Time to Winterize Your Lawn!

While you're busy whipping your home into shape, don't forget to prepare your yard, too. Follow these steps to ensure a lush lawn next spring!

Autumn is in full swing and winter will be here before we know it. While you’re busy whipping your home into shape—tuning up the furnace, checking the insulation, bringing out the storm windows, and cleaning the ducts—don’t forget to prepare your yard, too. Follow these steps to ensure a lush lawn next spring:

Cool Season Grasses

Cool season grasses such as fescue, ryegrass, bluegrass and bentgrass are hardy enough to withstand winter’s cold and snow. Without large amounts of water, they usually enter into a semi-dormant state in the high heat of summer, and revive with the cooler weather of autumn. These are the grasses that benefit from a good winterizing program. Although growth may slow somewhat in autumn, cool season grasses are actually busy building energy resources for winter. Here are a few tips to help your lawn get through winter’s icy blast and emerge in spring looking better than ever:

  • Weed. Pull the dandelions and other broadleaf weeds to prevent them from stealing all of the available nutrients and water from your lawn. Eradicate weeds that are forming seed heads so that they don’t reseed themselves in your turf.
  • Minimize the thatch layer. Thatch is composed of organic matter that is slow to decay. If the thatch layer is too thick, it will affect grass health. Raking will help control thatch. You can also aerate your lawn in autumn (or in spring) to reduce the thatch layer, improve drainage and air circulation, and minimize soil compaction. Aeration will also assist in the uptake of nutrients.
  • Deal with the fallen leaves. You can either remove the leaves altogether and compost them (or utilize them as mulch in your garden beds), or you can use the mulching blade on your lawn mower and chip them into small pieces that can remain on the lawn. A heavy leaf layer can be detrimental to lawn health.
  • Sow seeds. It may seem strange to plant grass just before freeze-up, but broadcasting grass seed over your lawn is one of the most important things you can do to give your turf a leg up in the spring. Use a spreader to distribute the seed evenly.
  • Water. If there is no rain in the forecast around the time you plant your grass seeds, a deep watering will be necessary. You can water right up until the ground freezes.
  • Check your soil’s pH. If your soil is too acidic, amend the soil with lime. Turfgrasses generally prefer to grow with a soil pH hovering near neutral.
  • Feed. At this time of year, use a fertilizer high in potassium (the third number on the fertilizer bag). Potassium increases the cold tolerance of cool-weather grasses. If you do not wish to use synthetic fertilizers, a spray of compost tea will do the trick. Always apply fertilizer according to the rates listed on the package; never use more than recommended, as it may burn the leaves of your plants.
  • Mind your mowing. Cropping your lawn too short in autumn may stress the plants. Long grass can also be a problem: matted lengths of wet grass can promote molds and other diseases in spring, and it may provide winter habitation to unwanted animal pests such as voles and mice. Raise your mower blades slightly higher than your usual summer height — the extra leaf length helps with production of the food stores grass needs to survive the winter. If you have a mower capable of mulching, you can leave the grass clippings on the lawn for added cold-weather protection and nutrition.
  • Prevent lawn problems once freeze-up and snowfall occur. Do not walk or park on your frozen lawn to reduce the chance of winter kill. Ice melting salts can do extensive damage to your lawn. Be careful when applying salts to your driveway and sidewalk so that the chemicals do not leach onto your turf, or use a more environmentally-friendly product such as coarse sand.

Warm-Season Grasses

In some regions, grasses such as Bermuda, St. Augustine and zoysia slow their growth and enter dormancy during the winter. Winterizing the lawn in warm climates is not as necessary as it is in colder parts of the country, but there are still some steps you can take to keep your lawn in tip-top shape:

  • Do not use “winterizing” fertilizers. Like cool-season grasses, warm-season varieties need potassium, but it should be applied in the spring as part of a balanced nutrition program. (If a soil test shows that your lawn is deficient in potassium, amendments are acceptable). Fertilizing warm-season grasses when they are ready to go dormant is not recommended. To prepare the lawn for winter dormancy, stop fertilizing with high nitrogen fertilizers in late summer.
  • Keep your lawn tidy and healthy during the winter. Weed and remove or mulch fallen leaves as necessary. Amend your soil with lime if a soil test indicates that it is too acidic.
  • Green your lawn. Although your warm-season grasses will stop growing and may turn brown during winter, you can maintain lush green growth by seeding your lawn in autumn with cool-season grasses such as fescues.
SN
Sheryl Normandeau

Sheryl Normandeau, BA, is a Master Gardener and writer from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Her articles and short stories have appeared in several international publications. She is the co-author (with Janet Melrose) of the Guides for the Prairie Gardener series.

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Bob

Hi, I am trying to determine how long I have to winterize my lawn here in Old Orchard Beach, Maine?
Thanks!

ABRAHAM RODRIGUEZ

WHAT IS THE PRODUCT TO USE TO HELP ROSES BLOOM HEALTHIER AND MORE PROFUSELY. I HAVE CLIMBING ZEPHIRINE THORNLESS ROSES THAT I AM TRYING TO GROW INTO ROSE TREES. I DO NOT WANT TO GROW THEM AS BUSHES, SINCE I WANT THEM TO BE SEEN FROM A SOLID ROCK WALL THAT IS 8 FEET TALL. I HAVE TIES THEIR BRANCHES WITH AN EXPANDABLE TAPE THAT WILL NOT HURT THE BRANCHES. THE ROSES ARE HUGE, BUT THE SOME OF BRANCHES SEEM AWFULLY SKINNY. I DO NOT KNOW WHAT IS THE FERTILIZER OF ADDITIVE TO USE TO MAKE THE ROSES BLOOM MORE OFTEN. THE ROSES ARE VERY PRETTY. PLEASE ADVISE. THANK YOU

Susan Higgins

Hi Abraham Rodriguez: Here’s an article we did on mastering rose bushes: Grow Roses Like A Pro (Even If You’re Not One)! which has some fertilizer tips, and we also wrote about how epsom salts benefit rose bushes. Take a look here: 20 Clever Uses For Epsom Salt GOOD LUCK!

Susan Higgins

Hi Abraham Rodriguez, regarding lawns, check out Kevin’s advice here, I think you’ll find it helpful: October’s Gardening Chores

ABRAHAM RODRIGUEZ

I LIVE IN SAN ANTONIO TEXAS IN ZONE 8B. WHEN ARE THE BEST MONTHS TO WINTERIZE OUR LAWNS. WHAT IS THE BEST COMBINATION OF NUTRIENTS AT THIS TIME OF THE YEAR. IS THERE ANY PARTICULAR BRAND THAT IS BETTER. ARE THERE ANY TIME RELEASE WINTER WINTERIZING PRODUCTS THAT CAN BE USED IN THE SOUTH, NAMELY SAN ANTONIO TEXAS. THANKS.

Sunshine

I live in zone 7. I looked on the “When To” calendar but cannot find dates best to winterize the lawn. I’ve found following that calendar for planting and reaping to be quite accurate. Could you help me out there? I have a new home about 2 years old. Crab grass and dandies have begun to “creep” in. Hoping this product lives up to its ad. But want to apply at the successful date.

Kim Lines

I too have St Aufstine grass. I live in South/ Central Texas. I wondering if I can seed with Rye. Or are there reasons not to go with Rye?

Kim Lines

I too have St Aufstine grass. I live in South/ Central Texas. I wondering if I can seed with Rye. Or are there reason not to go with Rye?

nativ

Hi, could you please suggest some more sources where I could get reliable information about Lawn care and garden.

nativ

Hi, could you please suggest some more sources where I could get reliable information about Soil testing

Jaime McLeod

Rickich0n, Go ahead. Just grab the URL.

Herma Bogle

I have St. Agustine grass, and they always go to sleep in the winter, I like
your ideas which I am going to try, but St Agustine grass does not grow from
seeds so if I seed wouldn’t I have two different grass? Please let me know.

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