How to Care for Your Lawn in the Winter

By Beth Krietsch

Although you may not want to hire a full-service lawn care service to do any lawn work in the winter, many homeowners tend to neglect their lawns until spring. Cold temperatures may tempt you to stay indoors and avoid yard work, late fall and winter are crucial times to give your lawn some much-needed care. The payoff is a beautiful lawn ready to be enjoyed come springtime. This guide outlines the steps you should take to care of your lawn this winter.

Note that much of the work required to keep your lawn healthy during the winter and beyond must happen in the fall. Check out our guide to fall lawn care for good advice on keeping your lawn in good condition late in the year.

Winter lawn care steps

1. Aerate

To keep your lawn healthy through the winter, you’ll need to aerate it in late fall. Aeration is a way of penetrating and breaking up the soil to allow key nutrients to reach deep into the roots. 

2. Fertilize

Some say that winter is the most important time of the year to fertilize. Fertilize your lawn in early winter to replace nutrients lost during the hot summer months and deliver much-needed nutrients throughout the colder season. Early-winter fertilization will keep your lawn well-fed even if you get snow coverage later in winter.

Apply fertilizer a week or so after the last mowing of the year, which for many falls in late November, around Thanksgiving. This varies by climate and may need to happen earlier or later.

3. Mow

If you live in a cooler climate (like the Northeast, Midwest, or Northwest), mow your lawn before but as close as possible to the first frost. You can check the likely date of your first frost with the Farmer’s Almanac Frost Dates Calculator.

Your lawn should be short when winter arrives to deter pests and protect new growth. In warmer areas, like Florida and southern California, you’ll be able to mow your lawn throughout the winter.

Above Snow mold, though it doesn't usually cause long-term damage, can create brown patches in otherwise healthy grass

4. Avoid snow mold

Snow mold is a grass- and plant-killing fungal disease that forms between snow and unfrozen ground, and it tends to arise after snow melts late in winter. Snow mold looks like gray or straw-colored circular patches of grass on your lawn following a late winter snow melt.

Though snow mold rarely causes long-term damage, it’s very unsightly. Here are steps you can take to prevent snow mold.

  • Rake and mow the lawn throughout the fall and up until the first frost. You can even rake beyond this point if there’s no snow on the ground. Clumps of leaves that remain on the lawn throughout the winter encourage snow mold growth and attract pests.
  • Avoid using high nitrogen fertilizers, which can promote mold growth.
  • Break down large piles of snow so that they melt quicker. Large piles of snow sitting stagnant for long periods of time rarely do any favors for your lawn’s overall health. Do not use salt to melt snow on your lawn. This will dehydrate your grass.

5. Keep your lawn clear

Lastly, keeping your lawn clear of debris and protected from heavy traffic are crucial to winter lawn care.

  • For the best plant and soil health come springtime, rake fallen leaves (when snow isn’t present) and remove lawn furniture, toys, and other objects from your lawn.
  • Discourage foot traffic, especially when it creates a well-traveled path day after day. This can kill growth below and leave you with bare patches come spring.
  • Be careful when shoveling—tossing salty snow on your lawn can dehydrate and kill grasses and plants as it melts.

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