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Winterizing Your Lawn; Is it Necessary?

We always clear our lawn of leaves in the fall ready for spring, but is there anything else you should do to help your grass with winter approaching?

It’s a good idea to winterize your lawn in the fall if you want lush, green grass in the spring. Clear your lawn of leaves and fertilize, aerate, and re-sow your grass to keep it healthy. You should stop cutting grass below 50 degrees fahrenheit and leave it long for the winter.

Let’s dive down into the subject of winterizing your lawn in more detail, and discover what you should do to prepare and protect your grass for when colder weather strikes…

Winterizing Your Lawn

Do I Have To Prepare My Lawn For Winter?

Yes ideally. The fall is the best time to show your lawn a bit of love. After all, if you want a lush, green garden for the summer, you need to look after your lawn all year. 

To survive the colder weather, your lawn needs to be healthy, so take some time in the fall to fertilize, aerate, and re-sow your grass. 

Before you begin your lawn’s annual pamper session, you need to know two things: what your soil’s pH is, and what plant hardiness zone you live in. It’s also helpful to know what type of grass you have, especially if you’re planning to replant any bald patches of lawn, but also because cool season and warm season grasses need different fertilizers.

Why do you need to know your soil’s pH? This helps establish how much fertilizer you need, as it varies between soil types. Too much fertilizer can “burn” the grass, while too little won’t do much at all. The healthiest lawn has a neutral pH, but you can adjust an acidic or alkaline garden with special treatments. You can pick up pH testing kits in your local garden center or hardware store, or take a look online.

Knowing your plant hardiness zone is important for most gardening tasks. Most gardening instructions use this zoning system, and it gives you a good idea of common climate factors, such as when to expect the first frost and what time of year plants go dormant. Find out what zone you live in by typing your zip code into the USDA plant hardiness zone map.

It can be tricky to work out which grass is growing in your garden, unless you planted your lawn yourself. This guide has some clear pictures of common lawn grasses to help you identify your grass type.

Winterizing Your Lawn in Simple Steps

So, how do you winterize your lawn? First thing: when do you start? Generally speaking, the harsher your winters, the earlier you need to start prepping your lawn. So, if you live in a colder climate, begin winterizing your lawn in the early fall, even as early as the start of September. 

You may live in a warm zone that rarely sees a cold winter; however, it’s still a good idea to give your grass an annual check and pamper. Wherever you live, here’s the basic process for winterizing a lawn:

  1. Mow your lawn. In most regions, the fall cut is the last of the year, and you can now winterize your mower
  2. Pull up any weeds, or kill them using an organic weedkiller
  3. Rake up stray leaves and debris, and add them to your compost pile. Keep raking, as a thick covering of leaves can smother the grass
  4. Aerate your lawn. This ensures that air, nutrients, and moisture can reach the roots
  5. Now add the fertilizer. We’ll look at this in a bit more detail in a moment. In brief, the important things to remember are to use a special winter formulation, spread the fertilizer evenly, and use the right amount for your type of lawn
  6. If you have bald patches on the lawn, spread grass seed (cold-season grasses only). Fall weather is the perfect time for grass seed to take, with a lovely balance of sun and rain (hopefully)
  7. If it’s a dry fall, continue to water your lawn. How often you do this depends on your climate. If you live in a cold region, you’ll need to winterize your outdoor faucet, irrigation system, and any sprinklers, to avoid any damage from freezing pipes
Lawn covered in snow

What is Lawn Winterizer Fertilizer & When Do I Need it?

Lawn winterizer fertilizer is a special, slow-release treatment that will provide your lawn with nutrition throughout the colder months. A general lawn fertilizer isn’t nutritious enough for the winter, which is why most gardeners apply this dedicated winter treatment every fall.

However, beware of general winterizers that don’t specify whether they’re for cool-season or warm-season grasses. These broad groups of grasses need different winterization treatments.

A cool-season grass (such as bluegrass) needs two applications of a general winterization formula, one in early and in late fall. The cool-season grass stores nutrients ready for the spring, hence this big dose in the fall.

A warm-season grass needs a formula that’s higher in potassium, such as potash. Warm- season grasses behave slightly differently to cool-season grasses, so a big application of fertilizer would basically be an overdose. A late-summer/early fall application of a low-nitrogen, potassium-rich fertilizer will help guard your warm-season lawn against stress and disease.

The easiest way to evenly apply lawn fertilizer is using a spreader. If you haven’t done this before, here’s a short film that shows you how to fertilize grass using a spreader

Can I Fertilize My Lawn After a Frost?

No, you can’t fertilize your lawn after a frost because the grass is now dormant. Fertilize in the fall, then again in the spring once the grass has woken up again.

Ideally, apply your slow-release winter fertilizer before the temperature drops below around 60 degrees fahrenheit. You then leave it until after the final frosts in the spring.

When is The Last Month I Can Cut My Lawn?

When you stop mowing your lawn depends entirely on where you live, which is why it’s important to know your region’s gardening climate. The grass will stop growing when it decides the weather is too cold for it anyway, which is kind of a clue. 

In general, you won’t need to mow your lawn when the daytime temperature dips below 50 degrees fahrenheit. This can be any time between October and even late December! However, for most of us, that Halloween-time yard tidy is the last time we mow for a few months.

Final Words: Should I Leave The Grass Long or Short For Winter?

The short answer is: long. When you do your final mow of the season, don’t go for a close cut, but aim to leave the blades at 2.5 to 3 inches long. This is probably taller than you like your lawn to be over the summer; however, this will help to keep your grass healthy during the cooler weather.

Why is longer grass healthier than shorter blades? The grass needs to absorb sunlight to make and store nutrients, so the taller the blade, the more exposure to sunlight it gets. This is also why we advised you earlier to keep raking up leaves, so the grass can still gain from that important fall sunshine. 

We have read that you should cut your grass on the mower’s short setting before the winter, in order to prevent mold growth on the lawn. Don’t worry about this. Your lawn is far more likely to stay healthy (and mold-free) if you leave the blades a bit longer than usual but keep removing fallen leaves and other debris.

You’ll also need to keep on top of the weeding during winter, as perennial weeds will fight the grass for precious nutrients. So, winterize your mower after that last fall cut, but keep the rake, hand tools, and leaf blower at the front of your shed all year round.

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >