Tips for Winter Lawn Care

Winter may seem like the off-season for lawn care, but that’s not entirely true. There are a few things you can do as colder weather approaches to help your lawn thrive when it gets warm. 

Winter Lawn Prep

  • Fertilize (cool-season grass).
  • Aerate.
  • Overseed.
  • Mow.
  • Clear the lawn of debris.
  • Minimize foot traffic.

When to Fertilize

When to fertilize before winter and which fertilizer to use, depends on what type of grass you have. Fall is the best time to fertilize cool-season grasses like fescue and bluegrass. Cool-season grasses grow best in regions with cold winters and hot summers. They’re very common in the upper two-thirds of the United States. Their active growth seasons are spring and fall. Because of this, fall is a great time to fertilize. Some lawn experts recommend two fertilizations in the fall: one in early fall to take advantage of the growing season, then another in late fall, heading into winter  An option for the late fall application is a winterizing fertilizer or winterizer. These blends are higher in potassium, which helps make plants more tolerant of the cold. They also contain quick-release nitrogen so the grass can absorb more of it. Apply winterizer in late October or early November, or when the grass has stopped growing but is still green. The fertilizer will stay in the soil and nourish the roots during the winter months.

If you have warm-season grass (Bermuda, St. Augustine, Zoysiagrass), don’t use winterizing lawn fertilizer. These grasses are more common in the lower third of the United States, where it doesn’t get as cold. You don’t want to encourage growth with a fertilizer right before your grass goes dormant for the winter. Warm-season grasses grow most actively in the summer, so fertilize them in the spring or summer instead.

Aerate

The best time to aerate is right before your area’s first frost. Aerating allows your lawn to breathe before its long winter’s nap. It’ll also help break up any compacted soil that developed during spring and summer. Once you loosen the compacted soil, air, water, and nutrients can better reach the roots. You can rent an aerator or get a lawn service to do it.

Overseed

Overseeding the dead spots and thinning patches after you aerate allows new grass seed to germinate during the winter months. The type of grass seed you use depends on your existing lawn. You want to be careful not to use too much and to spread the seed evenly. You won’t get a thicker lawn by using too much. This will only cause the seed to struggle and compete for nutrients in the soil.

Mowing tips

Starting in late summer or early fall, lower the blade height on your mower each time you mow. This allows you to gradually cut your grass shorter ahead of winter. Cutting it off all at once can weaken or kill your grass, so only cut the top third of the blade during each mowing session.

A shorter lawn will fare better over the winter. It’ll be harder for animals like field mice to burrow in your lawn for warmth. It’ll also help prevent snow mold in areas that get a lot of snow. The Utah State University Extension Department defines snow mold as “fungi that are classified as psychrophilic, or cold-loving, and will attack plants under a layer of snow.” Lawn experts recommend a low-nitrogen lawn fertilizer in late fall to help prevent snow mold.

Clean up

Clear your lawn of debris, toys, lawn furniture, and other items before winter begins. Anything you leave on the lawn could damage or kill the grass. This could leave thinner grass or noticeable brown spots in the spring. It’s also a good idea to rake. Dead leaves will become a soggy mess after the first snowfall, leaving you with snow mold in the spring. Mulch your leaves by running your lawn mower over them. This will shred them into smaller pieces, allowing them to decompose into the soil without matting and smothering your lawn.

Minimize foot traffic

While you don’t need to stay off your lawn entirely during the winter, do what you can to avoid creating worn paths through the grass. Keep driveways, walkways, and sidewalks clear of ice and snow so people won’t have to cut through your yard.

A good winter lawn care strategy is to maintain a healthy lawn throughout the year. A healthy lawn is better able to brave the colder temperatures, so stay on top of lawn maintenance year-round. Once you’ve completed these winter lawn care duties, you can ease up during the cold weather. Next spring, you’ll be more likely to have a thick, green lawn thanks to your pre-winter efforts.

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Written by Emaley Baxter

Emaley Baxter is an expert landscaper who loves writing in her free time. She enjoys research and exploring the great outdoors.

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

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