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Putting Your Lawn to Bed for a Long Winter's Nap

by Kristin Marino, All About Lawns Columnist

Don't expect to turn on your sprinklers in the spring and have a lush green lawn in no time. You should first follow these steps for winter lawn maintenance and preparation.

  1. Pick Up a Rake and Make Those Dead Leaves Covering Your Lawn Disappear. Leaves left on your lawn will lock out the light and air. A thick layer of leaves can actually smother your lawn.
  2. Give Your Lawn a Good Last Mow. Once your grass becomes dormant, you can lower your cutting height to one inch for warm-season grasses and two inches for cool-season grasses. Leaving your lawn longer than two inches may trap moisture, setting the stage for diseases to develop in the spring.
  3. For Your Final Mowing of the Season, It's Okay to Leave a Little Mulch. Leave clippings and leaves on your lawn; not a blanket, just a sprinkling. Mulch can return nitrogen back into the soil over the winter and spring.
  4. Give Your Lawn Some Breathing Room. Your lawn may have become impacted over the summer with heavy use. This can restrict movement of air and water, and any lawn fertilizer you apply won't be able to penetrate the soil if it's compacted. Aerating your lawn in late fall will give it a chance to breathe. You can rent a good aerating tool for about $100.00, or you can pay a lawn maintenance service to do it for you for about the same price, without the hard work (still hard work, but for someone else).

  5. How would you like to improve your lawn?
    • Make it greener
    • Eliminate patches
    • Less weeds
    • Make it thicker
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  6. If You Still Have Sparse Patches by Winter, Seed Bare Areas. Cooler weather will allow the seeds to germinate without weeds encroaching. Aeration will improve germination. Your lawn should fill in before the ground freezes.
  7. Your Lawn Has Had a Summer and Fall to Accumulate Dead Grass, Roots, and Other Debris Known As Thatch. This stuff usually accumulates between the blades and sod, and can keep air and water from reaching the soil. There are good dethatching tools available for this task, or you can have a lawn maintenance service do this for you, as well.
  8. To Strengthen Your Lawn and Prepare it for its Debut in Spring, Apply a Sustained-Release Nitrogen Lawn Fertilizer by Mid-to-late November. Just because your lawn is asleep, doesn't mean it should be starved. With cooler soil, nutrients break down slower. You want to use a sustained-release product to be sure your lawn gets the nitrogen it needs as well as the phosphorous, potassium, and partially blended sulfate required for quicker green-up in the spring. There is a Scotts fertilizer made especially for winterizing. Use a fertilizer spreader for even results.
  9. Give Your Lawn One Last Good Dose of Water. This will help activate the lawn fertilizer.
  10. Drain Your Sprinkler Lines and Close Down Your System. This will avoid the heartache of a frozen, and therefore broken, water pipe. In the event of a dry winter, use your garden hose to give a light sprinkling to your lawn every three weeks or so, just enough to keep it moist.
  11. While Your Lawn Becomes Dormant, Weeds Still Have a Funny Way of Cropping Up. If this is a problem, apply a broadleaf weed control product to your lawn. Grab weeds as they crop up whenever possible throughout the winter.

Follow these lawn maintenance tips now, so that when your lawn turns green in the spring, your neighbors will be turning green, too - green with envy, that is.

About the Author
Kristin Marino has been a homeowner for ten years and really does have the greenest lawn in her neighborhood. Kristin holds a bachelor degree in English from the University of Nevada.

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