Long or Short Grass for Winter – How to Best Mow Your Lawn at the Onset of Winter

Your lush, manicured lawn is a thing of beauty and joy forever. Many wonder how long to leave the grass for winter and when to stop mowing. We answer that and many more other questions you might have.

Getting it and keeping it that way seemed like an enterprise better suited to the Army Corps of Engineers but somehow you made it through. Only now winter is in the offing, and you’d like to consolidate your gains and build on your investment.

Right away the question arises: should you mow or just let the grass grow? Since in the dead of winter it’s going to stop growing anyway – of its own accord – when it enters the dormancy phase.

Follow these instructions and you will have nothing to worry about.

In short:

Should you mow before the onset of winter? – Absolutely, yes! Once winter has set in fully? – No.

Steps to Take in the Fall to Ensure a Spring Resurrection

There’s a lot you can do to prepare your lawn in the weeks leading up to the onset of winter. These include applying fertilizer, weeding, raking up leaves, filling in thin and balding patches (overseeding), and mowing!

For a detailed, in-depth breakdown of your options, visit fall lawncare tips and how to winterize your lawn.

mowing and mulching the grass with a lawn mower at early fall

How Mowing Contributes to a Beautiful, Healthy Lawn

Regular mowing is key. A good rule of thumb is to remember that in many respects it’s the opposite of watering.

Watering should be heavy but infrequent to encourage the growth of long, deep roots. Mowing on the other hand should be light and regular – once or twice a week, depending on the rate of growth and the amount of rainfall. (Grass tends to enjoy a growth spurt after each downpour.)

“What!?”, I hear you cry, “Once or twice a week?! Isn’t that excessive?”

Well, no, not if you think about it.

If you wait until the grass is noticeably longer than it should be – if small dogs are going missing and the neighbor’s cats are using your lawn as an ersatz Burmese jungle – then, when you mow, you’re going to wind up with big clumps of wet grass all over the lawn.

These wet clumps you will have to remove if you don’t want them blocking out the light and depriving the grass of its most important source of energy, the Sun, at the one time of year when it needs it most.

This kind of debris also encourages mold and feeding insects!

So you see, as well as being good for your lawn, mowing more often can actually save you time and effort.

man using a gas-powered lawn mower

How to Mow Your Lawn to Achieve Optimal Results

The trick is to not cut it short all at once but in stages.

Blades of grass-like leaves on a tree are natural solar panels: they need the right amount of exposed surface to work properly.

Cutting a lawn too short (also known as scalping) forces the grass to make up for the energy deficit by growing new leaf blades when what it should be doing is using its resources to deepen and strengthen its roots.

The result is a very fragile ecosystem where the grass can be easily damaged or uprooted.

Scalping can even promote disease. Fungi spread and infect their host in cold weather, especially when it’s dark and damp.

If that wasn’t bad enough, exposed roots and crowns (the bit just above the soil) quickly dry out when deprived of the protective shielding of leaf blades.

The thinness this creates leaves small spaces between the stoma. Without dense blades of grass to block out the sunlight, weed seeds germinate and proliferate.

If your lawn is particularly beset by weeds, you can learn more about their management and eradication by visiting the article Do Weeds Die In Winter. Also very useful in this regard is the Yardthyme Lawncare Calendar.

frozen lawn in winter

Spectacular Results with Light Mowing

Accepted wisdom says to only trim the top third of each blade of grass.

While this is sage advice from experts in their field, trimming the top third when the grass is already fairly short is going to cut it too short! By the same token, trim the top third when the grass is unusually long and it won’t be short enough!

The trick here is to mow the lawn often, each time cutting it a little bit shorter.

A useful tip at this point. When you’ve mowed, if the results are satisfactory, mark the setting with a sharpie on the side of your lawnmower.

Optimal Growth and Lawn Length

The optimal target length you’re aiming for is two and a half inches, although this can vary from one strain to another, bearing in mind that there are somewhere in the vicinity of 12 000!

If you are really risk averse and don’t like taking chances with your precious lush lawn, get an ordinary desk ruler and go take a close look at your grass.

See how each blade starts out bright green near the crown, then darkens towards the tip. The bright green part is where the most chlorophyll lives. That’s the part you want to leave alone.

The dark green part towards the tip? That’s the part you can safely trim. Measure the distance from the crown to midway through the dark green part and set the height of your lawnmower accordingly!

Wait a few days, mow, and repeat.

Must-Read Warning

Never, never, NEVER mow your lawn after the first frost! Frost freezes the moisture inside the plant structure. Instead of being cut, the leaf blades – along with the rest of the plant above the ground – will shatter and disintegrate.

By the same token, you must actively discourage people and animals from walking around on your winter lawn.

Where animals are concerned, this can be achieved by spraying vinegar or a mixture of water and baking soda around the perimeter.

Do not spray vinegar directly onto the lawn! Vinegar is a natural weed-killer, but it also has the potential to damage vegetation.

For humans, a tazer or cattle prod produces the best results, if you feel that it’s worth the legal consequences.

Alternatively, if your lawn is extensive and traffic unavoidable, consider establishing narrow paths for people to walk on.

lawn in winter

The Best Time to Mow for a Healthier Lawn in Spring

When the grass is 3” high or higher (depending on the strain), the grass is dry, and the weather is cool. Don’t mow between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm unless it is overcast.

Mowing at the height of the day will dry out grass, stressing and damaging it. Remember: longer blades shade the soil and encourage the grass to deepen its roots. Your lawn will be healthier and more resistant to drought.

When It Stops Growing, Stop Mowing!

To protect itself from extreme temperatures, grass enters a dormancy phase at the approach of mid-Winter. When the daytime temperature falls below a certain point, its growth rate slows to a halt.

At times like this, the weatherman is your friend. Find an app for your smartphone that reports temperatures throughout the day and night and also predicts frost conditions.

bungalow house with green lawn under winter snow


When is the best time to stop mowing your lawn before winter?

You shouldn’t! Keep mowing until you feel that the grass isn’t getting any longer, or there is a frost.

Which option is better – to leave your lawn long or short for the winter season?

Short is better. Long grass is bad for your lawn and encourages fungal and insect infestations.

What is the best grass length before winter?

Two and a half to three inches, unless your strain of grass is unusually long-stemmed.

Is it a good idea to mow your lawn short before winter?

Yes, but progressively, in stages, not all at once.

Does grass grow in the winter?

Yes, but it stops when it enters its dormancy phase, just before mid-winter.

When is it too late in the season or too cold to mow the grass?

When the first frost appears.

Can you damage your lawn by cutting it too late in the season?

Yes, if there is evidence of frost.


An ounce of prevention, as they say, is worth a pound of cure.

Trim, don’t scalp.

A clean lawn is a green lawn.

Your comments, feedback, general remarks, and criticism are roundly welcomed! If you have anything you’d wish to add, that you feel we left out, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Andy Gibson

My name's Gibson. Andy Gibson. I like to think of myself as the Bond of the backyard, that is if yard work ever became sexy. I write about everything about indoor and outdoor gardening and the dread-it-but-still-need-to-do-it chores around the yard, like cleaning out the gutter guards.

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