2016 at 9:59 AM
Garden Talk 11.23.16 

By Sallie Lee

Question:   My garden and lawn didn't get fertilized in the latter part of summer as we have done in past years.  Is it too late to fertilize now?  Will fertilizer help get our shrub beds and turf grass through winter and in better shape next spring?  There have been some advertisements for "winterizing" the lawn - should that be done now on my Bermuda lawn?

Answer: "Winterizing" lawns and landscapes is a somewhat questionable practice in this area of the country, made especially problematic with our existing drought conditions.

The general rule of thumb regarding the fertilization of warm season turf grass lawns is 'no later than mid-September'.  And, while it's OK to feed some flowering plants as the season turns more winter-like, the same general rule applies to most trees and shrubs - let plants slide into dormancy without feeding them. 

Another reason for restraint: fertilizer burn of plants can occur any time of the year, but a drought exacerbates the possibility of damage.  Fertilizer burn is damage caused by too much plant food applied to lawns or landscape plants.  Burned or scorched-looking foliage is often a result of applying fertilizer to wet foliage because fertilizer contains salts that draw moisture out of your plants. It may take a couple of weeks before burn symptoms appear, which include yellowing or browning foliage and a withered appearance.  If the lawn has been fed too much, streaks that show white, yellow or brown coloration can appear, often following the pattern of fertilizer application.

Fertilizer burn anytime can be prevented by following a few recommendations, including the following.

The adage 'more is better' doesn't hold true for fertilizer. In fact, over-applying is harder to correct than under-applying.  Read and follow instructions on the correct amount to apply per turf area, tree or shrub.

Fertilizing with a slow-release plant food makes it more difficult to damage plants because the capsules release their nutrients over an extended period of time instead of all at one time.

Refrain from fertilizing wet lawns or getting fertilizer on wet leaves if at all possible.

If a granular fertilizer is used, water thoroughly after applying to rinse material off plants and allow for even distribution of the product.


Plants are more susceptible to fertilizer burn during a drought because material is more concentrated in the soil.  When moisture conditions improve, so will chances the fertilizer is safe to apply.

However, at this time of year, warm season turf grass lawns and most deciduous plants are entering dormancy, part of their natural cycle.  Fertilizing at this point may encourage the plant to add new, tender growth that is more likely to be damaged by a frost or freeze.  Even though our warm weather has stayed with us longer than is normally experienced, there are cold days and nights ahead. 

Bottom line: back off fertilizing now, even though we want to do anything we can  that will help plants survive our current dry conditions.  Keep in mind that some plants look like they're suffering from drought when actually they are exhibiting fall colors, as illustrated in the photo. 

Garden Talk is written by Sallie Lee of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Sallie at leesall@auburn.edu or call 205-879-6964 x11. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!


Source: http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2016/11/feed_plants_during_a_drought_g.html#incart_river_index