Winter lawn care might sound like a contradiction in terms, but in fact, there are plenty of ways to show your lawn some love during the colder months. Although yard work might be the last thing on your mind when snow is falling, if you take the time to tackle some simple lawn chores over the winter, you’ll be rewarded with an even healthier and more vibrant lawn when spring rolls around.
Key tasks to put on your winter lawn care to-do list include:
If you didn’t have the chance to aerate your lawn over the summer, don’t let falling temperatures stop you—aerating can be done at any time as long as the ground isn’t completely frozen.
Aerating involves making holes through the turf and into the underlying soil to provide air for grassroots and improve drainage. This increases nutrient uptake by the grass and helps prevent damaging winter problems such as crown hydration (a condition in which water is taken up by grass on a warmer day, only to freeze inside the plant’s cells and rupture them when temperatures drop) and snow mold (fungal infections that can weaken and kill grass plants while staining the lawn pink or gray).
Because different trees drop their leaves at different times, chances are you’ll need to keep raking well beyond the end of autumn. Leaving wet leaves on grass all winter can kill turf crowns, which means you’ll have bare patches on your lawn come springtime, and it also increases the likelihood of other problems such as water buildup, snow mold and other fungal growth, and pest infestation. Just make sure you rake gently if the soil is moist, as grass pulls up more easily in wet conditions.
If you don’t want to spend all summer weeding, it’s a good idea to check your lawn regularly for weeds during the winter. Some sturdy and tenacious weeds take advantage of colder weather, when not much else can grow or thrive, to firmly establish themselves—and before you know it, they’ve spread all over your lawn. By removing them as soon as they appear, you can stop them from gaining a foothold.
Seeding and sodding
Did you know you can spread grass seed on your lawn during the year’s coldest months, even if there is snow on the ground? Taking the time to do this in winter will give you a big head start on repairing bare patches before spring. You can also apply sod to existing bare patches to help prevent soil erosion and compaction. First, choose a day when ground temperatures are above freezing, then simply lay sections of sod over the bare patches and water well.
Minimizing soil compaction
Speaking of soil compaction, it can be a real threat to your lawn in winter if you live in an area that gets lots of snow. The sheer weight of heavy snow piled on your lawn presses down with considerable force on the soil below, which can cause dry soil, poor nutrient uptake by grass, and general drainage problems. To prevent this, avoid piling snow up on your lawn when shoveling sidewalks and driveways; if you have nowhere else to put shoveled snow, spread it around so that the weight is more evenly distributed. You can also minimize soil compaction during the winter (or at any time) by not parking cars or heavy equipment like snowblowers on the lawn, and by keeping foot traffic off.
Protecting your lawn from salt damage
Putting salt or other de-icing products on sidewalks and driveways is one of the hallmarks of winter in many regions, but take care that these products aren’t spilling over onto your lawn. When salt leaches into soil, it prevents nutrient uptake by the grass and creates bare spots on the lawn, causing a condition known as physiological drought. To prevent this, avoid scattering de-icing products too close to the edges of your lawn, and choose products made with calcium chloride or other sodium chloride alternatives whenever possible. If salt does come into contact with your turf, give your lawn a deep watering as soon as ground temperatures are above freezing to flush any remaining salt out and minimize damage.
Maintaining and storing lawn equipment and supplies
Because lawns and gardens need so much care themselves during warmer months, the tools and supplies used to provide that care are often overlooked. Winter is a great time to restore the balance and give your key gardening and landscaping equipment a good overhaul. For your mower, clean and tighten the machinery, making sure to repair or replace parts as needed. Sharpen the mower blades so that they will cut cleanly and avoid damaging the grass, and check your height adjustment gear to ensure that the cutting deck can be easily raised and lowered. As for supplies such as fertilizer and grass seed, store them in a safe, dry place, preferably out of freezing temperatures.