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How To Prepare Your Lawn for Winter: A Step-by-Step Guide

Posted on August 23rd, 2023

Winter is one of the most difficult times to care for your lawn. Frost, snow, and harsh temperature fluctuations are some of the challenges your yard will face. Without careful preparation, these factors can quickly deteriorate your lawn’s vitality and appearance.

Fortunately, preparing your lawn for winter doesn’t have to be daunting. Proper planning ensures your lawn remains vibrant, resilient and ready to flourish when the sun returns.

This guide explores the key steps to keep your lawn lush and disease-free during winter. We also cover common winter landscaping concerns you should watch out for.

7 Steps To Get Your Lawn Ready for Winter

Preparing a lawn for winter makes it easier to prevent disease and revive its lush beauty when spring arrives. Here are some of the basic steps you can take to get your lawn ready for the colder months:

Step 1: Clear Away Debris

Eliminate logs, leaves, branches and any scattered debris from your lawn. Piled rubbish obstructs sunlight and creates a damp environment that fosters mold growth and fungal diseases.

Step 2: Carefully Extract Weeds

Weed seeds can be widely spread during winter and compete with the grass for vital resources like water, light and nutrients.

Removing weeds before winter sets in lets you preserve your yard’s vitality all year. Using a high-quality herbicide can help you target weeds without hurting the rest of your vegetation.

Step 3: Cut the Grass Shorter

During your last few mows before winter, cut the grass to 1 to 1½ inches. This can help simplify aeration and compost measurement. Trimming the grass short can help prevent snow mold and promote deeper root growth.

Step 4: Apply Fertilizer

Applying fertilizer in late fall ensures enough nutrients for root growth and development. This reserve enables plants to survive through winter and thrive in spring. Insufficient levels of nitrogen and carbohydrates can weaken plant roots, making them more vulnerable to disease.

Step 5: Aerate

Excessively compacted soil may not be able to absorb water fast enough, causing it to pool on the surface. This can freeze cells and kill grass plants.

Aeration allows optimal water infiltration into the soil. It involves making small holes in the yard to loosen compacted soil. This lets air, water and fertilizers penetrate deeper into the ground and reach the plant roots.

It’s best to aerate four weeks before the first frost arrives. Doing so will help protect your lawn and promote robust root growth during harsh winters.

Step 6: Dethatch

As your lawn prepares for hibernation, dethatching helps ensure your turf gets the nutrients it needs to stay healthy until spring.

Use a rake or mower to remove the layer of dead grass, roots and other organic debris that has accumulated in your lawn. This layer, also known as thatch, blocks air, water, sunlight and nutrients from reaching the roots.

Step 7: Apply a Thick Layer of Mulch

Insulate the soil and plant roots by applying a layer of mulch. This will help regulate soil temperature and shield plant roots from harsh winter conditions. Organic mulch can be made from manure, grass clippings, leaves, moss, pine straw, wood chips and tree bark.

Common Winter Landscaping Problems To Watch Out For

Root Damage

Significant root damage can occur due to extreme winter weather. Shallow-rooted trees and evergreens, such as holly, rhododendron, maple, junipers and cherry laurel, have a low tolerance for temperatures below freezing. If temperatures drop below 15°F, these plants with frozen roots may wilt and decline.

Add mulch or lead filler into your landscape bed or garden to insulate the soil and safeguard plants from root damage. This will reduce the chance of soil temperatures falling below freezing.

Sunscald and Frost Cracks

Shrub and tree maintenance are essential, but excessive pruning can also be unsafe. Over-pruning a tree’s canopy can result in sudden exposure to excessive sunlight, leading to sunscald.

Sunscald can occur throughout the year, but the damage inflicted in the winter can be incredibly intense, though not immediately apparent. Signs like sunken, discolored bark, followed by cracking and peeling, might only be noticeable during spring or summer when new growth emerges.

Sunscald has the potential to develop into frost cracks, driven by temperature fluctuations prevalent in winter. During the day, the tree warms up and initiates sap flow. However, when temperatures drop below freezing at night, the sap within the trunk freezes. This abrupt expansion and contraction of sap-laden layers may result in wood separation and cracking.

If left untreated, frost cracks on trees can expand over time as they experience recurrent damage. Trees like ash, aspen, beech, birch, maple, oak, willow, and apple are more likely to get frost cracks.

Winter Burn

Winter burn predominantly affects broadleaf evergreens. It arises due to freezing temperatures, strong winds and low soil moisture. These factors trigger moisture loss through transpiration faster than the roots can replenish it from the frozen ground.

Winter burn causes foliage to brown at the tips of branches moving toward the center of the plant. Leaves with symptoms often fall off from spring to mid-summer as new foliage appears. In severe cases, the entire plant may experience browning and die.

When preparing your lawn for winter and possible browning, planting evergreens in early spring or late summer is best. This allows roots enough time to grow before the ground freezes.

Also, avoid pruning evergreens in late summer or early fall. This can only prompt new growth that won’t have sufficient time to mature and withstand harsh conditions before winter arrives.

Snow Mold

Snow mold is a fungal disease that appears when a thick layer of snow covers the ground before it has completely frozen. This creates a moist and suitable environment for fungal growth. Snow mold typically affects cool-season grasses. However, signs of damage may only appear in spring.

Snow mold is often characterized by straw-colored circles, which may vary in size from a few inches to several feet across your lawn. The patches can range from gray-white to whitish-pink appearance, depending on the type of snow mold that has affected your yard.

Fortunately, there are several ways to protect your lawn from snow mold:

  • Trim the grass to a lower height before the first snowfall.
  • Rake up all the leaves and debris to minimize moisture retention.
  • Apply a preventive fungicide to prevent snow mold.
  • If snow mold is detected, contact your local landscaping company to conduct repairs and reseeding procedures.

Ice Storms

Ice storms can significantly damage shrubs, trees, and grass. The ice’s weight can alter plant shape and cause branches to bend, break or even snap off. Ice storms can also cause roots to break or begin lifting from the soil, weakening your trees and causing them to topple.

Regular pruning is vital in preparing a lawn for winter and potential ice storms.

Regularly assess your trees and shrubs and clear your lawn of dead, weak, or excessively grown branches. Keep a close eye on branches that extend over your roof or might fall and cause injury or property damage.

Maintain a Healthy Lawn All Year Round With Turf Unlimited

While preparing your lawn for winter requires hard work, it can help you save time, money, and resources in the long run. Proper winter lawn care leads to fewer problems and reduced maintenance needs come springtime.

At Turf Unlimited, we will happily handle all your winter lawn care needs. Trust us to have the knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to keep your lawn in excellent shape 365 days a year. 

Our team specializes in maintaining healthy and gorgeous landscapes. We offer a full suite of lawn care services, including grub control, overseeding, fertilization, sprinkler installation services, and pest control solutions. 

Get in touch now to learn more about our services.

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