How to Prepare a Lawn for Winter

Now that leaves are falling and temperatures are dropping, many people are buttoning up their homes and learning how to prepare a lawn for winter.

We’d like to share some good cultural practices that can make your lawn and landscapes healthier and better prepared to deal with during those cold months of November and December.

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How to Prepare a Lawn for Winter

We’ve prepared answers to 7 questions that will teach you how to prepare a lawn for winter.

1. Why are fertilizer companies still putting down treatments in November and December?

In the Cincinnati area, it is recommended that you apply an application of high Nitrogen fertilizer while the grass is going dormant. This is done to feed and strengthen the roots. During fall season, the roots are actively growing even though the top growth has mostly stopped. 

Late fall is the best time to heavily feed the lawn, and in-turn, feed the roots. The best way to achieve a great looking lawn in spring and summer is to feed and build the roots in fall. Many people wait until spring to think about their lawn and begin fertilizer, but the best time is actually fall. Don’t overlook this important feeding!

2. Should I mulch my leaves, bag them, or just ignore them?

Mulching your leaves is a good cultural practice as it adds nitrogen and organic matter back into the soil profile. If the leaves are extremely thick, this may not be possible though. 

Blowing the leaves out of your yard is the next best thing. While it doesn’t add any nutrients to the soil, it makes the lawn and landscape much neater and aesthetically pleasing. 

Do not (try not to) let your leaves remain on your lawn over the winter; it’s messy, does not look good, and by spring, will increase the thatch in your lawn. Thatch is the primary vector in which lawn diseases such as red thread and damaging insects can attack your lawn, while leaves left laying on top could choke out and damage the lawn.

Read more about what you can do with fall leaves here.

3. Do I really need to sharpen my mower blade?

Expect to mow your lawn 30 to 35 times a year if you live in the Cincinnati area. Keeping your mower blades sharp is important. 

A dull blade will “rip” the grass rather than cutting it. This stresses the grass, which makes it much more susceptible to various diseases. A stressed lawn will often turn brown until it recovers, and stressed lawns are not as effective at crowding out weed growth, etc. 

We recommend homeowners sharpen their blades 1 to 3 times during the mowing season. It also depends on the size of your lawn, the more grass you mow weekly the more often the blade should be sharpened.

4. Does grass seed put down over the winter actually grow?

Yes! This is called dormant seeding and it can be quite effective. If you missed the fall seeding window, you can seed your lawn over the winter. The key is to wait until the ground freezes before seeding. 

If seed is put down while the ground is cold, but not frozen, the seed may begin to germinate and the new seedling will likely die off when freezing temperatures do arrive. Putting the seed down when the ground is frozen will allow the freezing temperatures and/or snow to help incubate the seed until spring. 

As always, when seeding, good seed-to-soil contact is crucial for good germination rates.

5. Can you lay sod in the winter?

If your lawn has bare spots, now is a good time of year to put down sod. This is known as Dormant Sod and is often overlooked. 

Laying sod now requires the least amount of work or maintenance compared to any other time of year.  Simply put down the sod. That’s it. No need to water or carefully mow. 

Over the winter months the sod will have plenty of moisture to naturally anchor its roots. By spring, the sod will be completely anchored and ready to be fertilized, mowed and treated like the rest of the lawn.  

Another advantage of Dormant Sod is that you can repair a very small area and have success. In spring and summer, if you try to use a single piece of sod (or less), your chance of success is near zero even if you water religiously. 

However, Dormant Sod allows patching of small trouble spots that will take less than a single piece and success is easy. Just put it down on bare soil and walk away.

6. Is it OK to trim bushes and trees over the winter?

Winter is a great time to do some pruning. Many plants can be most effectively pruned over the winter. If severe pruning is needed, winter is the best time to achieve this task. We refer to this type of aggressive pruning as rejuvenation pruning. 

Deciduous bushes — such as Burning Bush, Lilac, andViburnum — can be successfully rejuvenated with an aggressive pruning in winter. For instance, a six foot Burning Bush can be cut down to about three feet. This will promote new growth in the spring and tends to keep the plant healthier for a longer period of time. 

Keep in mind though that some plants don’t respond as well to aggressive winter pruning. For example, overgrown Boxwood or Taxus can be rejuvenation pruned. However, the plant’s recovery will take much longer than most deciduous plants. 

It could take a few years to see recovery on some evergreens, and for that reason we do not typically perform rejuvenation pruning on evergreens. 

7. When should I cut back my perennial grasses and other perennials?

You can cut back your grasses and perennials anytime between fall and early spring. 

Many people think perennial grasses look their best in fall/winter and like to wait to cut them until March. Waiting to prune them is fine although they can get a bit messy and start to blow around in December or January. 

Feel free to get out on a nice winter day and prune them back. Hedge trimmers and a tarp are the best tools for this task. The grasses can also be duct taped or tied together and then cut to make the task easier. 

More Tips to Winterize Your Lawn and Landscape

Contact American Landscapes for Assistance

If you have any questions about how to prepare a lawn for winter, or if you would like to hire a service for landscape design or lawn care and maintenance, contact us here or call us at 513-947-8727. You can also get a free estimate here.