Winter lawn care is not on the minds of many homeowners, but it should be. Taking a few steps in the winter can set a yard up for a healthier and more beautiful spring. Below you can find some simple but effective winter lawn care tips that will save you time and headaches down the road when temperatures rise.
Tip #1: Aerate
Aerating a lawn is a perfect winter maintenance item that homeowners should do. Over time, the soil becomes dense and tightly packed. Breaking up the clumps of dirt and loosening compacted areas is crucial in having a healthy lawn.
Aerating a lawn allows for water and nutrients to make their way deeper into the soil. Moist, nutrient-rich soil encourages healthy turf growth. Lawns more easily consume fertilizer spread onto aerated soil.
If a homeowner is looking to overseed their lawn in the spring, aerating will properly prepare the lawn during the winter. For small to mid-sized lawns, we recommend using a push spike aerator such as Agri-Fab’s 16-inch aerator.
Tip #2: Dethatch
Thatch is a layer of decaying organic material that builds up above the soil but below the blades of the grass. Grass clippings, roots, mulched leaves, and stems are the main components of thatch.
Thatch is healthy for grass as it retains moisture and provides protection from traffic and pressure. Too much thatch can be a severe problem for turf, however. If the material does not decay fast enough, it continues to build up over time.
Homeowners should dethatch their lawns if the layer is thicker than ¾ of an inch.
Winter is an ideal time to dethatch a lawn as most grasses are dormant in the cooler months.
Dethatching in 4 Easy Steps
- When you cut your lawn for the final time of the season, trim it to its lowest safe height. Cutting the lawn short will make the dethatching process faster and easier.
- Use a dethatching rake to dig out the thatch for the lawn. A dethatching rake will look similar to a metal leaf rake, but the tines will be longer and stiffer. Dig deep into the turf as you rake and apply enough pressure to break up the dead material. Make sure not to rake up large amounts of live grass as you work the rake. If you do not have a dethatching rake, we highly recommend The Groundskeeper 2.
- Remove any remaining thatch or debris that may be lying on top of the grass.
- Water the lawn.
The lawn will appear weathered and stressed for 7-14 days after dethatching. Water will help the grass to recuperate and regrow. It is not recommended to use any fertilizer containing high amounts of nitrogen after dethatching in the winter as this may encourage unwanted growth.
Note: See our winter lawn fertilizer article for more tips.
Tip #3: Clear Leaves, Ice, and Debris
Dormant grass still needs sunshine, air, and nutrients to survive. Debris that covers grass during winter keeps the blades from absorbing sunshine and nutrients. Clear leaves, pine straw, and sticks from the turf. Clearing off all debris that falls onto the lawn ensures the grass gets the nutrients it needs.
If you live in an area with snow and ice in the winter season, you are no stranger to the damage they can do. Snow blocks sunlight from reaching the blades and roots of the grass. Ice and snow lead to dead spots in lawns and compacted soil; both issues will make a successful spring green-up very difficult. Make sure to clear snow and ice carefully from yards.
Tip #4: Stay Off Grass
Winter is already a stressful time for lawns and walking on the turf can make it even harder. Don't forget that winterized grass is not nearly as hearty as grass in the summertime.
Avoid walking or parking on the grass during the winter months. The added stress and pressure of excessive use leads to damaged or bare areas that will have to be repaired.
Tip #5: Conduct a Soil Sample or pH Test
Winter is an excellent opportunity to test the soil beneath a lawn. If issues are identified at the end of the growing season, homeowners have all winter to correct them before growing again. Many homeowners overlook the importance of soil health when it comes to a lawn.
A soil test identifies a host of issues that are hiding deep within the soil. Some of the most common problems that soil and pH tests uncover can be found in the graph below.
Any corrections to the chemistry of soil should be done in stages. By making minor improvements over time, you avoid avoid overcorrecting and damaging your lawn.
Multiple soil samples will need to be tested throughout the process.. You can find more information on soil sampling and testing here.
|Soil Issue||Solution / Possible Fix||Product Recommendation|
|Low Soil pH||Add fast acting Lime to the soil||Pennington Fast Acting Lime|
|High Soil pH||Add Sulfur to the soil||Hi-Yield Soil Sulfur|
|Low Iron Levels||Add a Chelated Iron Product to the soil||Southern Ag Iron Granules, 5 Pound|
|Magnesium Deficiency||Add a Magnesium Sulfate Product to the soil||Hi-Yield Magnesium Sulfate|
Tip #6: Avoid Salt Exposure
Use salt and melting agents to dissolve salt off walkways and driveways during the winter. Salt is hazardous when applied near the grass, however. Therefore, use a hand spreader to reduce the risk of overspreading salt to unwanted areas.
If salt encounters grass, water the area immediately. Diluting the salt will help to mitigate the risk to any grass that it may encounter. Also, avoid piling shoveled snow that may contain salt onto lawns.
Calcium Chloride salt substitutes are safe to use around grass and are more efficient in melting dangerous snow and ice. Lawn & Petal recommends using National Blue Ice Melt instead of salt.
Tip #7: Don’t Forget to Water Your Lawn
Even in the cold winter months, grass still needs water. The minimum requirements for water may be reduced in the winter, but water is still an essential nutrient for lawns.
You should ensure that turf receives anywhere from an inch to an inch and a half of water per week. If you are located in an area where snow and ice are common, do not water the lawn. Adding water during freezing temperatures can lead to ice burn and damage. Let the melting snow provide precious water to the turf as temperatures begin to warm.