As the year winds to a close, it’s time to prepare your lawn for a long winter’s nap. During this dormancy, when temperatures frequently dip below 40 degrees, warm season grass is holding on to water and nutrients to survive. If the crown stays alive at the soil level, your grass will bounce back healthy and lush next spring – but only if you prep it properly.
In fall, when leaves start to rain down, it’s time to round ‘em up and move ‘em out. Leaves block sunlight and once they’re moist, they can be a hospitable home to disease and insects. While it might be tempting to rake them into endless piles, consider mowing and mulching instead.
Need an extra hand with winter yard prep? Consider adding a bagger attachment to your zero-turn mower.
Thatch is the natural layer of debris that falls to the soil bed including cut grass, leaf mulch, flowers, etc. A thin layer of thatch provides insulation, but a thick layer will block out life-giving sun rays and possibly lead to snow mold. Not only will snow mold (a harmful fungus) kill healthy grass, but it also releases spores that can irritate allergies. De-thatching can be performed with a basic yard rake. Important - Be sure to remove the resulting thatch by placing it in a compost pile or bagging with other lawn debris.
After a long season of use, your lawn can become compact. At the very least, compacted soil can stunt new growth by depriving grass of nutrients and moisture, at its worst, it can lead to excess weeds. Aerate when lawn is moist but not wet. Aeration is a simple method of poking holes in the earth to loosen soil and prepare it for seed and fertilizer. This can be done manually with garden tools or with a host of popular lawn aerators available at most hardware and home/garden stores.
Fall is the best time to pull existing weeds and treat new growth. Common weed perennials move food storage to their roots during cooler weather, so herbicides (even vinegar) quickly spread to the core of the plant, killing them more efficiently.
Finally, after your last low mow of the season and before the ground becomes frozen, apply a winter lawn fertilizer. This process works two-fold to feed new grass seed and keep it strong until spring. And although lawn fertilizer may seem like a no-brainer, it actually does require some knowledge about the pH level acidity in your soil. If this is your first time applying fertilizer or you’re not sure what type of grass you have, head to your local lawn and garden store or nursery for a soil test kit.
Once you’ve taken all the steps to winterize your lawn, there is one more important thing to do – hop on your zero-turn mower and mow low. During the last few weeks of fall, start gradually lowering your mower blades until the grass height is about 1.5 - 2 inches. Long grass can be troublesome in winter because it can get matted, trapping mold and fungus underneath.
Remember, you and your lawn are a team. If you take a few steps to be proactive this winter, it will reward you with a healthy comeback this spring.