Winter lawn care – 6 vital steps to take now to protect yours from the cold
What do you need to know about winter lawn care to be ensure yours emerges unscathed in spring?
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Once snow has fallen, it's too late for winter lawn care, so while fall is in full swing, now is the time to prepare your lawn for the harsh winter weather that's inevitably ahead, wherever you live.
But what exactly can you do to prepare a lawn for winter to ensure your lawn is green and thick by the time spring comes around? We spoke to our gardens expert Rachel Crow and Carlos Real, Lawn Care Expert and Managing Director of TotalLawn (opens in new tab) for their top tips and critical winter lawn care advice, so that you can get ahead of the cold weather this weekend.
Winter lawn care
Winter lawn care is all about tackling a few must-do jobs and then continuing with maintenance until the freeze sets in a leaves have stopped dropping.
1. Keep the lawn leaf-free
'Don’t leave anything on your lawn!' says Carlos. 'Whether it’s leaves, heavy branches or gardening equipment on your lawn, you want to remove it quickly before the cold sets in. If you leave anything heavy on your lawn over winter, you are running the risk of your soil compacting, which puts it at risk of waterlogging and developing diseases, such as fusarium patch, also known as snow mould and is common amongst lawns in fall.
'You also need to remove any unwanted leaves as they can stop the lawn from getting enough air and light, which is essential for the healthy growth of your lawn.'
2. Pick out hardy weeds
'Lawn weeds don't just grow in spring, and as part of your fall lawn care routine, you will no doubt have continued pulling them out,' says Rachel Crow. 'Don't stop now – keep weeding right up until the first frosts set in.
3. Reduce but don't stop mowing
'In the fall your lawn requires minimal mowing due to less sunlight reaching it – sunlight is essential for helping grass to grow but as the days get shorter and the clocks change, the amount of sunlight our lawns see is limited, so mowing once a week should be enough,' advises Carlos.
'You should also reduce the height of your mower blade, as making the grass plant shorter before the winter sets in will protect it from diseases and help to prevent it from getting damaged over the next few months.'
When should you stop mowing your lawn in fall? The answer is that there's no set date, but the weather is the best indicator. 'Make sure to only cut the lawn before the first frosts set in, and only then on dry days,' says Rachel.
4. Aerate the lawn
'Over the warmer months your soil will have compacted due to heavy foot traffic so it’s important to aerate a lawn before the cold sets in,' says Carlos. 'If your soil is too compact, then it will stop your grass plant from growing thick and strong and can cause issues further down the line.
'Whether you are using an electrical aerator or just a garden rake, spike your lawn multiple times, spending more time on the areas that have had the most foot traffic, as this will increase the oxygen that reaches the soil to help growth.'
The most highly rated lawn aerator on Amazon (opens in new tab) can scarify and dethatch as well, particularly ideal if you have a large lawn.
5. Feed the lawn
'It’s really important to understand that feeding your lawn is a job that should be done all-year round!' says Carlos Real of Total Lawn. 'You should be looking for a feed that includes three core elements: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. Although you’ll be using a lower dose of Nitrogen compared to the summer months, you will need a much higher dose of Phosphorus and Potassium, as this will support healthy growth and assist in the overall function of the grass plant.
'It doesn’t stop there, there are two other ingredients you should be looking out for: Magnesium Oxide & Calcium Oxide. Magnesium Oxide is like a bullet proof vest for your lawn – not only does it promote early growth when the growing season starts again, but it is also the key element for preparing your lawn for the winter months.
"Calcium Oxide is even more valuable when preparing your lawn for the cold weather, as it increases the amount of nutrients that can be held in the soil for use later on, which is super helpful when you start to get frost on your lawn.
'Making sure these elements are included will give your lawn the best possible chance of staying healthy during the winter.'
Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Lawn Food (opens in new tab) is Amazon's most highly rated buy.
'Read the instructions provided by the manufacturer of the lawn feed to ensure you are fertilizing in the right conditions and at the right time – it's just as important not to overfeed your lawn which can promote premature growth,' says Rachel Crow.
6. Don't stress the lawn
'Winter lawns already have much to cope with, so it's best not to walk on it (or encourage a family football game) if you can help it. Doing so will compact it, just as leaving furniture or play equipment on it does,' says Rachel Crow.
'I would also stop any lawn treatments that aren't emergency measures now, too, since the lawn's slow growth will make it hard for it to recover in winter. So, no scarifying a lawn or dethatching a lawn at present, and leave any repairing of patches in lawns until spring.'
Can I do anything to my grass in winter?
Winter lawn care does continue from fall through to snowfall and beyond. It's really important to sweep fallen leaves into borders; this will allow the lawn to breathe and thrive and will act as a useful mulch for plants, too. Don't walk on a winter lawn, especially if it is wet, as this can cause further damage, and stop lawn treatments that might stress the lawn until spring. However, you can feed your lawn over winter, with an appropriate winter feed.
When should you last cut the grass for winter?
The last time to cut the grass for winter does vary from zone to zone, but it's likely that by November you will cut the grass for the last time before spring. After that, lawn growth will be slow, so you will not need to mow again until spring when warmer weather arrives and lawn growth speeds up again.
Lucy Searle has written about interiors, property and gardens since 1990, working her way around the interiors departments of women's magazines before switching to interiors-only titles in the mid-nineties. She was Associate Editor on Ideal Home, and Launch Editor of 4Homes magazine, before moving into digital in 2007, launching Channel 4's flagship website, Channel4.com/4homes. In 2018, Lucy took on the role of Global Editor in Chief for Realhomes.com, taking the site from a small magazine add-on to a global success. She was asked to repeat that success at Homes & Gardens, where she has also taken on the editorship of the magazine.
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