11 Winter Lawn Care ​Tips

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Whether you have snow coverage or not, learn how to maintain your lawn this winter based on your location.

Your bright, green grass of summer has long since faded to a brownish autumnal hue, and that can only mean one thing: Winter is on its way. And with that comes questions about winter lawn care maintenance needs.

“Winters are different, depending on where you are located, obviously,” says Greg Lucas, a turf scientist for Lawnbright, a DIY lawn care subscription company. “But the science of grass remains the same.

“In most areas, your lawn is in a state of dormancy in the winter, so there’s a big difference in that you’re not actively feeding or mowing it. But that’s not to say there’s nothing to do in the lead-up.”

Tips for Winter Lawn Care (Snow-Covered)

At first glance you might assume snow hurts your lawn. Actually, it’s beneficial in multiple ways.

“Snow will act as an insulation for the lawn, protecting it,” Lucas says. “Snow is porous and allows gas exchange, which means oxygen is still available to the plant under the snow. Ice, on the other hand, can be detrimental. But if the grass is covered in snow everything should be fine.”

If snow is the winter norm where you live, keep the following in mind:

Supply adequate nitrogen in the fall

Homeowners should prep their lawn for winter by fertilizing, giving grass plants enough carbohydrates to use throughout the coldest months.

“The same as a bear would eat extensively to store food for his dormancy, a grass plant undergoes this same concept,” Lucas says. “Your fall fertilization is essential to loading the plant with these necessary carbohydrates.

“As soils begin to freeze, the uptake of nitrogen will cease. However, we load up on nitrogen in the fall months to store the plant with this element to use over the winter.”

You can do this by grasscycling, or mulching your clippings back into the lawn when you mow, and applying a fertilizer with at least 10 percent nitrogen. Too little nitrogen and your grass will run out of nutrients before spring, leading to disease or dead grass plants.

Cut the grass shorter on your final cut of the season

During the fall, Lucas suggests lowering the mower deck by one notch each time you mow until the mowing height is about two to 2-1/2 inches. Shorter grass decreases the potential for snow mold buildup, which can affect your lawn in the spring.

Removing the extra plant tissue also decreases the barrier from soil to air, increasing air movement. That keeps the grass free of excess moisture.

Use fallen leaves to your advantage

A huge pile of raked fallen autumn leaves in a yard.Mint Images/Getty Images

Hate raking? No problem! Just get out your leaf mulcher or mower and mulch the leaves into the lawn. “It provides much-needed nutrition in the form of organic material,” Lucas says. “Just don’t overdo it by waiting too long — a thick blanket of leaves can smother the lawn.”

Aerate your lawn just before winter hits

In soil with excessive compaction, water can’t be absorbed fast enough and pools on the surface. This can cause the cells to freeze and kill grass plants. Aerating the soil decreases compaction and increases infiltration of water into the soil.

“If water is stored around the crown of the plant, this can lead to what we refer to as winter kill,” says Lucas. “The crown of the plant is where the roots meet the stem. It is basically the nucleus of the plant. If the crown dies, then the plant dies.”

Spray pre-emergents

Typically pre-emergents (or weed preventative treatments) go down in the spring. But if you’ve completed your overseeding and your lawn looks good, now’s the time to get some pre-emergents down. “This will prevent fall germinating weeds like poa trivialis, a grassy weed which spreads quick and can easily outrun your lawn in shady areas,” says Lucas.

Clean off the lawn

Don’t skip this part — it’s the final step in winterization. Leaves and sticks left on the lawn block the light and trap moisture, which Lucas says can lead to snow mold and other fungus issues. Rake or blow all debris off the lawn after your last mowing. Bonus: It’s one less thing you need to do in the spring!

Tips for Winter Lawn Care (Little or No Snow)

The winter lawn care situation looks different if you live in the South or West, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.

“In warm season turf, your lawn may never truly shut down like it does up north,” Lucas says. “In some parts of the Deep South, you may continue edging and trimming year-round even if you’re not mowing. And you’re constantly fighting off weeds. It takes a completely different management strategy.”

This strategy includes the following actions:

Keep mowing until the grass stops growing

Usually, by December most warm season grasses will no longer need a mow. “You want to keep mowing frequently while it’s growing to push the growth horizontally and thicken up to crowd out weeds,” Lucas says.

Water your lawn

Adjustable water sprayerBigandt_Photography/Getty Images

Don’t skip fall lawn watering. If you lawn isn’t getting at least a half-inch of water every other week, you risk losing the turf system over winter.

“Fortunately that’s not a lot, and can usually be covered by rainfall unless you’re in an excessive drought,” says Lucas. “You can reduce your water schedule by about half in the winter, irrigating as needed to supplement rainfall.”

Test your soil

In winter, warm season grasses don’t need fertilizer. This makes it a perfect time to use a soil tester to check nutrient levels and make a plan for next season.

“A soil sample should be taken at least 60 days after an application of fertilizer to get a good baseline reading,” Lucas says. “If you take a sample too soon after fertilizing, you’ll throw off the sample.”

Maintain equipment

Use this temporary down time to make sure your lawn equipment is in peak condition.

“You get a short window of time where you’re not using this equipment on a weekly basis, so take advantage of it,” Lucas says. “Tune up your lawn mower and sharpen the blades. Wipe down your spreaders, dethatchers and aerators. Restring trimmers and make sure your irrigation system is ready for the warm weather,” Lucas advises.

Relax, it’ll be OK

“Your lawn may not look pretty in January, but just enjoy the down time and relax,” Lucas says. “Don’t sweat every issue. Follow these tips and your lawn will bounce back in the spring and look better than ever!”

Jill Schildhouse
I'm an award-winning writer and editor with 18 years of experience in content marketing and communications. The majority of my career has been in magazine publishing, where I have covered such topics as healthcare, fitness, food science, travel, insurance, automotive, home and garden, personal finance, and supply chain management. As a freelance writer, my columns and feature articles can be found in Oxygen magazine, Phoenix Home & Garden magazine, Muscle & Performance magazine, and Amazing Wellness magazine. Additionally, I write brochures, blog posts, website copy, press releases, advertorials, e-blasts, social media profiles, award submissions, and executive profiles for clients across a variety of industries. A few notable clients include The Vitamin Shoppe, The Rich Dad Company, Plexus, and Amazing Lash Studio.