Winterizing Your Lawn
October 11, 2018
We all know that we need to water our lawns and keep them mowed in the summer to keep that healthy well-maintained look. But what to do when winter is just around the corner? Just before winter is when we have that last, hard push to get everything done so that we’re prepared for what we know is coming. Our lawns are no exception and they need to be included in the cold weather preparations.
Lawns need to be watered right up until the ground freezes. Plenty of water helps ensure the roots won’t dry out in our harsh weather. Extreme cold, which we do have by the way, has a very harsh, desiccating effect on plant roots, not just the leaves. Our soils are mostly fine-grained, clay soils which don’t allow water to penetrate easily or quickly. In order to get water down a simple trick can be used. Start by applying enough water to soak the ground, but not run off. The best way to do this is to apply water slowly, giving it plenty of opportunity to soak in. The rain and mist of the past week is a good example of slow irrigation, but it wasn’t near enough. When you think you are finished watering, move to another spot and give the first a chance to soak in well. When the second area is “finished”, come back to the first location and water again. Our soils need some preparation for the water to penetrate. The first soaking will open up the pores in the soil and allow water to penetrate easier. It is very important to water well right before the ground freezes to trap that last watering in the soil. On that point, if we have a warm spell, it is always a good idea to water your lawn and your other plants while the weather permits it.
I’ve had a lot of questions recently about fertilizing, primarily if this is a good time of year and what kind of fertilizer to use. The answer to the first is, yes, this is a good time to fertilize. In fact, if you had your fertilizer down last weekend, you are probably in great shape. The rain and mist would help the fertilizer penetrate into the soil where it will do the most good. If you missed the rain, hope is not lost. When you fertilize, just make sure to water it in well so you don’t burn the grass. For the winter, one of the most important nutrients is nitrogen. Ideally, late-season fertilization should be applied before the grass loses all of its green color. Make sure that your fertilizer is suited for cold weather application and doesn’t require warm temperatures to release its components. Fertilizing in the fall will help your grass green up earlier in the spring, improve shoot density, improve root growth, ant enhances the storage of energy in your grass to sustain it through the winter. If you’d had a soil analysis done, then you would have been told how much nitrogen you need in your yard. Otherwise, you are pretty much just guessing. At that point you’ll have to go by the manufacturer’s recommendations on the bag. Just remember, they don’t have a clue how much nitrogen your grass really needs. That’s why a soil analysis is so important. Right now I have to admit that I don’t get routine soils analyses either and my lawn does just fine by following the manufacture’s instruction. Yet I do check it every few years just to keep myself on track. Remember, there are other components in fertilizer besides nitrogen. Phosphorus and potassium play a key role in a healthy lawn, too. Phosphorus is critical to a healthy root system and potassium helps the grass to build thicker, stronger cell walls. A stronger cell wall helps the plant withstand extreme conditions: cold, heat, drought, etc. It also helps the plant absorb water as well as enhances its ability to withstand disease.
Pay attention to the three numbers on the fertilizer bag. The first number is the percent of nitrogen (by weight), the second is phosphorus and the third is potassium. Those numbers will give you a good idea what you need for your lawn so you can select the correct fertilizer for your situation. As always, if you have any questions, ask a Master Gardener. It’s what we do.