Once autumn's nip hits the nighttime air, it's time to winterize your lawn. You might not see the full results of your winter lawn care until the spring, but these cold-weather steps lead to a healthier, greener, lusher lawn once the weather warms up again.
Every lawn benefits from a feeding of winter fertilizer made for grass, but this step is especially important if your lawn consists of cool-season grasses, which include fescue, bluegrass, and perennial rye grass. Because these turf varieties reach their prime in the cooler fall weather, they benefit the most from a good meal of winter fertilizer.
Winter lawn fertilizer is heavy on potassium, which strengthens the roots and helps the grass survive cold weather. A good winter lawn treatment keeps your turf strong and green through the fall, and ready to perk up again once spring arrives.
If you have a warm-season lawn—Bermuda grass, zoysia, and St. Augustine are the most common—the best season for a deep feeding is spring. These types of turf go dormant when frost hits, so they don't require a heavy winter fertilizer, but do benefit from a light feed of regular lawn fertilizer with slow-release nitrogen to keep things green and healthy for as long as possible over the winter.
The best time to apply your winter lawn treatment depends on your type of grass. If you live in an area without winter frost, your warm-season lawn may well stay fairly green through the entire winter. Go ahead and apply your slow-release nitrogen feeding in early autumn.
If you live in a mild winter area that does receive some frost, your warm-season lawn probably goes brown and dormant. In that scenario, do not apply fertilizer later than September 1.
If you have a cool-season lawn, it's actually best to winterize your lawn with two separate feedings: one application of winter lawn fertilizer late summer/early fall and the second application during late fall, or whenever the leaves reach peak color in your area. But if you want to keep your lawn care simple, just apply the winter lawn feed once in late November or early December.
There are a few other winter lawn treatments that will pay off come spring.
While you may still be mowing your lawn in winter if you live in a very mild climate, you'll certainly be doing it a lot less than in the spring and summer. Generally, you can cut back to half the frequency of your summer mowing schedule. And if you live in an area with rugged winters, you can cross mowing off your list of winter lawn treatments all together—but not up until the first hard frost.
Cutting your lawn in cold-winter climates is a balancing act; once fall sets in, you should raise your mower's blades to a half-inch above your summer mowing height. For the last mowing of the season, however, lower the blades to a half-inch below the summer mowing height. This encourages root growth, but removes grass blades likely to become damaged or diseased during the coldest months.
You might be tempted to leave fallen leaves on the lawn over winter, but whole leaves will smother your grass and provide shelter for fungi spores, insects, and other diseases. Either rake away fallen leaves, or for the best solution, mow over them with a mulching attachment that shreds leaves into small fragments. This leaf mulch adds a bit of protection and nutrients to your turf without doing damage.
If you want your lawn mower to start right up in the spring, you need to take a few easy steps to winterize it before putting it away for the season.
If you have a battery-powered lawn mower, the procedure is fairly simple. Remove the battery and fully charge it before storing it for the winter in a cool, dry spot, then follow the same cleaning process as with a gas-powered motor.
Once you've finished winterizing your lawn mower, it's time to store it for the season. Doing so protects it from rust, moisture, and general wear-and-tear. Finding storage for a lawn mower is sometimes tricky, however.
The easiest solution for push mower storage is your garage. If you have the space, you can tuck the mower into a corner of the garage and cover it with a tarp to keep insects and dust to a minimum. Or create extra space for lawn mower storage with a pull-down, lift-up shelf.
If your garage is large enough, you might also be able to use it for riding lawn mower storage. If not, a small side or backyard shed—either purchased or DIY—serves well as a winter home for your riding lawn mower.
If the only mower storage spot is outside, protect it with a fitted cover or tarp that covers the mower completely. Use bungee cords, stakes, or heavy rocks to securely fasten the cover in place.
While winter lawn care might not be as much fun as gardening in the spring, taking the time to do it right greatly increases your odds of having a lush, green, healthy lawn once warm weather returns once again.