I’ve always loved this time of year. The days are cool and crisp, our visible breath curls and snakes through the air, and everywhere people are preparing to take a break from their landscape labors. Not only are people preparing to take a break, but our lawns and gardens are settling down for their winter naps as well. I’ve always thought of winter as the great equalizer. No matter what you’ve done to your yard during the summer, no matter the amount of work you've accomplish, we can always count on winter to re-boot our landscapes. All the mowing, irrigation, dead-heading, pruning, fertilizing, and weeding will soon be forgotten as our landscape plants either die or go dormant. For a lot of the country, snow will soon transform our landscapes into smooth, white wonderlands. What about one of the most crucial elements of the landscape; our lawn grass? How can we give our beloved lawns every possible advantage during the winter break? By taking the following steps we can ensure that come spring our lawns are able to bounce back as soon as possible with minimal damage from winter.
Cutting the Grass to Prep for Winter
The first thing to remember is to keep mowing your grass until you’re sure it hasn’t grown for at least two weeks. You will know by the lack of grass clippings that your lawn is done for the year. A final grass height of 2-3 inches is optimal for several reasons. Cutting your grass too short right before winter can leave it susceptible to drying winter winds and even sun damage if there is a lack of snow cover. More than three inches can cause problems as the grass bends and folds from snow cover. This contributes to fungal diseases and mold issues. Be sure to remove as much leaf litter as possible in the fall to reduce fungal, mold, and grass rot problems as well. Also, too much grass under the winter snows create perfect habitat for mice and other rodents. It’s always annoying to find out that rodents have turned your beautiful lawn into the Holiday Inn over the winter break.
Another important step in winter preparation is the over-seeding of bare or thin spots in your lawn. By sowing grass seed in the autumn, you give the new grass a chance to establishing roots over the winter.
Fertilize Just Before Winter Arrives
It is also a good idea to give your lawn a final fertilizing before winter sets in. This final autumn fertilization promotes root growth, which in turn encourages a speedy bounce back and a lush growth come spring. It’s recommended that you use a fertilizer with slightly higher potassium content than normal. Potassium improves cold tolerance and enhances root systems. For example, a good fertilizer that will ensure a speedy green-up in the spring is our own Slow-Release Maintenance Fertilizer, with double the potassium of our starter fertilizer. It has a nitrogen/phosphorus/potassium (or NPK) formula of 18-1-8. Not only does it provide excellent spring green-up, but it is part of a new generation of environmentally friendly fertilizers. Organically based, this fertilizer is derived from aerobically composted turkey litter, hydrolyzed feathermeal, ammonium sulfate, iron sulfate, methylene urea, sulfate of potash and sulfur coated urea; ensuring minimal impact on the non-target environment.
Prepare Your Equipment
Finally, from personal experience I would highly recommend that you take some time during the winter months to get your landscape equipment in good working order. Whether this means a good clean up or a full service for your mowers and trimmers, I’ve found that by getting this maintenance done during the winter down time saves you from the headache of procrastinating until spring when everyone suddenly decides to take their mowers in for a service. So while your neighbor is waiting around for his mower to come back from the shop this spring, you’ll already be out enjoying the smell of freshly cut grass.