9 Ways to Prep Your Lawn for Winter

The big chill is coming, and while you might be braced for it, is your lawn? If you don’t take the necessary steps to prepare your lawn for the harsh winter, which are normal in cities like New York City, all your hard work the rest of the year could go to waste. Some tips may vary depending on where you live and how cold it gets, but everyone can benefit from a little pre-freeze preparation. Look over these tips and see if your lawn could use a little love before the winter.

  1. Figure out if you should fertilize:

    Most lawn experts recommend fertilizing a couple of times in the fall before the first freeze hits. This is most important for cool-weather grasses, like Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass, so lawns in the Southwest, such as Tucson, Mesa, and Albuquerque, or Deep South, such as Atlanta, with grasses that go dormant in winter typically don’t need to fertilize after September. For cool-weather grasses, experts suggest a nitrogen-rich fertilizer in September and either a repeat application at the end of October or a phosphorus-rich fertilizer around Thanksgiving. Ask your local lawn care professionals what is best for your area and your grass.

  2. Reseed:

    In many places, autumn is the best time to refresh your yard with reseeding. The heat of summer may have left you with a patchy lawn or you may want to give a new lawn time to take hold before the snow. If you’re short on time before the cold comes, choose a grass that germinates quickly (less than a week compared to a few weeks for some types of grass) and make sure to follow the directions you were given with the seed. This will give you the best chance of a beautiful lawn when spring arrives.

  3. Dethatch it:

    Thatch is that layer of junk that builds up between blades of grass as the grass grows and stem, leaves, and roots fall off. While it can protect the roots of your lawn, too much can keep necessary water, air, and nutrients from getting to the soil. Reseeding with a thick layer of thatch can cause the seeds to take root in the thatch instead of the soil, making them more vulnerable and more likely to die. Measure the thatch in your lawn; if it’s more than a half-inch thick, you should dethatch it using a thatching rake.

  4. Cut your grass to the right height:

    It’s easy to get lazy with mowing once the weather starts to cool off, but you should keep cutting your grass until it appears to stop growing. If you go over it with a mower and there aren’t any clippings two weeks in a row, you’re probably done mowing for the season. You want to cut your grass to a height somewhere between two and three inches. Shorter than two inches leaves the grass vulnerable to drying; higher than three inches can cause the grass to bend on top itself and can retain too much moisture.

  5. Take care of your leaves:

    You have two good options when it comes to removing leaves from your lawn: rake them up or turn them into mulch. The important thing is that you do something with the leaves, because they can turn into a heavy layer that blocks air and traps moisture. Raking leaves removes the problem completely (and gives your kids fun piles to jump in). Mowing over leaves when they’re crunchy turns them into mulch that can put nutrients back into your soil. Use some for your flowerbeds or vegetable garden as well. Just make sure you mow frequently enough to break up any newly fallen leaves, and rake some up if you feel like the layer is getting too thick.

  6. Remember your sprinklers:

    Even after you’ve taken the time to do all this work to keep your lawn healthy, forgetting to turn off your sprinklers could leave you with a huge mess. If your sprinkler turns on and then the temperature hits freezing, your grass will be covered with a sheet of ice! Also make sure to drain your sprinkler lines so they don’t burst.

  7. Don’t prune your trees:

    If you have any trees in your front yard, you’ll want to prepare them for winter, as well. While you should cut off pieces of dead wood so they don’t become homes for bugs, pruning in the fall isn’t advised. This includes pruning plants and bushes, too. Pruning stimulates new growth, but your plants are about to go dormant for the winter. This weakens the plant and could even kill it. Instead, prune in the middle of winter or during the spring.

  8. Plant some bulbs:

    If you want bulb flowers that bloom in spring in your flowerbed, you need to plant them before the ground freezes. While the time period for planting these varies by location, October and November are normally good months to put your bulbs in the ground. Figure out what garden design you want, and dig away. Not much more has to be done for these plants besides planting the bulb.

  9. Look back on what worked:

    For gardens or flowerbeds (and maybe even for your grass), the fall is a great time to look at what worked and what didn’t work. Were some plants getting too little light? Too much water? Are they a good size for their location? If something didn’t work, fall’s a great time to transplant it, and if you want a new type of grass, autumn’s the perfect time for reseeding.

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