Winter lawn care tips for a greener spring
Winter is when most people spend the least amount of time thinking about their lawns. In the Midwest, each lawn mower is tucked away for a long winter’s nap, and their owners are thinking more about upcoming snowfalls than starting up their lawn maintenance routines again next spring. While Jack Frost is still nipping at your nose, here are a few helpful lawn care habits to remember now and in the year ahead.
Fertilizing in winter
Late fall or early winter is the best time to fertilize cool season grasses such as fescues, ryegrasses and bluegrasses. A thorough fertilization using the proper product gives a healthy advantage. Just as animals need to store food for hibernation, your lawn needs to fill up for survival during dormancy. Many nutrients can be lost from the soil during the hot summer months and the fall growing season. Once the snow falls, the fertilizer will remain in the soil and feed your lawn’s roots all winter long.
During the last month of fall, gradually lower the cutting base of your lawn mower each time you mow until you reach a turf length of 2 to 2-½ inches in height. Slowly cutting your grass shorter will allow it to winter well without the shock of cutting it low all at once. Shorter grass helps protect the newer, more fragile growth appearing late in the growing season. Lawns left too tall make tempting homes for field mice and other burrowing animals looking for a warm dwelling under the insulating protection of snow. Large portions of lawns can be damaged and dead spots are likely to appear where grasses are pulled for building nests and structures, or where burrowing of holes and tunnels occur.
Keep it clean
It is easy to overlook items on the lawn after temperatures drop, and you spend less time outdoors. Accidentally overlooked objects left resting during cold weather or under snow accumulation can leave turf thin, stunted or bare. Removing items such as lawn furniture, toys, logs, branches and leaves can save a lot of time repairing damage later. Your final mow is a great time to check for these items. Fallen leaves can be easily turned into healthy, natural mulch with a few passes of your mower, saving you from back-breaking raking, bagging and removal. As winter progresses, occasionally bundle up for some fresh air and walk around your lawn, keeping gentle watch for new items that may appear and need relocating or other attention. A few minutes of prevention can save hours of more costly repairs later.
Avoid excessive lawn traffic
Grass is relatively resilient, but it will have a difficult time recovering if a path becomes well-worn. Your shorter-cut, brown-colored, dormant grass can be quite vulnerable to heavy use and foot traffic. Encourage people and pets to rotate frequent areas of use often, so patterns do not become concentrated. Keep sidewalks cleared of ice and snow, so you and your guests won’t be tempted to cut across the yard very often. Use a salt-free alternative to melt icy walk areas near contact with turf to avoid salt damage. Just say NO to parking a truck or a car on your lawn. Even the smallest vehicle will leave impressions in the soil and kill off the grass that is underneath the tires. Using the lawn as a parking lot is the fastest way to kill the good grass and make room for crabgrass and other types of weeds.
The weight from heavy snowfalls and piled-up snow from plowing or play can cause soil compaction. Compaction depletes healthy soil by impeding air, moisture and nutrients from reaching roots, and preventing earthworms and other healthy microbes from thriving. A late fall or spring core aeration can greatly benefit most lawns once per year.
Proper fall lawn preparation is time well spent to help ensure a beautiful, lush yard once spring rolls around again — even through the harshest winter. When the north wind is ready for spring break, the snow will once again melt away to reveal what is green and eager to get growing!