As the cold weather looms, homeowners’ thoughts will naturally turn to maintain a healthy lawn during winter.
Because fall is the time warm-season grasses enter dormancy, it’s also the time to give your lawn the extra care it needs if you want a green lawn throughout the colder months.
To guide you, we have compiled a comprehensive list of winter lawn care methods that will keep your grass green and be the envy of all your neighbors.
Table of Contents
Mechanically Aerate Your Lawn
Your yard’s soil tends to become compacted over time, especially due to the summer heat, which bakes moisture out of the ground.
Compacted soil will inhibit root growth and make it difficult for your grass to draw the water and nutrients it needs to thrive during the winter months, so the solution to this problem is to aerate your lawn late in the summer or early in the fall.
Mechanical soil aerators range from simple, handheld manual types to larger tractor-like machines or large attachments, which you secure to the back of your riding lawnmower and are pulled along behind you.
They come in three main categories:
Learn how to aerate your lawn by hand in our guide at the link.
As the name suggests, spike aerators have solid tines or spikes that poke holes into the ground without removing any soil.
They are less effective for more compacted soil because they can create more compaction.
Slice aerators are similar to spike aerators in how they don’t remove any soil, but they slice down into the ground, creating pathways for air, water and nutrients to reach the roots.
Unlike spike aerators, they do not cause any further compaction.
Core Or Plug Aerators
Preferred by lawn professionals, core aerators have rows of hollow tines which remove plugs of soil from your lawn and deposit them on the surface, where they break down over time.
The plug size varies depending on the width of the tines.
The larger the tines, the more the soil is loosened.
Use A Liquid Aerator
Thanks to scientific breakthroughs, liquid lawn aerators are becoming more effective and popular.
Liquid aeration loosens compacted soil and creates microscopic pores which absorb and retain water and other nutrients.
Overall, this approach is regarded as superior to mechanical methods because the liquids aerate and permeate all of the soil, rather than just the limited locations corresponding to the position of mechanical aerator tines.
It’s safe for all grass types and removes the need for aeration rakes or powered aeration tools.
It’s microbe powered – dozens of naturally occurring microbes loosen the soil to allow for better water penetration and airflow.
Overseed With Winter Grass
Overseeding with cool-season grass is one of the best solutions to keep your lawn green throughout the winter.
The cooler temperatures and warm soil early in the fall provide the perfect conditions for germinating winter grass seeds and give the seedlings plenty of time to become established before the onset of the really cold months.
Water the ground generously (6-8″ inches) several days before seeding.
Mow the lawn a little lower than usual and remove grass clippings so the seeds can reach the soil.
Choose a cool-season grass such as Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, or a mixture that can withstand cold conditions.
For shady areas, use fine fescue or, for drought-prone areas, use tall fescue.
If you prefer ryegrass, perennial ryegrass is preferable to annual ryegrass because you will avoid reseeding every fall.
Ryegrass tends to overgrow Kentucky bluegrass, so when using a mixture of the two, use a seed ratio of approximately 75% to 95% Kentucky bluegrass (i.e., 5% to 25% of perennial ryegrass by weight) to yield a ~50/50 mixture of the two types of grass.
Before overseeding, spread the entire yard with a starter fertilizer high in potassium and phosphorus.
This will give the seedlings a jump start after germination and promote strong root development.
Over Seeding And Germination
For best results, the use of a seed spreader set on the highest setting is recommended.
Typically, to overseed use 10 LBs of seed per 1000′ square feet of lawn, so for a 5,000′ square foot yard, you will need 50 LBs.
After seeding, cover the seeds with mulch or seed topper to protect them, then water 2-3 times per day for 5-10 minutes each to keep the seeds moist.
Avoid overwatering because this can lead to fungal growth, resulting in the breakdown and decomposition of grass seeds that haven’t germinated or established proper roots.
Depending on the grass chosen, the seeds can take from 5 to 30 days to germinate.
Ryegrass typically takes 5-10 days, fescue takes 7-14 days, and Kentucky bluegrass lasts from 14-30 days, depending on conditions.
After the seedlings reach about 1″ inch tall, begin watering once a day, gradually reducing to 2-3 times per week.
It will take 2-4 weeks after germination for the new winter grass to grow tall enough to need mowing (4″ inches tall).
After the first mowing, reseed any thin or bare spots generously by hand.
Weeds are persistent and relentless.
They will compete with your lawn for water and vital nutrients and will choke the growth of your desirable cool-season grasses.
They are particularly damaging during the winter, so remove them as soon as they appear.
Weeds can either be removed manually using a weeding tool or through the use of weed-specific herbicides.
If using a weed-specific herbicide, use post-emergent weed killers to remove existing weeds at the end of summer and pre-emergent weed killers early in the fall to prevent new weed growth during the winter.
Our favorite option is Bonide Weed Beater Complete.
This product takes pre-emergent and post-emergent control of grassy and broadleaf weeds by killing the leaves down to the root.
Just don’t use bleach, even though it kills weeds.
Learn more with our answer to what bleach does to grass.
Remove Leaves And Other Debris
Before and after seeding, remove any leaves which accumulate on your lawn in the fall, especially wet leaves, which should be removed within a few days.
Leaves will prevent the sunlight from reaching your seedlings or new grass and will inhibit or choke growth.
Another option is to mulch your leaves and mix them with a nitrogen fertilizer before seeding.
The fertilizer will enhance the decomposition of the mulched leaves to provide additional nutrients for your winter grass and promote top growth once your seedlings are well established.
Continue to keep your lawn clean and free of debris during the winter months.
If leaves, pine needles, or other debris accumulate on the surface, your grass will not receive the light and moisture it needs.
Using a rake or leaf blower to clean your lawn regularly will reduce the risk of fungal diseases and brown spots.
Fertilize Your Lawn
There is some disagreement about fertilizing your lawn during winter.
Some websites recommend fertilizing once in the fall with a high nitrogen fertilizer then not fertilizing again until the spring to avoid snow mold.
However, other sources recommend fertilizing your lawn with a starter fertilizer (described above) before overseeding to jump-start the seedlings and promote strong root growth.
Others also suggest that nitrogen fertilizer can still be used in the winter before a freeze or frost if you miss the fall window.
This will strengthen winter roots, which will help top growth and keep your grass green throughout the season.
Speaking of fertilizer, check out how long Scotts Weed and Feed takes to work.
Continue To Water Your Lawn
Watering your lawn throughout the winter is essential for maintaining green grass, especially if you live in an area that typically has dry winters.
However, in other locations, due to higher precipitation levels and slower evaporation of moisture at winter temperatures, your lawn may require less frequent watering during the winter season.
Experts recommend cutting your watering schedule in half during the cold months.
If yellow or brown spots begin to appear in your lawn, gradually increase your watering frequency to solve this problem.
Avoid Mowing When Grass Is Wet
Avoid mowing your lawn in the winter when it is wet.
Mowing wet grass can damage the roots, cause the cut to be uneven, and even tear your grass blades.
This can place your lawn at risk for fungal infections or outright kill it.
Allow the lawn to dry, wait until the temperature is over 40° degrees Fahrenheit (4° C), and set your mowing blade, so you only cut the grass by one-third of its length.
Raise Your Mowing Height
Refrain from mowing your new winter grass until it is at least 4″ inches in height, and raise your mowing height to promote deeper roots and insulate it better against the cold.
Avoid allowing it to grow too tall, as this can result in matting.
Typically, 2.5 “-3” is considered an optimum height for winter grasses because it’s not long enough for matting or snow mold to be high risk, but it’s not too short to withstand the colder temperatures.
When mowing during winter, always use a grass catcher, so the clippings are not spread all over the lawn or rake after mowing to remove them.
Use A Lawn Friendly De-icer
Regular table salt, rock salt, and sea salt are all sodium chloride, a grass killer.
If you use salt to de-ice your driveways and walkways, you run the risk of any runoff killing sections of your lawn.
Salt runoff is the most likely reason if you notice a dead spot anywhere along a paved area.
Examples of lawn-friendly de-icing products include:
- Calcium chloride
- Magnesium chloride
- Potassium chloride
The best choice is calcium chloride because it will melt ice even at very low temperatures (down to -20° degrees Fahrenheit or -28° C) and is the safest of the three chemicals for grass and other desirable plants.
Another option is to sprinkle sand, sawdust, or kitty litter on the ice, to provide traction when you walk on it.
None of these options will harm your lawn, and you won’t have to wait for the ice to melt.
Avoid Walking On Your Lawn
Avoid walking on your lawn if it’s very cold or it’s covered with snow.
At low temperatures, particularly if there is frost or ice, walking on your grass will break or damage the blades.
Similarly, even if there is no snow, tromping on it when it is very cold and wet will cause significant damage and inhibit new growth.
To keep your lawn green and in the best condition possible during winter, reduce lawn traffic as much as possible.
Minimize Soil Compaction
Remove Objects And Outdoor Furniture
Leaving heavy objects such as outdoor furniture or children’s toys on your winter lawn will block the light, compact the ground and turn the grass brown underneath to produce dead spots over time.
Furthermore, the dormant warm-season grasses in these dead spots are unlikely to grow back in the spring.
Avoid Piling Up Snow Or Parking Heavy Vehicles
The sheer weight of shoveled snow on your winter lawn may cause soil compaction, which leads to undernourishment of your turf and bare spots.
Whenever possible, avoid shoveling snow onto your winter lawn, or at least spread it out evenly to reduce the problem of soil compaction.
Driving or parking heavy vehicles on your winter lawn is also devastating to its health for the same reasons.
Chip off Ice
Remove large shards or sheets of ice if they appear on your lawn following cold snaps or during freezes.
Although following the steps in this guide can help strengthen your winter grass against cold conditions, ice sitting on your lawn for long periods can cause the blades of grass to become brittle and break easily.
Manually removing ice by chipping and raking off gently can prevent long-term damage to your winter lawn.
Use Turf Colorant
If all else fails and you have a brown lawn, use a turf colorant to give it the appearance of lush, green winter grass.
Turf colorant, also known as grass paint, will give your lawn instant curb appeal.
Simply apply it to any dormant grass, dead grass, or brown spots using a pump or lawn pressure-sprayer.
Turf colorants will not harm your grass; when you mow your lawn and fertilize it again in the spring, real green grass will grow up in its place.
We like Green Canary Environmentally Safe Green Grass Paint because it’s eco-friendly and specifically designed to be safe for pets, children, and highly sensitive or allergic users.