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Late Fall and Winter Lawn Care Tips

Lawn being fertilized with a lawn spreader.

In most parts of the country, grass goes dormant or grows very slowly in late fall and winter, but it's still a good time for some basic lawn care maintenance. No matter where you live, you can take steps to prepare your lawn for spring.

Care for the South

Winter lawn care is a fact of life in the South. Warm-season grasses will go dormant and turn brown in cooler areas of the South. If you want a green lawn during winter, overseed with annual ryegrass in October. Water the grass three times daily until it is at least an inch tall. Mow once a month throughout winter.

In warmer regions of the South (Florida, Texas, Southern coastal regions), grass (in particular St. Augustine and Bermuda) will stay green and growing as long as you water it. Mow the lawn with your blade set ½ to 1 in. higher in winter than summer.

All lawns in the South benefit from extra irrigation during winter. Give the lawn ½ to 1 in. of water per week unless it rains.

Care for the Midwest and Northeast

In warmer areas of the Midwest and Northeast, lawns will look their best during cooler fall and spring weather. Fertilize for the last time in October in preparation for winter. Mow the grass every other week until it stops growing, which could be as late as November. Then mow one last time with the mower blade set to 2 in.

What you do around the lawn during winter can affect its health in spring and summer. Before snow falls, use stakes to mark the edges of your driveway and sidewalks so that when you plow, you will plow those areas and not the lawn. Shovel walkways first and then spread ice-melting chemicals, so that you don't throw the chemicals on the lawn, which will injure the grass. You can also use sand or kitty litter in place of chemicals. Lastly, wait until the snow melts and the ground drains to walk on the lawn. If you walk on a "squishy" lawn, you'll compact the soil, which will hurt the grass.

Care for the Mid-Atlantic

The Mid-Atlantic region is a transition area for lawn care. If your lawn is planted primarily with cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, fescue or perennial rye grass, it will stay green and will grow (albeit slowly) throughout winter. You don't need to fertilize after October, though. If the lawn begins to look raggedy, mow it. Lawns planted with warm-weather grasses will go dormant and turn brown during winter. You can over seed Bermuda grass and zoysia lawns with annual rye grass. Water over-seeded lawns once a week during winter. Water non-over seeded lawns once a month during winter. Dormant doesn't mean dead, unless you don't water all winter!

The grass might look like it's not doing anything, but it is still alive. Give it good care during winter and you'll be rewarded with lush, green growth in spring.