How to Prepare Your Lawn for Winter

How to Prepare Your Lawn for Winter

As winter approaches, you should take special care to maintain a gorgeous lawn, but the proper approach depends on where you live. Warmer climates with mild winters can maintain a green lawn year round. Lawns in colder climates need to prepare for the harsh snowfall.

Preparing Lawn for Winter

What is good for a California lawn wouldn’t make sense for a lawn in Massachusetts. But with a little research and a climate-appropriate approach, any lawn can weather the change of season. To help you with this task, here are some tips on how to prepare your lawn for winter.

Winter is Coming

Cut Off the Water

First and foremost, you don’t need as much water on your lawn now as you did over the summer. Change your irrigation schedule if you haven’t already. Of course, your irrigation strategy will depend on where you live. Regardless of whether you have a warm-weather or cool-weather lawn, you should change your water usage over the winter. With that in mind, here are a couple climate specifics for winter lawn water usage.

In warmer climates, reduce your irrigation. In warmer climates, you should cut back on how often you use your sprinklers. Now that you’re no longer battling the heat of the sun, your lawn doesn’t need to be watered nearly as often. In most cases, continuing to water your lawn with the same regularity as you did in the summer wastes water. And in a few cases, you might actually do more damage than good because your lawn can become over saturated. If you have automatic sprinklers, change the schedule. If you operate your irrigation system manually, do a quick check to make sure your lawn actually needs water before you turn on the spigot.

In cooler climates, stop irrigation completely. If you live farther north, you should stop using sprinklers entirely. They simply aren’t needed. Plus, if they go off just before a big freeze, your lawn will suddenly become a sheet of ice. Also, completely drain your sprinkler system because the pipes can freeze and burst. Most modern sprinkler systems come with auto-draining valves, making this an easy job. If you aren’t sure about how to drain your particular system, contact the manufacturer in order to avoid a costly replacement in the future.

Grass Type Map

Rake Your Leaves

You should aim to keep up with your raking all autumn because it’s an absolute must when it comes to winterizing. A thick carpet of wet leaves — especially if they eventually freeze — will destroy your lawn, turning it into a large patch of dirt come spring. Even though the work can be intense, raking is probably the most important thing you can do to winterize your lawn. Plus, you can always use those leaves as compost, turning them into rich soil in the future.

If you’re lucky enough to only have a light layer of leaves, consider mowing them instead of raking them. A small amount of well-chopped leaves can serve as a compost layer, feeding your lawn during the cooler months. As long as leaves aren’t going to get weighed down from snow or ice over the winter, you can use them to your advantage. Plus, if you use a mulching mower, you can spread leaves more evenly across your entire lawn.

Give Your Lawn Another Dose of Fertilizer

You should give your lawn a good fertilizing in either late summer or early fall. Late fall is another great time to feed your lawn, as well. A product like Ringer® Lawn Restore® II will feed your hungry yard and give your grass roots the strength to survive the winter. If you live in warmer climates, a regular dose of fertilizer will help keep your lawn greener for longer

Regardless of where you live, when autumn arrives your grass will be ready to suck up anything you give it. Aim to provide your lawn with all the nutrients it desires, so it will come back green and lush in the spring.

Lawn Care Calendar

Cut Your Grass

Your grass probably won’t be growing too much through October and November. Regardless, you should trim your grass short just before winter. The best approach to late autumn mowing varies depending on where you live. With that in mind, here is a quick summary of the best regional mowing approaches:

For warm and arid climates, skip weeks. If you live in a warm and arid climate, where average rainfall is less than 20 inches per year, you should mow as you normally would, but only half as often. This will cause some of your grass to die, but that layer of dead grass will help hold in moisture over the winter. Don’t trim your grass too short; let it protect itself naturally. Also be careful not to leave it too long. Aim for a thin layer of dead grass because too much will suffocate your lawn.

For cool climates, lower the blades. While a thin layer of dead grass might benefit a warm-climate lawn, the exact opposite is true for cooler climates. Grass needs to regrow in the spring, so a layer of dead grass can hinder growth. Instead, you should lower the blades on your mower and keep your lawn short, about ¾ of an inch tall. Short grass won’t be matted down by heavy snow or broken by frost.

pH Scale

Check Your pH

You should know the pH of your soil, no matter where you live. If your soil is too acidic, your grass won’t get the nutrients it needs from the soil. Luckily, because most lawns are either dormant or at least growing more slowly over the winter, the late fall is the best time to test your soil pH and make any necessary corrections.

Get a pH meter. If you don’t want to spend money on a pH meter, you can always send your soil for testing. But considering that pH meters are usually available for under $50, it’s probably worth the price to purchase one. You’ll save money in the long run, while avoiding the hassle of finding an organization that does pH testing and then waiting for a response. Be sure to follow the manufacturer instructions for collecting and testing your soil.

If needed, correct the pH. The ideal soil pH is somewhere between 6 and 7. If the number is any lower, your soil is acidic. Lime is the best treatment for an acidic lawn. Treatments come in two varieties, powdered and granular. Granular lime is often easier to distribute and also works more slowly, which is ideal for the winter. If you have alkaline soil (over 7 on pH scale), add mulch or compost which tends to be slightly more acidic to balance your soil. You could also use elemental sulfur but don’t apply more than 2 pounds for every 100 square feet at a time.

Overseed Throughout the Autumn

Overseeding involves spreading a layer of grass seed over existing turf. If any areas of your lawn are thinning or need attention, make sure to lay seed before it gets too cold.

In warm climates, overseed with cool-season grass. If you live in warmer climates, this is the best time to overseed with a cool-season grass, like bluegrass or rye grass. That way, as warm-season grasses like Bermuda start to go brown and fall dormant, they will be replaced by green grass, keeping your lawn fresh and lush all year long.

In cool climates, overseed to prevent weed growth. If you live in a cooler climate, overseeding will make sure those opportunistic weeds like crabgrass or dandelions don’t take advantage of a thin lawn in the spring. Remember that you shouldn’t wait to overseed too late in the autumn. You need to give seeds the chance to set down roots before they go into winter hibernation. Don’t be afraid to start early if you live up north.

Dethatch, If You Haven’t Already

Like overseeding, dethatching can easily be done throughout the fall. If you’re doing a final raking, you can simultaneously do a final dethatching. Thatch is the layer of dead grass that collects between the soil and the grass foliage.
If your lawn has too much thatch built up, the grass won’t get the nutrients it needs. This is especially important during the winter when grass is hibernating. Rent a vertical mower or use a specialty thatch rake to pull up the thatch and dispose of it with your final collection of autumn leaves. And remember, the longer you put off dethatching, the harder the job will become. Don’t be afraid to start right away.

Pull Out Your Annuals

Annuals, by definition, die every year. The dead plants will discourage growth come spring and can become homes for lawn- and garden-killing insects, so remove your annuals before winter starts. Pull them up, making sure to include the roots, and add them to your compost pile.

Mulch the Perennials

While annuals die in the winter, perennials merely go dormant. To prepare these plants for winter, apply a layer of mulch. It’s a good idea to mulch throughout the autumn. Also, raked leaves can be easily chopped up for this purpose. If you’ve been planning ahead, you might already be set. But if you haven’t mulched yet, now is the time.

Remember that dormant perennials look a lot like dead annuals, so don’t accidentally pull out perennials before they can spring back next year.

Add Organic Matter

This is also the perfect time to add organic matter to your garden beds, such as the following:

  • Manure
  • Blood meal
  • Bone meal
  • Cottonseed meal
  • Greensand

Adding organic matter to your soil can dramatically improve its health for the next growing season. If you add these materials at the end of autumn, they’ll have time to break down and become part of the soil in the spring, making it more productive when you’re ready to plant new annuals or vegetables.

Don’t Forget Your Compost Pile

A good compost pile is alive and active, even throughout the winter, but you need to keep up the internal temperature. A nice layer of straw or leaves will help insulate the pile. Plus, it will keep your compost from getting too wet. Keep turning and mixing the pile. By staying on top of your compost maintenance, you’ll have rich soil come spring.

Also, remember not to include any diseased or insect-infested plants in your compost pile. You don’t want to return diseased plants to the soil through your compost. If you have any plants that are infested with pests or pathogens, destroy and dispose of them separately.

Prune and Protect Trees and Shrubs

If you live in cooler climates, you should prune back your trees and shrubs before the winter comes. Not only will this keep your trees healthy, but a well-pruned landscape is easier on your lawn. Overgrown trees and shrubs will block the sun, leaving portions of your lawn sun-starved come spring.

Check with your local garden center about the proper pruning time for your particular plants. Different plants and trees need to be pruned at different times.

If your yard receives strong icy winds, you can make a burlap screen around young or evergreen trees to give them a little more protection from the cold weather.

Be Careful With the First Frost

Frost isn’t an issue in every region. If you live in a climate where frost signals the arrival of winter, you need to be careful with your lawn. A frosted lawn can be easily damaged by walking. The frozen grass tips can crack underfoot, weakening and potentially killing your lawn. This makes your lawn a prime target for crabgrass come spring, so keep off the grass until the frost is gone or enough snow cover is down to protect the grass.

Leave the Snow

When it snows, you must plow your sidewalks and driveway, but try to avoid plowing the grass. If you regularly plow the area of your lawn that borders the pavement, you may have noticed that this grass is patchy in the spring. That’s because snow protects your lawn throughout the winter. The area that has been exposed won’t be protected, so it will lag behind your other grass when spring arrives. Plus, plows and shovels can gouge and damage your sensitive lawn, so do your best to leave the snow where it fell.However, you don’t want to add to the natural snow cover when plowing your driveway. Most lawn damage is caused by manmade snow cover. Be careful not to pile snow on your lawn or shrubs.

Winter lawn care requires special attention. Depending on where you live, you may be preparing for months of heavy snow or maybe just more mild temperatures. Be sure your winter lawn prep plan is appropriate for your particular climate. If you follow these basic tips, catering them to your specific climate, your lawn and garden will spring back to life once the winter is over.