Winter lawn care starts in the fall. During this time, you’ll prepare your lawn for the cold season and make sure it has the best possible chance going into spring. After the first frost, your lawn will go dormant and turn brown. When the temperature drops, turf prioritizes the health of its roots and crown over grass blades growing, which means it can go into a state of “dormancy” and turn brown. Lawn care in winter means it’s unlikely you’ll be fertilizing and mowing your lawn throughout November-January, but there are lots you can do to prepare your lawn for spring and environmental stress.
Even during the coldest months of the year, your lawn can still benefit from some care and attention. Healthy, strong grass is far more resilient to unwanted pests and weeds. Cold weather can dehydrate and damage lawns, which is known as “winterkill,” so it’s important to ensure your lawn is healthy before it goes dormant.
Discover all the winter and pre-winter lawn care tips in this guide to keep your lawn in shape.
1. Pre-Winter Lawn Care
When the first frost strikes your lawn, your lawn will go dormant and turn brown. This is the time to start “winterization”. What is winterization? Winterization means preparing your lawn for cold weather, which involves preparing lawn care products like fertilizer, core aerating, overseeding, and maintaining equipment.
Firstly, taking a soil test is a data-driven way to understand which nutrients your lawn might need before it becomes dormant. Neutral pH soil and a balanced mix of macronutrients and micronutrients will give your turfgrass the best chance of thriving in spring.
At the start of December, do a soil test and see which nutrients your lawn is short on. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the primary nutrients, followed by micronutrients to supplement growth.
This step is not just winter-specific but a year-long round task. Excess debris like dead leaves, grass clippings, and sticks can create a hiding place for pests, a breeding ground for lawn diseases, and can suffocate your lawn. Rake away leaves and other debris and keep your yard clean — objects like heavy branches left on your lawn over winter will cause soil to compact and develop diseases like snow mold.
Mowing Your Lawn
You can continue mowing your lawn at your usual frequency (about two times a week) until temperatures drop below 41° Fahrenheit. Adapt your mowing technique in the fall by lowering the mowing height a notch down (2-2.5”) each time you mow. Shorter grass will lessen the chance of diseases developing as long grass can end up suffocating itself.
Winter Lawn Fertilization
With your soil test results and a freshly-core aerated lawn, you can select the appropriate fertilizer. Our recommendation? A lawn fertilizer that will help your grass tolerate extreme temperatures and green-quicker in spring.
Potassium fertilizers are the best for this. Potassium is a key macronutrient known as potash and helps warm-season grasses withstand cold temperatures. For grass, potassium improves water uptake and retention and is an essential ingredient for winter lawn fertilizers. We’re going with the granular fertilizers here, as they’re quite easy to apply — but feel free to use a liquid lawn fertilizer if you prefer.
On the left, Stress 12-0-24. On all bags of fertilizer, you’ll see these numbers, which each stand for “NPK” — nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Lebanon Turf’s Stress 12-0-24 is formulated with 24% potassium to help your lawn withstand extreme temperatures. Stress 12-0-24 also contains 12% nitrogen for greener grass. Packed also with supplementary micronutrients like magnesium, iron, and manganese, this gives your lawn the boost it needs.
Sulfate of Potash contains natural potassium to aid in stress recovery and disease resistance. Polymer-coated granules won’t disintegrate in the fertilizer bag and can be released slowly into the soil with a long-lasting effect.
Both of these granular lawn fertilizers can be applied with a broadcast spreader and will integrate faster into the soil, thanks to your prior core aeration.
Find out how to choose and apply the right lawn fertilizer for your lawn in our detailed guide on lawn fertilization.
2. How to Care For Your Lawn in Winter
While your lawn is dormant in winter, you can help it out by maintaining debris-free turfgrass. Although winter might not be the most high-effort season regarding lawn care, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Salt Damage to Your Lawn
De-icing products often contain salt, which can severely damage grass if it leaks onto it. Salt damage creates a “physiological drought”, impeding nutrient uptake in your grass and causing bare spots to appear on your lawn.
If de-icing the areas around your lawn can’t be avoided, try using calcium chloride-based de-icing products over those containing sodium chloride. Resist the urge to pile snow on your grass, too, because snow will often contain salt or grit residue from treated roads. It’s also best not to keep bags of de-icing grit or salt near or on grass, as there’s a chance salt could still leach out into the soil.
If you’re concerned salt might have damaged your turf during the winter, water your lawn deeply as soon as the ground stops constantly freezing. A soil thermometer can help you determine this. To help speed up your lawn’s recovery, use Na-X 5-0-0 from Ecologel. It is a salt damage recovery product specially formulated to flush out sodium salts in your soil and restimulate biological processes in your grass.
Heavy Foot Traffic
Leave your lawn to it as much as possible. Excessive foot traffic will weaken your grass considerably. Because your turf is dormant, it can’t recover from damage as quickly as when it's actively growing. Lots of foot traffic will cause soil compaction and bare patches in spring.
Lawn Care Tips for Winter
You won’t be using many of your lawn care tools and equipment through the winter months, so use this time to ensure your mower blades are sharpened, and your spreaders and sprayers are properly cleaned.
Cut down on your lawn care costs in the spring and prepare your lawn for winter in the fall before your grass becomes dormant. The more you do now, the more on track you’ll be to enjoy your golf course lawn during the growing season.
Start preparing for spring lawn care and stock up in the winter. Browse our range of outstanding lawn-care products.