How to winterize a lawn in 7 steps:
- Keep mowing until grass goes dormant.
- Kill perennial weeds with pre-emergent herbicide.
- Clean up fall leaves and thatch.
- Aerate the lawn.
- Spread winter fertilizer.
- Overseed with cool season grass seed.
- Cover cold-sensitive plants with burlap.
Do you want your lawn to look amazing in the spring? Don’t want any weeds or bare spots in your backyard? Then you better start winterizing your lawn before frost hits! Doing it myself for many years, I can guarantee you that fall lawn prep makes grass grow strong and healthy throughout the rest of the year.
It took me a while to realize that a little maintenance before winter goes a long way. As a result, I’ve experienced that I spend less time and money fixing my lawn in the spring and summer.
Don’t believe it? I urge you to follow these 7 winter lawn care steps I’ve come up with! You won’t regret it!
7 Ways To Winterize Your Lawn
Don’t Stop Mowing
You should continue mowing your lawn for as long as it is growing. How low you mow your turf depends on what type of grass you’re growing.
I’ve learned through the years that the sweet spot for most types of turfgrass is 2 to 2.5 inches. According to Grass Master, if you leave your lawn too tall, it becomes susceptible to diseases. If you cut it too short, it can get damaged by cold weather.
In my opinion, it is better to set your mowing deck to the height your grass prefers the most. I find that cool-season grasses are better left taller than most warm-season grasses. They need their roots shaded from the sun, even in winter. Here is a quick height guide I made with the help of Spruce:
Cool season grasses to mow at 2.5-inch height:
- Kentucky Bluegrass
Warm season grasses to mow at 1.5-inch height:
- Bermuda grass
- Zoysia grass
- Centipede grass
I mow my fescue for the last time when the daytime temperatures dip below 50°F. This is when most cool-season lawns stop growing, according to Lawn Starter. As per Scotts, warm-season grasses stop growing when temperatures drop below 60°F. Perform your final mow when these conditions are met.
Kill The Weeds
Early fall is an ideal time for killing weeds. Your goal is to preserve your grass through the winter, not the annoying weeds! So, make it your mission to get rid of them once and for all. According to Bob Vila, perennial weeds compete for nutrients with the rest of the lawn. That’s why it is important to remove them before winter when the food is scarce. The photo above is courtesy of Just My Photos NZ.
What I like to do is treat the lawn with a pre-emergent herbicide to prevent invasive plants, like clover and chickweed, from emerging in the early spring. I suggest you pull out well-established weeds from the root with your hands. Unless you want to keep them!
BioAdvanced suggests that the best time to spread herbicide is when temperatures are 50°F and above. I find that to be true. I always treat my soil before the end of October and get great results from it.
Remove Fallen Leaves & Thatch
Fall cleanup isn’t easy, especially if you have paper birch growing on your property, like I do. Those pretty yellow leaves make for a beautiful view, but they have to be cleaned up once they fall off the branches.
Based on my experience, the best way to collect fallen leaves is by using a mulching lawn mower with a bag attachment. You can quickly turn your regular push lawn mower into a mulching lawn mower with a mulching blade. Didn’t know that was possible? Check out my mulching blade vs. regular blade article.
When the fall leaves are bagged, you can immediately dump them on your compost pile and turn them into rich organic fertilizer. Once that’s done, I like to go over my lawn with a rake to remove the thatch. Thatch is dead grass blades and roots that lay on top of the soil.
But be careful! Don’t remove all the thatch. According to Milorganite, ½ inch of thatch helps soil retain its moisture and temperature. Anything above that will keep water and nutrients from seeping into the soil.
Aerate The Lawn
The next best thing you can do for your lawn is aerate it. As per Agrilinks, aeration is the process of perforating the ground, so that the air, water, and nutrients reach plant roots quickly and easily.
I like to aerate my lawn every year because it gets heavy foot traffic. Lawns that have clay soil should also be treated annually because they are naturally denser and harder than sandy soil.
With years of experience, I’ve concluded that my lawn needs aeration when the water struggles to seep into the soil. Another telltale sign is when you can’t sink a garden fork into the ground without breaking a sweat.
But you should also consider the time of year before you aerate your soil. In my opinion, the best time to aerate is in late summer or early fall. That way, your grass will have enough time to recover before going dormant in the winter.
Since I have a big lawn, I like to rent a spike or a plug aerator to make the whole process easier. If you have a small yard, you can try loosening the compacted soil with a garden fork. Check out this video to see how:
After my lawn is dethatched and aerated, I feed the soil with a good winter fertilizer to increase the hardiness of the grass and prepare it for the harsh winter months. I make sure not to spread too much fertilizer as it can burn mature grass blades. Moderation is key, remember!
Homes & Gardens suggests you use a fertilizer rich in potassium and phosphorus for fall feeds. I’ve tested this advice on my lawn, and I can say it does bear results!
Based on my experience, the best time to fertilize for winter is 2 to 3 weeks before the ground freezes. That’s sometime between late August and early November, depending on where you live.
When the soil is fed, you can go ahead and overseed your lawn. Overseeding is the process of spreading new grass seed over your existing lawn to fill in the patchy spots and make it thicker.
Fall is the ideal time to overseed your lawn with cool-season grass seed. Why? According to The Spruce, grass seed retains moisture better in cooler months, which makes it germinate quicker.
In my experience, the best time to overseed is late August to early October. The seeds will have enough time to germinate before winter comes. I suggest you pick a day after rainfall when the soil has enough moisture in it. This way, you will ensure your grass seed has ideal conditions for sprouting.
In my opinion, the best cool-season grasses for overseeding are Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass, and Perennial Ryegrass. These types of grass have excellent cold tolerance. You may even get away with overseeding your Bermuda Grass with Fescue! Read more about it here.
Here’s how you fix your lawn with overseeing:
Cover Your Plants
Now that you have protected your lawn, it is time to protect your cold-sensitive plants, as well. Bob Vila suggests the ideal time to start covering trees, shrubs, and flower beds is when night temperatures start to dip.
I use burlap to cover crop and evergreen shrubs to protect them from winter burn. But in my experience, it is not the best idea to lay burlap directly on plants. Instead, I build a tent frame around them using wooden stakes. This ensures that the cover doesn’t freeze onto the foliage or blow away in the wind.
I have newly planted apple trees in my backyard, so I will have to wrap their trunks this fall. Their bark is still too thin to handle cold weather.
What is the best time to winterize your lawn?
The best time to winterize your lawn is in the fall. Use weed killer before the end of October. You have time to spread fertilizer from late August to early November. Try to overseed your lawn before October is over.
Should I put anything on my lawn in winter?
You should not put anything on your lawn in winter, but rather in the fall. Spread winter fertilizer evenly on your turf between late August and early November. After the soil is treated, spread cool-season grass seed before the end of October.
Should you edge your lawn before winter?
You shouldn’t edge your lawn in winter. It is better to do it in spring or fall. Winter is a bad time to edge your lawn because the ground is either frozen or too wet from melted snow. You can damage your lawn and compact the soil.
Good Winter Lawn Treatment Pays Off
I know I know … these winter lawn care steps sound like a lot of work. But trust me, all the hard work you put in the fall will pay off in the spring. Even a simple task of raking fall leaves and pulling out weeds will help you establish a healthy lawn.
In my experience, the best thing you can do for your lawn is stay on top of mowing until the grass goes dormant and improve the soil quality to strengthen plants for harsh winter.
Do you have any winter lawn care suggestions? Let me know in the comments below, and feel free to ask me any questions. I would love to hear from you!