University of Illinois Extension


John Church
Extension Educator, Natural Resources
Rockford Extension Center

Past Issues

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Fall Fertilizing

Fall can be a good time for many gardeners to try to improve their soil’s tilth and fertility. And, often people will ask about the use of natural materials, such as compost, manure, etc. vs. the use of commercial fertilizer. The main thing to remember is that each type of amendment, natural or commercial, has its advantages and disadvantages. Typically, natural materials are great for adding organic matter and improving soil conditions, but not that high in fertility, whereas, commercial fertilizers are the opposite.

Natural fertilizer/organic material can help improve soil “tilth”, or the condition of the soil. It is less likely to burn plants or roots. It also can provide a larger complement of minerals for plant growth. However, you have to plan ahead because it takes time for organic material to break down into the nutrients that plants require. These nutrients may only be 50% available by the second year. However, they provide excellent immediate source of organic matter.

Typically, any type of fertilizer should be applied according to soil tests. Once you have your soil tested and bring nutrient levels up to adequate levels, maintenance levels of nutrients can be added each year to replace the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium extracted by fast-growing vegetables.

Most Midwest soils contain adequate levels of nutrients and the soil condition is often the limiting growth factor. That’s why it is important to have soil tests done for the garden. That also is why the addition of organic material to improve the soil tilth is often as helpful as fertilizer, depending on the garden. No fertilizer will alleviate poor soil-building practices.

Check the U. of I. Extension “57 Ways Homeowners Can Protect Their Environment” website at for more information.

October - November 2003:

Fall Fertilizing | Does Your Ash Tree Have the Emerald Ash Borer? | Chrysanthemums | Protect Home From Crickets

Past Issues

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