It’s true, our yards require far less attention in the winter than during the warmer weather. But I have some bad news. You shouldn’t just forget about your lawn during this time of year. Give your lawn a certain amount of TLC in the winter if you want it to bounce back optimally in the spring. Today, I’m going to share some of my best winter lawn care tips that I use to make sure my lawn grows thick and green come springtime.
In many parts of the United States, grass will go dormant in the winter. The cold may prevent it from growing as the ground is covered with snow. However, in some places, grass can stay green throughout the entire year. In this article, I’m focusing on regions where there is cold weather and snow in the winter.
How to Set Up Your Lawn for Winter
Setting up your lawn for winter requires some well-timed effort on your part that will keep your lawn healthy.
The time you spend winterizing your lawn will pay off and make sure that it looks its best early in the spring.
Aerate Your Lawn
Our lawns have less access to nutrients in the cold winter months.
The situation is even worse if your lawn is compacted, as the compaction stops nutrients from getting to your lawn roots.
That’s where core aerating your lawn comes in.
Aeration gets rid of compaction, allowing more air and nutrients into the ground, even when cold winds blow.
You should aerate your lawn before the winter begins and follow that up with the steps I outline below.
Fertilize Your Lawn
Maybe you think adding fertilizer to your lawn in the winter is a waste of time. After all, isn’t your lawn going dormant soon? Yes, but the fertilizer will help your lawn come back beautiful in the spring.
I recommend adding a high-nitrogen granular fertilizer, as nitrogen maintains your grass and replenishes it when the soil lacks other nutrients. I also prioritize Potash at this time of year as potassium helps boost plant health and can make turfgrass more resilient to temperature changes.
The final fertilizer application is one of the most important ones of the season.
Remembering to get some fertilizer down just before the winter will mean the nutrients are stored in the soil (and grass), much in the same way your fridge preserves food.
My go-to winterizer and what I consider to be the best lawn fertilizer for fall is Jonathan Green Winter Survival Lawn Food which you can buy directly from Jonathan Green or from Ace Hardware and (of course) on Amazon.
Overseed Your Lawn with Cool-Season Grass
If you live in a cooler area, you likely already use a cool-season grass.
If you live in a warmer region and have a warm-season grass, you may want to overseed your lawn with a cool-season grass for the winter.
Do you live in the South? Give ryegrass a try for overseeding. The grass will die out when spring comes around again, but it will keep your lawn looking great during the winter.
Though this is helpful regardless of where you’re located. Grasses that demonstrate environmental sturdiness, like fescues, will thrive when grown in cooler regions.
Cool-season grasses have a high heat tolerance. This makes them a popular choice.
And of course if you’re not sure how much seed you’ll need for an overseeding project, give my free grass seed calculator a try!
Adjust the Height of Your Lawn Mower
Taller grass requires more nutrients and in unfavorable conditions, it can smother itself. This leads to disease, while also attracting rodents that hide under the comparatively warm grass.
Cutting your grass shorter later in the season can be your solution here. But remember, you don’t want to cut it too short all at once, and I don’t recommend scalping your lawn prior to the winter.
Clean Up Your Yard
This is a simple task but one you should do before the snow sets in. Remove any children’s toys or sticks that are on your lawn.
While it may be tempting to leave them to pick up in spring, they will suffocate your grass during harsh winter conditions and kill the grass underneath.
It’s best then to make a sweep over your lawn later in the season and pick up anything left on your lawn.
Handle leaves similarly since you don’t want to leave a layer of wet leaves to suffocate your lawn. If you have a power lawnmower, you can mulch them into small pieces to act as a fertilizer.
However, if you don’t, it’s best to rake leaves or use other tools to keep them off your lawn.
Regional Differences in Winter Lawn Care Routines
Where you’re located will affect how you treat your lawn, but more often it affects the when. In many areas of the country, you’ll be doing the same procedures, though there are some regional differences.
The United States is a huge country and has multiple climate zones with their own quirks. You can check out my grass zone map to understand which type of grass is growing in your lawn, but the information below about sub-climates within these broad regions should also help.
The Northeast Cool/Humid Zone
This area ranges from New England to Minnesota, and as far south as the southern borders of Iowa and Pennsylvania. It is colder and prefers cool-season grass.
This area has comparatively shorter summers and longer winters.
Treating your lawn for winter is best done in late August through September. It’s also best to fertilize your lawn at this period, too.
The Northwest Cool/Humid Zone
This area essentially covers the Pacific Northwest, including the coastal areas of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. It is also cold, but far rainier.
Cool-season grasses thrive here. However, this region tends to have milder temperatures than its eastern counterpart.
That’s why warm-season grasses can be found in the area, especially in the area’s easternmost parts, where the air begins to dry.
Winter treatment here is best done during the late summer, starting in mid-August, continuing through September, and possibly early October.
Fertilize or overseed your lawn during this time frame to make sure you have the best possible lawn once spring comes around again.
The Southeast Warm/Humid Zone
This is the area around the Gulf of Mexico, including the Atlantic coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. It’s a hot region, so warm-season grasses thrive here, particularly Bermudagrass and St. Augustine.
There’s no snowfall here, but warm-season grasses will go dormant during the winter months. They’ll require fertilization and aeration.
It’s also popular to overseed lawns in this area with ryegrass seed. Even though ryegrass is a cool-season grass, it’s well-suited to the cold season in the Southwest.
The result? You can have a nice green lawn all year long.
The ryegrass dies out in the spring heat, but your regular warm-season grass will start flourishing at that point.
The Central Cool/Arid Zone
This is the area in the center of the country, from the Dakotas to central Washington, and as far south as northern New Mexico, also including eastern California.
The Central Cool/Arid Zone has a steppe climate, with dry and cold flat grasslands. The grasses that grow here are cool-season, though they require significant irrigation.
Grasses in this area have to contend with significant cold and should be prepped for winter in late-August and early-September.
The Southwest Warm/Arid Zone
The Southwest Warm/Arid Zone is the desert region in the Southwest United States. It includes the southern California coast through to central Texas, along the line of Austin, TX and San Antonio, TX.
This part of the country includes parts of Nevada, like Las Vegas, NV, and the southern halves of Arizona and New Mexico.
Warm-season grasses grow best here. Fall in this area occurs later, and the winters tend to be shorter, ranging from late-December to mid-February.
Prepare your lawn for the winter in October or November.
The Transition Zone
The Transition Zone in the United States is where the northern, cooler regions meet the southern, warmer regions. It ranges from central New Jersey, and as far south as central Georgia (excluding the South Carolina coast).
This region extends as far west as Kansas and Oklahoma. It has fairly long summers and pretty long winters, which allow for many kinds of grass to thrive there.
It’s best to prepare your lawn for winter from late-August through September and maybe into early October if you live in the southern areas of this region.
Win at Winter Lawn Care This Year
Winter is a difficult time for your lawn, even if it means there’s less overall work for you to do on your lawn.
However, adding a few, small things to your yearly winter lawn care routine will make a huge difference in the condition of your lawn in the spring.
These tasks aren’t challenging and will save you a lot of time, effort, and money to get your lawn looking great when the warm weather makes its return.
What You Do in Late Fall & Winter Will Pay Off Next Spring
Now you know how to take care of your lawn in the winter.
While skipping the steps I’ve outlined for late fall and early winter isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s often one of the key ways homeowners with great lawns earn their (lawn) stripes the following year.