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How to Prepare a Lawn for Winter

A healthy lawn is a happy lawn. Taking care of your grass isn't just a warm weather activity. And before cold weather season arrives, make sure you and your grass are ready. Keeping in mind some simple lawn care tips will not only ensure that your lawn is prepared for the winter months, but will come back in early spring and summer looking better than ever.

Keeping your grass in good shape doesn't have to be complicated. From fall fertilizing to ensuring the even distribution of nutrients in the dirt, pick a few or all of the following tips to set your lawn up for great spring and summer season next year.

Rake Fallen Leaves, Consider Your Compost Pile

There's a reason that raking is a staple of fall. If you've got leaves piling up on your lawn, then you could be doing your grass a disservice. Letting leaves stay on your lawn through winter weather could allow them to become saturated by freezing rain and snow.

When leaves become wet, they can suffocate your grass and invite disease. If you don't want to rake, then you can always mulch the leaves. Shredded leaves push nutrients back into the soil and help repair any thin spots. Any leaves that can not be broken up should be removed. Rake and add to a compost pile, or take to your local recycling center.

Mow- Break Out Your Lawn Mower One Last Time

Before you get into overseeding and aerating, you should take a look at the length of your grass. Longer grass will be harder to treat, and won't take to fertilizer as well as well-trimmed grass. Mow grass down to 1 to 1 and a half inches. This will not only make your lawn easier to aerate, but it will also let you get a better picture of the condition of your grass.

Dead spots that could have been concealed by longer grass will be easier to see, and you'll be able to get a good feel for how much compost and treatment is needed.

It's also good to be careful how quickly you mow an especially long lawn. Taking down grass too quickly can stress the plantings. Instead, raise the mower blade and gradually lower the grass. Help your lawn recover quicker by taking things slow and cutting it down over a few mowings.

Aerate

Once leaves are removed and the lawn mower has been put in the garage for the fall and winter, it's time to prepare your grass for fertilizing. When soil is damp, core aerate your lawn with a handful of good walkthroughs. This should not be done on dry grass. A wet lawn is more difficult to aerate because the tines of the core aerator will have difficulty penetrating dry, hard ground.

Some people choose to aerate their lawn in spring. While this is effective, fall aeration gives you the benefit of avoiding stepping on soil plugs all summer long. Once it's done, fill the holes with the shredded leaves or other compost and fertilizer using your rotary spreader.

What's the point of aerating?

All this talk about aerating, you may be wondering what it even is? Come late fall, and before the first hard freeze and first frost, many people get their lawn ready for winter season by essentially poking a bunch of holes in the dirt. But why? The easy answer- relieving soil compaction.

Compacted soil has too much nitrogen, and too many solid particles for the space. This compaction prevents proper circulation of nutrients, air, and water. Without these things, plants, including your yard, can't thrive. It also pulls organic debris that have been trapped beneath the surface of your lawn up to the top instead of letting them remain under and impair root growth. For more in-depth information, consider performing a soil test.

Soil compaction happens in areas of frequent foot traffic where soil is repeatedly pressed down. This can stunt root growth. The less packed the soil, the deeper roots will grow. The result? A healthier lawn that will come out the other side of winter ready for the next growing season.

Top Dress and Fertilize

When your yard has been raked and the soil has been broken up and aerated, it's time to top dress and fertilize. This is an essential part of winter lawn care that adds nutrients back into the soil which prepare your lawn for winter before cold weather descends.

To top dress your lawn, spread compost or your raked and mulched leaves over the top of your mowed lawn. Like all plants, grass might need some extra TLC, and that care starts from the ground up. Choose your fertilizer carefully. Many fertilizers are harmful to pets or children. If this is a concern, choose an organic fertilizer, or keep a watchful eye on dogs and kids as the ground absorbs the added nutrients.

After rain falls, or your lawn is thoroughly watered, nutrients will soak down into the dirt. Previous aeration will increase the penetration of these nutrients, leading to a healthier root zone, and hardier plants.

Grass Seed: Spot Treat and Overseed

If you've bothered to prepare your lawn at all for winter, you've likely skipped straight to this step. Many homeowners assume that they can simply scatter grass seed in the fall before winter sets in, and that come spring, they will be rewarded with a lush, green carpet for a lawn.

Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work that way. Skipping straight to this step may yield some new growth in spring time, but you will see far better results preparing your lawn in full. This means taking the time to not only remove fallen leaves and core aerate, but also to mulch those leaves, and find a great fertilizer. All of these actions in combination allow you to plant your cover crop successfully.

When overseeing, pay special attention to spots that are bare, but don't only focus on these areas. Seed your lawn anywhere that it seems brown or sparse. Be careful not to oversee areas that don't need it.

Plant Cool Season Grasses

If you're struggling to make grass thrive, even during it's growing season, you may be trying to cultivate the wrong grass for your area. Not all grass can grow in all climates. Cool season grasses are varieties of grass that are meant to endure a seasonal cycle. They have adapted to grow well despite significant changes in moisture, temperature, and will last you until the next growing season each year.

Stow Lawn Furniture

Your lawn isn't the only thing that may require winter protection. Winter and outdoor furniture don't mix. Preparing your property for winter doesn't stop with greenery. If you've got a great set of lounge chairs or a dining table, make sure to bring them in come late fall. New spring growth won't happen easily if patches of your lawn remain compressed over the course of winter.

Move your furniture indoors to your garage, or onto hardscaping like a patio or deck. If your table and chairs are subject to water damage or rust, cover them or move them indoors completely. If you experience a wetter fall in your region of the country, taking wrought iron or untreated wood even earlier could be in your best interest.

Remember Garden Soil and Garden Beds

Speaking of care than extends beyond your lawn, make sure you consider your garden soil when you consider your winter preparations. Cleaning up garden beds will make your life easier when the spring season arrives.

Throughout the summer and into fall, be sure you are regularly pulling weeds both in your lawn, but in your garden as well. Once done, break up and till your garden soil. Plant any bulbs, and add back any necessary nutrients into the garden with an appropriate fertilizer.

Like your favorite outdoor furniture, make sure you stow garden tools and fencing for the winter. Forgetting about your hand rake under a foot of snow will make for a surprise discovery come spring time.

Trees and Shrubs

What's that saying again? Trees are people too? Well they aren't people, but they are plants. And therefore, they deserve some special attention in fall to make sure they come back happy and healthy some spring.

Winter critters can wreak havoc on your favorite plant, including both shrubs and trees. Keep them safe by wrapping valuable or delicate trees or shrubs in mesh or appropriate fabric. This protects the foliage, but also prevents breakage caused by heavy winter precipitation.

Add an insulating weather by spreading soil around the base. This acts as a temperature regulator and protects perennial plants and their root systems from a sudden, deep freeze.

When should you prepare your lawn for winter weather?

This process gets easier as you get more familiar with your own properties yearly needs. The timeline for pre winter lawn care for your yard could be different from your neighbors depending on what plants you have, whether or not you have a compost pile, lots of trees, or garden beds to care for.

Overall, winter protection starts much earlier than October or November for much of the United States. You can help set yourself up for the cold months by making sure that you are caring for your lawn during warm months. Get a head start by staying on top of raking and cleaning out organic matter and dead grass.

Pull weeds routinely, make way for new growth, and address any potential concerns before the ground freezes. All in all, September is the best month to get started on prepping your grass. Before the month is up, get to work aerating your entire lawn, and treating bare spots with compost and seed.

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