How To Prepare Your Lawn For Winter
1. Clean The Lawn
Don’t leave leaves and debris on your grass over winter. Cleaning the lawn in the fall is the first step to properly winterizing it. This manual yard work chore is one of the last of the seasons, so don’t skip this part.
I made the mistake of neglecting to clean my lawn my rookie year and woke up in April to snow mold galore (more on this below). Not to mention the extra spring clean-up I had to perform when all I wanted to do was to get my soil test, begin mowing, and throw down fertilizer.
Leaves and thatch left on the lawn over the winter block the light and trap moisture, which can lead to snow mold, and other fungal problems. Don’t wait for the trees and shrubs to drop all of their leaves — rake often as they fall.
Remove as many leaves, sticks, and other debris as possible from the site. I personally don’t recommend mulching and leaving leaves on the ground over winter – bag them up and recycle them in your compost pile.
2. Remove weeds
Weeds left in the lawn and garden over winter will come back again with a vengeance in the spring. Their weed seeds will get distributed more broadly, and they’ll hog resources like water and nutrients.
Pulling weeds to keep your desirable plants healthier, later on, is one of the most important steps for keeping the yard in good shape, and removing them from garden beds also makes it easier to plant in the spring.
3. Mow Low
Before your grass heads into winter dormancy, give it a final mowing with your lawnmower blades set one to two inches lower than your normal height. As always, take the lawnmower height down gradually. I usually set my mower blades at 2.5 – 3 inches for the final mow.
Because taller grass can leave your lawn more susceptible to snow mold and other funguses in the spring, a very low lawn mower height promotes top grass health come spring — and helps keep it greener throughout the winter.
A clean lawn and a shorter cut will winterize your lawn to set it up for both winter survival and early spring lawn success. Depending on Mother Nature, the last mowing is usually best done in mid to late November.
Make sure your blades are still sharp enough to cut your grass cleanly
Soil compaction prevents your grass from growing thick and strong, and it promotes the growth of spring weeds. Compaction prevents water and nutrients from reaching the root zone and impacts root growth. The cure? Aerating your lawn. If you didn’t aerate as part of your early fall maintenance, be sure to do so net fall (September).
Aerating is an easy DIY project that’ll help winterize your lawn and promote strong plant roots. You can rent an aerating machine from your local home improvement store if you don’t have your own. Alternatively, you can get a pair of lawn aerator shoes and get some exercise walking your yard to aerate!
Aerate your soil when it’s moist, but not soggy. If it’s dry in your location, water your lawn the day before you aerate. If it’s too dry, it’ll be harder to aerate. If it’s too wet, you’ll just make a gigantic mess.
Make several passes in different directions, and concentrate on problem areas like where the kids play or the mailman’s daily path across the grass.
While you have the aerator out, pass it over your garden soil, too, so nutrients can easily make their way down to plant roots once you get your plants going in the spring.
Leave the soil plugs on the lawn and garden to disintegrate naturally and add their nutrients to the soil. If you haven’t already laid down more grass seed, post-aeration is a great time to do it!
5. Fertilize for Winter
Fall lawn fertilizer application is an important part of winter lawn care. around one to two weeks after your last mowing and aeration and just before the weather gets cold and the ground freezes.
Winter fertilizers are particularly important for providing nutrients for any new grass seed you spread in the early fall season.