Protecting Your Lawn From the Winter
As fall sets in, nature puts on a magnificent display of farewell from long days and hot sunny weather. Temperatures dip and early morning dew appears on your lawn as daylight gets shorter. It’s easy to forget about your grass when brilliant red and gold leaves cover the green that’s beginning to return to your lawn after summer’s harsh browning.
But fall is not the time to neglect your lawn maintenance. In fact, the shoulder months of September, October and November is the peak period where your lawn needs you most. Most people think of holidays and football as winter approaches. Winterizing your lawn might not seem like a priority. However, knowing how to protect your lawn in the winter is crucial. Fall is the time when grass takes a leap of activity as it prepares to go dormant.
Lawn care in the fall can make it or break it for spring. Spring lawn care usually gets the highest attention, but knowledgeable groundskeepers and homeowners know that fall is the time to be thinking of spring when it comes to lawns. Protecting your lawn in the fall has the highest return for long-term, year-round lawn health. Lower light, cool fall temperatures and higher rainfall are nature’s signals for lawn grass to begin a final growth period before nodding off to sleep under a white blanket of snow. This is when your lawn needs protection.
The Importance of a Healthy Lawn
A healthy lawn doesn’t happen on its own. Bright, luscious lawns come from special attention given by caring keepers over the entire year’s cycle. That involves nurturing, feeding and protecting grass from disease, insects, drought and damage from all sorts of threats. Protecting your lawn and preparing it for winter is vital to its survival and prosperity. It starts with appreciating a healthy lawn’s importance.
Lawns are an important landscape feature. There’s nothing like a healthy green glow and the unmistakable smell of freshly-cut grass that shines and wafts about your front and backyard. Aesthetically, lawns do wonders to enhance your spirit and help with social harmony. They complement other plantings and earn verbal compliments over the fence from neighbors who admire and appreciate your healthy growing grass.
Lawns contribute more than personal and neighborhood pride. Healthy lawns that incorporate with other prosperous plantings like trees, shrubs and beds add significant value to your property. Nothing makes a better overall curb appeal statement than a well cared for property, which includes a healthy, manicured lawn.
And your lawn is excellent for the environment. Active, healthy lawns act as air scrubbers where they intake carbon dioxide and filter pollutants. Grass, like other healthy plants, releases oxygen back into the air. That’s vital for human, animal and birdlife survival. Your lawn is part of the ecosystem just as you are.
Lawn areas significantly contribute to sound reduction. Noise pollution is a big issue in urban areas. Grass has a tremendous ability to absorb sound whether it’s a high-pitched whine from an overhead plane or the low rumble of a passing truck. Lawns muffle human conversation, as well. That’s why so many enjoy spreading out on the lawn for a picnic or contemplating the world quietly.
On a practical side, lawns are a primary defense against soil erosion. Growing a blanket of grass ensures topsoil isn’t lost in water runoff or blown away by exposure to dry winds. Lawns act as an insulator to prevent groundwater evaporation. That’s self-serving as grass roots need to absorb stored water whether it’s natural from rain or artificially through irrigation.
In city sites, lawns do a marvelous job of mitigating heat. Just think of the difference between walking in bare feet in mid-day July on pavement versus cutting across the lawn. Urban heat dissipation is a serious problem in many areas and your healthy lawn does its part to cool the neighborhood.
Lawns do other important things overtop of climate control and aesthetically pleasing your family, friends and neighbors. Lawns provide security by creating distinct open zones where high-visibility deters unwelcomed intruders. Healthy lawns even provide safety by creating firebreaks. Have you ever tried setting fire to a healthy green lawn?
What Happens to Your Lawn in the Winter?
You’ll hear the expression that lawns die off in the winter then are reborn in the spring. There’s a myth that grass is completely dead with no signs of life while the ground is frozen and covered with feet of snow and ice. Then, like magic, once the melt happens, bare grass on the surface somehow has a re-birth and begins its lifecycle again.
What’s a rhizome, you ask? Good question. A rhizome is a crucial component of your grass plants. You might say it’s their brain or at least their communication center. They sit slightly below the soil surface and join the blades to the roots. Rhizomes are stems that grow sideways and produce both blades and roots. They mitigate what’s going on above the surface and below it. They are also directly responsible for overall plant health.
It’s fair to say that grass blades above ground die off in the winter. They’re gone and rot or decay like other expired organic material. But just below ground — even though they’re frozen and inert — your lawn’s rhizomes and roots are very much alive. They’ve only turned dormant. That’s the way nature has designed your grass. It’s able to survive harsh winter conditions and perennially come to life in the spring.
Understanding Lawn Winterizing
You can help prepare your lawn for winter by understanding what’s happening as it cycles through fall. In most areas across America, lawns prosper in the spring with a fast, ambitious growth. As summer heats up and dries out, grass enters a natural semi-dormant phase where it naturally conserves energy and water. But as fall starts in, your grass starts up and prepares itself for hibernation by storing energy in the rhizomes and roots.
This is why you’ll see the green come back in the fall with new growth. It’s stocking up for the winter, and this is the time when it needs your help in preparing your lawn for the winter. If you ask most lawn care professionals, they’ll tell you to spend more time protecting your lawn in the fall, rather than getting overly fussy in the spring.
It’s a myth that just because lawns seem to grow more slowly in the fall than the spring, they need less care come winter. It’s just the opposite that’s true. During the fall, your lawn is busy with energy absorption, storing nutrients and conserving moisture.
Helping your lawn to survive the winter and flourish every spring requires a commitment and attention to details. It’s about understanding the growing process and what your lawn requires at each stage to remain healthy. Fortunately, there are many people with great expertise in lawn care, and some are happy to share that information with you.
The Process of Protecting Your Lawn for Winter
The process of preparing your lawn for winter is fairly straightforward. It’s a matter of understanding what natural response your lawn has and why it acts the way it does. There is a step-by-step procedure with each step equally contributing to an overall healthy lawn.
But getting your lawn ready to survive the winter can be time-consuming. It’s also time sensitive. Grass plants naturally respond to temperature and photosynthesis. Depending on your area and climate conditions, lawns need attention at a precise time in their lifecycle. The calendar date is somewhat irrelevant. Grass responds proportionately to daylight, coolness and relative humidity.
It’s handy to know the acronym SON. That stands for September, October and November. These are the fall months when dew starts in the morning and the first surface frost appears. This triggers grass to prepare for shut-down, and the first thing you’ll see is a spurt of growth and brightness in color. Now it’s time to begin protective work.
One piece of preliminary advice is to work within your lawn’s critical time window. In most places, crucial timing is over a few weeks, not the three months. If you have a large lawn area, it’s wise to consider contracting a lawn maintenance company to prepare your lawn for winter properly. Experienced lawn professionals like those at Ricci’s Landscape Management have the knowledge, skills, materials and equipment to make your lawn’s winter treatment easier and save your valuable time. They’ll also give you a healthier spring lawn than you’ll have by working on your own.
Here are some tips for protecting your lawn in the winter and the steps you can take to care for your lawn:
Clean Up Debris
This first step in preparing your lawn’s winter journey is cleaning up debris. Large items like branches, logs, lawn furniture and kid’s toys left on the grass over winter have a devastating effect on grass health. Surface coverage blocks top-side air and creates large dead spots come the spring. These are unnecessary and easily preventable.
Piled debris on your lawn causes snow mold. This is an organic contaminant that seriously delays spring grass growth. It’s also a chore to remove and usually requires correcting the soil to a balanced pH state.
There’s a hot debate among homeowners and lawn maintenance professionals about leaves and needles. Both agree that fall tree droppings aren’t good for lawn health if left lying on the lawn over winter. They’re right, but there are two schools of thought on what to do.
Some groundskeepers opt for raking leaves and then disposing of them in a landfill or compost piles. Others see great organic value in recycling leaves just like they do with cut grass clippings. Many swear by spreading fallen leaves evenly and then chopping them into tiny pieces with a power mulcher. This creates an excellent winter blanket that’s nutritious and free.
Mow Grass the Right Height
Here we have more disagreement between grass maintainers. There’s a consensus that your lawn should have consecutive mowings in the fall right up until snowfall. Most agree you should cut shorter in the spring and fall as a best practice.
Where they headbutt is on how long to leave you grass and what the right blade height should be. You need to leave different species of grass at different heights before winter. There’s a standard one-third rule where you should never cut grass more than one-third of its standing height. That means grass that’s 3 inches tall should only have one inch removed, leaving the blade two inches tall.
It’s important to know your lawn’s makeup before giving it a close winter cut. The standard rule is leaving pre-winter grass between 1 ½ and 2 ½ inches tall, but that’s not a guarantee for optimal lawn health. Here again is why it’s worth consulting with a lawn maintenance company that knows your lawn species and can cut it to the right winter height.
Aerate Your Lawn
Aeration is one of the best possible things you can do to care for your lawn and prepare it for winter. Aeration involves boring holes into the soil and removing small plugs left to dry and decompose on the lawn surface. These portals to grass’ roots let water, air and fertilizer freely drain down to where they’re needed.
Pre-winter conditioning is all about root building for lawns. You should do the aeration late in the fall just before final you make cuts. This lets the roots, rhizomes and blades recover from aeration trauma and set themselves up for dormancy.
Proper aeration takes knowledge and skill. It needs a precise, uniform pattern as over-aeration can severely hurt your grass. There are manual aerators available, but they’re not effective for large areas. Power aerators that professional lawn maintenance companies own are the best way to go.
Fertilize Your Lawn Before Winter
Once you’ve cleaned your lawn of debris, cut and aerated it, it’s necessary to fertilize it before the cold and snow arrive. Proper fertilization takes knowledge and skill just like all other steps in preparing your lawn to survive over winter healthily.
Most homeowners are somewhat familiar with fertilizer ratings. These ratings are N for nitrogen, P for phosphorus and K for potassium. High nitrogen fertilizers are great for the spring because they promote leafy vegetation growth. But that’s not what you want for your lawn in the fall. Phosphorus is the best material for supporting root and rhizome growth. Make sure to use fertilizer with a high P-rating.
Another word on fertilizers is that some are water soluble and others are slow-release granular types. Most professionals recommend granular fertilizer high in phosphorus for winter preparation. If in doubt, get professional advice from Ricci’s Landscape Management — our experts know exactly what your lawn needs for the winter.Spread Cold Season Seed,
Spread Cold Season Seed, Rake and Water
It’s always wise to give your lawn new seed before winter. Blend cold season seed to germinate in cool soil and get a foothold before the entire lawn goes dormant. Some seed blends are available with fertilizer and antifungal coatings. They can be hand cast or applied with a spreader.
Make sure you give your fresh seeds sufficient time to sprout before winter sets them back. Two weeks before freezing is usually enough to let them root and start a short blade. When done within the entire winter preparation system of cleaning, mowing, mulching aerating and fertilizing there’s little left to do before winter.
All that’s required is just a little raking to spread everything and a minimal amount of water to make sure your lawn is ready for its long winter nap. Make sure you blow out your irrigation lines if you have an automatic watering system. Clean and put away your tools so they’ll be ready to do it all over in the spring.
Contract With a Professional Lawn Maintenance Company for Your Winter Needs
Ricci’s Landscape Mgmt. is your trusted lawn maintenance partner and will properly prepare your grounds for the upcoming winter. For over 20 years, Ricci’s has given exceptional customer service and quality work to people in the Chesterton, Crown Point, Munster, St. John and Valparaiso areas.
We provide a wide range of landscape services from protecting your lawn in the fall to designing and constructing some of the finest landscape features you can imagine. We build irrigation systems and maintain them. We specialize in lawn fertilization through the seasons. Ricci’s also builds outdoor lighting, and we even do mosquito control.
Something else that Ricci’s Landscape Management, Inc. performs is winter snow and ice clearing and removal. Our service includes snow plowing, snow hauling, sidewalk shoveling, snow blowing and sidewalk deicing & salting. Sign up now for full-service landscape maintenance and snow management.
Year-round, we’re here to help you have healthy lawns and safe walks. Call Ricci’s today at 1-800-595-4339 or contact us online to request a quote.