I’ll let you into a little secret.
Lawn care doesn’t completely stop during winter.
Sure, the grass is dormant, there might be less to do, and you can generally take a well-deserved break from intensive garden maintenance.
But for a truly enviable patch of grass, you’re not quite done just yet.
By implementing the tips and tricks in this article, you can see your lawn safely and healthily through the colder months, so it comes up smiling in the spring.
And that’s the difference between a good lawn, and a great one.
Let’s get started.
- Winter Lawn Care – Too Long, Didn’t Read
- Knowing Your Grass Type
- What Happens to Grass During Winter?
- Preparing Your Lawn for Winter
- What if it Snows?
- Tools and Maintenance
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Winter Lawn Care – Too Long, Didn’t Read
In a rush?
Here’s a brief summary of what’s included in this article if you don’t have the time to read the whole thing.
A good fall/winter lawn care regimen includes:
- Understanding your grass type.
- Learning a bit of biology.
- Fall cleanup and winter prep.
- Aerating and dethatching.
- Observation (IMPORTANT!)
- Tool maintenance and prep.
We still highly recommend reading through each point in more detail, as you’ll find a wealth of expert tips and advice on how to achieve the best results.
Furthermore, you won’t necessarily need to do everything in the list above from September through to March/April – so it’s a good idea to read on to properly learn what goes where.
It’s also beneficial to understand how grass behaves during the winter, so let’s take care of that right now.
Knowing Your Grass Type
Winter grass care depends highly on the type of grass you have growing on your lawn. If you live in Northern climates, you probably have cool season grass while those living in Southern climates are more likely to have warm season grass.
But what’s the difference?
Cool season grass is usually a type (or species) of turf grass, designed for decoration, to be mowed more often and growing best in warm weather in spring and summer.
This is the most widespread lawn grass in the US, so you are likely to have this type on your lawn. Cool season grass becomes dormant (inactive) during colder seasons yet looks beautifully green most of the time. Plus, it’s said to absorb pollutants so it’s great for air quality too!
Warm season grass usually includes different types that take their origins from tropical areas. This kind of grass is made to be resistant to drought and grow the most during the hottest times of summer.
If you live in the Southern area, take note of the humidity – not all types of warm season grass are suited for places that are very dry.
Knowing the type of grass on your lawn and the conditions you live in will determine how much watering is needed and what your lawn needs are during winter months. And if there is even such thing as winter where you live!
What Happens to Grass During Winter?
Just as with all things nature, the season of winter makes your lawn go… well, quiet.
It doesn’t mean it’s becoming completely inactive, but it’s minimizing its growth in order to withstand the harsh weather.
During this time, the grass is more fragile. It will stop growing sometime during late October or early November – or whenever the temperatures drop regularly below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
That’s when you should be thinking about the last mow of the season – but more on this step is coming up, below.
After it stops growing, the grass is slowly going to turn brown (again, depending on your species. Some grasses – particularly warm season varieties, will stay green all year round).
Help! My grass is dying!
No, it’s not.
Grass turning brown is perfectly natural, and absolutely no reason to panic. It then enters a dormant state to prepare for the really cold weather.
Brown grass isn’t dead or dying, it’s simply focused on conserving water, nutrients, and the energy it needs to survive.
Think of it as hunkering down or hibernating when the Mercury plummets. Which is pretty much what I do during the frigid winters of the Midwest.
And it’s because of those freezing temperatures that your lawn needs a little extra TLC to see it through to the spring.
Preparing Your Lawn for Winter
Winter lawn care starts well before winter arrives, and you might find that your fall yard work schedule is just as busy as it was in the summer – if not more so.
Here’s what you need to do:
Winterizing your lawn starts with ensuring it’s completely cleared of debris and detritus. You need to:
- Rake and remove leaves.
- Clear any fallen branches.
- Tidy and store any toys, games, and play sets.
- Remove any other clutter that basically isn’t a green plant known as grass.
Once the lawn is free from such material, you’re ready to dethatch and aerate – keep reading for more information on those two important practices.
For a more in-depth fall lawn care guide – including steps and advice on how to properly prepare your turf for winter – follow that link.
And don’t forget to practice composting with all that decaying matter you clean up – get it out of your gutters, off your lawns, and into a compost bin!
Check out the video below, which explains how you can continue to compost through the winter months.
I don’t think I know anyone that genuinely enjoys mowing their lawn. Unless, maybe, you’ve got one of these riding lawn mowers, that is.
Thankfully, mowing the grass isn’t required during winter. Grass has all but stopped growing, and it becomes brittle and weak – particularly after frost.
Which also means the neighborhood is now blissfully quiet – without the cacophony of lawnmower engines every weekend. (And one of the many reasons why I’m a fan of eco-friendly battery-powered machines).
As mentioned above, your last mow of the season should come when the temperature has dropped constantly below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and/or when the grass has visibly stopped growing.
As a rule of thumb, this is usually sometime during late October to early November.
But does height matter? What setting should you apply to your lawnmower for this final cut?
A pre-winter mow should be a little shorter than usual, to help protect your grass against snow mold, and other such lawn diseases.
Never allow your grass to remain long through winter – as you’re asking for all kinds of trouble come the spring.
This article on proper mowing heights through the seasons will tell you more.
Aerating and Dethatching
Once you’re left with a visibly tidier lawn, you might think it’s been completely cleared.
But there’s still a bit of work to do.
Look closely, right on the soil surface, at the base of the grass blades.
It’s here you’ll find a layer or material called “thatch” – dead plant life, debris, and organic matter that accumulates just above the soil.
This layer can be detrimental to the health of your lawn, harboring weeds, pests, and unwanted critters, as well as choking out the grass itself.
It needs to be removed.
Check out this full guide on how to dethatch your lawn, including why, where, when, and how to do it successfully.
Once properly dethatched, you can move on to aeration.
After the stresses of the summer, including drought, foot traffic, and other factors, your lawn is likely to be fairly compact.
Aeration is the process that loosens up the soil, and allows your lawn to breathe.
Aside from encouraging healthy grass blades, it has numerous other benefits, all of which are discussed in this aeration article. The link also has tips on how to properly aerate your lawn.
Overseeding and Repair
If your lawn has bald/bare spots, or has suffered under heavy traffic, pet and animal urine, or any other stresses through the summer months, this is a good opportunity for some repair work.
Overseeding is the best way to bring back barren or damaged areas of grass on your lawn.
While it’s going to be of no use through winter itself, the fall is one of the best times of year to overseed, as it will help keep your grass healthy and strong as the temperature drops.
And, of course, it will patch up any problem areas where you see more brown than you do green.
Go here for a full guide on how to help your grass grow healthy and thick – including advice on the best overseeding practices.
Fertilizing isn’t necessary during winter. In fact, it would cause much more harm than good.
Imagine how crabby you would be if you were asleep and someone tried to force-feed you!
But you should still aim to fertilize one final time just before the first frost is due, and after you’ve mowed, dethatched, aerated, and overseeded of course.
Make sure you choose the right kind of fertilizer for your soil and lawn. The video below explains this in more depth.
Much like mowing, your lawn isn’t going to need watering through the winter – with a couple of caveats.
If you find your region experiencing a warmer, drier winter than normal, then it is advisable to give your lawn a drink from time to time.
However, as in most cases, snow and rainfall will be more than enough to provide the moisture your lawn needs from November through April.
And remember – overwatering and too much moisture can damage a lawn, so only reach for the hose if absolutely necessary.
Observation and Action
Now, you might think to yourself – all of these steps have taken place before winter – how do I actually care for my lawn during winter?!
And it’s a great point to make.
Once your winter lawn care prep is finished (likely to be around early November for most people) you might think there’s little else to do.
But there are two more, very important steps in helping your lawn through the winter months.
Keep your eyes on it.
And keep your feet off it!
Winter lawns are brittle and weak, and if you’re trudging your size 11s all over the yard, you’re going to damage grass that’s already struggling enough.
So, observe from a distance, and note things like excess moisture build up (such as poor drainage), signs of pests or disease, and any weather-related effects in your region.
Plus any other unforeseen incidents that might cause your lawn unwanted grief.
Then, you can act accordingly, and give your turf what it needs – only when it needs it.
And when the snows finally start to clear, and a bit of color returns to the world, check out this article on how to properly care for your lawn after winter.
Because then the hard work really begins.
What if it Snows?
If it snows – build a snowman!
A blanket of snowfall can actually be beneficial to your grass, as it provides a nice boost of nitrogen to the soil, at the same time as protecting it from the cold and wind chill it had previously been suffering under.
It also acts as an insulator, warming the freezing surface a little, and giving the grass a much-needed drink from the moisture in the snow.
As such, you don’t need to be too concerned when the white stuff arrives. Your lawn should survive perfectly fine under it.
Tools and Maintenance
Now that your lawn has its winter coat on, you can sit back, relax, and reflect on your lawn care regimen.
How did you do?
What were your successes?
What could you have done better?
And do you have a heated garage?!
While you’re pondering the year’s gardening experience, you might also like to take a look at all your lawn care tools.
Because lawn care starts and ends with having the proper gear and equipment in your arsenal.
Sharp tools, and well-oiled machines. What needs to move can move, and what needs to be fixed stays fixed.
While yard work is all but over for the season, winter is a great time to maintain, repair, and replace any tools and yard machines you might have.
Providing, of course, you have a comfortable place in which to do it!
Personally, I don’t have a warm garage, so I wait until temperatures start to increase before maintaining my lawn care armory.
But do whatever you feel comfortable with.
Here’s a complete list of all the lawn care tools you’ll ever need, and don’t miss our complete annual lawn care guide – which shows you what to do on a month-by-month calendar basis.
How do I keep my grass nice in winter?
There’s not a lot you can actually do during winter itself (except be observant and stay off your lawn), so winter grass care starts in the fall.
Follow the regimen above and your lawn should return green and healthy come the spring.
Should I do anything to my lawn before winter?
Yes. In fact, it’s during the last days of autumn that are perhaps most important for winter lawn care health.
It’s during these days that you should be undertaking your final mow, dethatching and aerating, overseeding (if required), and laying down a winter prep fertilizer.
Is it better to leave your grass longer for winter?
No. You might think that longer grass is going to protect it – as it does during the heat of the summer – but you actually need to cut your grass shorter for winter.
That’s so it doesn’t create a breeding ground for mold and other diseases – particularly when under a blanket of snow.
Do I need to fertilize my lawn before winter?
You don’t need to – your lawn should survive perfectly fine without it.
But if you really want to make sure it bounces back as healthily and green as possible, then it certainly won’t hurt to apply some fertilizer in the fall.
Just make sure you’re using the right type of fertilizer with the right balance of nutrients for your soil. When in doubt, use soil testing kits to be sure.
Should my grass be watered in the winter?
No, it’s not necessary. Snow and rainfall will take care of that.
That is, of course, unless you’re in a region that doesn’t get much snow or rain, and/or you experience a freakishly warm and dry winter.
In that case, feel free to break out the sprinkler as and when required. Just be careful not to overwater – which can cause more harm than good – particularly during the colder months.
Should I aerate my lawn in winter?
During winter it will be too late – the ground will be frozen solid, and aerating is a tough enough job as it is!
The fall is the best time to aerate your lawn – after the stresses of summer, and just before the first frost of the season.
Hopefully, these winter lawn tips will help you and your lawn prepare for the next winter – and stop you from feeling like grass is always greener elsewhere.
Now, do you have any tips of your own for lawn care in winter that you have found useful or even life-changing?
Do share them in the comment section!