snow on grass

Winter Lawn Care for Cool-Season Grass

Winter is the season with the least amount of lawn care duties. However, if you don’t adjust your grass care regimen, you could end up with an uneven lawn in springtime. Worse over, you might have to plant new seed or lay new sod to replace the lawn that fell victim to winterkill or disease. At Simple Lawn Solutions, we want to help you make sure that doesn’t happen. Ensuring a healthy winter season for your lawn begins with identifying your zone, and your grass.

Cool Zone

The area most affected by the harsh winter season is the cool zone. The cool zone is the northern half of the United States. In this area of the country, most lawns contain cool-season grasses. These grasses can survive harsh winters better than their counterparts, warm-season grass, which is why they are used on lawns across the northern U.S. Even if you don’t live in the cool zone, your lawn may have cool-season grass! If you live in the Transition Zone, in the middle of the United States, and often have cooler temperatures year-round, maybe some snow here and there, you most likely have cool-season grass.

heavy frost on grass and a leaf

Cool-Season Grass

For those that live in the Transition Zone, you may still be unsure whether you have warm-season or cool-season grass. Here are a few of the most common cool-season grasses to help you identify your lawn:

  •       Fine fescue
  •       Kentucky bluegrass
  •       Perennial ryegrass
  •       Traditional tall fescue
  •       Turf-type tall fescue

What to Know About Cool-Season Grass

As mentioned, cool-season grasses can withstand harsh winters better than other types of grass. They are very versatile, adaptable grasses. The best temperatures for cool-season grass to grow are between 65 degrees and 80 degrees. As soon as the summer weather gets too hot, or the winter weather gets too frigid, your cool-season lawn will stop growing. But that doesn't mean your lawn is dead; it is just dormant! It’s important to adapt your grass care through the winter to keep a healthy lawn.

Winter Dormancy for Cool-Season Grass

Your winter lawn acts differently than any other season. In the wintertime, your lawn enters "dormancy," which is basically a long sleep. Your winter lawn moves all of its nutrients from your final fertilizing session into its roots, where it waits out the winter weather. While homeowners with warm-season lawns fear their winter lawn may die, your cool-season lawn has a great chance of survival. During dormancy, your winter lawn may look dull or lose its green, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead. The most important part of your lawn care is preparing your lawn to enter a healthy dormant state in winter.

Prepare for Winter

While cool-season grass can survive cold temperatures, any winter lawn is at risk for disease and death. The critical time in your lawn care is not actually during the winter; it’s during the fall. During winter, you won’t be able to control the weather or how your lawn responds. With your lawn in a dormant state, you might not even be able to see the actual damage winter has done to your lawn until springtime. Choose a grass care plan that prepares your lawn for winter. It’s the only way you can control the outcome of your lawn when growing season returns.

Aerate & Dethatch

Winter means snow, and snow creates extra pressure on your lawn, leading to severe compaction. Before that happens, give your lawn some room to breathe by aerating it in the fall. When you aerate your lawn as part of your grass care, you are allowing air, nutrients, and water to move freely throughout your soil to reach your grass roots. Aerating your lawn before winter season will prevent having a compacted lawn by the time winter is over. Dethatching your lawn is also an essential step in lawn care, as clumps of leaves and thatch can become a breeding ground for disease. The more even and debris-free your lawn is entering winter, the better!

Mowing Height

The closer you get to the winter season, the more your lawn care needs to adapt. That includes mowing your lawn! Everyone loves a short, chopped green lawn. But having a short lawn in the winter exposes your grass to the harsh temperatures and leaves your lawn unprotected from winter damage. To prevent that from happening, mow your lawn higher in the fall to prepare for winter.  We recommend anywhere from half an inch to three-quarters of an inch higher than usual.

plants and grass with fresh snow

Fertilize Cool-Season Grass

Unlike warm-season grass, the first fertilizing session of the growing season for cool-season grass is in the fall. Choosing the right fertilizer can be a make-or-break step in your lawn care. We recommend using the 16-4-8 Complete Balanced Liquid Lawn Food for fertilizing, as it gives your plants the nutrients it needs for its fall growing season, and delivers a balanced formula so your grass can stow the necessary macronutrients away for winter. Follow up with a Lawn Booster to maximize the growth and health of your lawn before the winter sets in.

The Risks of Winter

Winter season brings cold weather, snow, and serious risks for your lawn. If your lawn’s needs have been neglected leading into the winter, you could risk disease. The fungi that commonly infect cool-season lawns are red thread and microdochium patch. These fungi thrive in cold and wet conditions, and if they spread to your entire lawn while those conditions remain, they could kill your lawn completely! Your grass care must take diseases and fungi into consideration when preparing your lawn for winter.

Watering in Winter

In the winter, you should decrease the amount of water used in your grass care. We recommend spreading out your watering sessions to two or three times a week, adding up to a total of 1 inch of water. Water pooling is a primary concern during the winter. Since your winter lawn is dormant, it isn’t soaking up the water as often as a growing lawn. That can lead to puddles of water on your lawn, suffocating your lawn and breeding disease. Adjust your watering schedule to the weather. If there is more rainfall or snow, significantly decrease the amount of water on your lawn, or don't add any more water during those weeks. One more important tip: all watering in the winter should be completed with a hose, sprinklers should shut down during the winter!

Note on Sprinklers

Most cold zone states see freezing temperatures many times during the winter. If you have water in your sprinkler systems during those days, your pipes could crack from the expansion of the ice. For those reasons, we recommend shutting down your sprinklers for the winter. Even if you turn off your sprinklers, there is still sitting water close to the ground, so make sure your drain your sprinklers to avoid cracked pipes! You also want to insulate your backflow preventers and valves if they’re above ground, but consult the owner’s manual for your sprinklers for exact details.

Winter Months

The hard part is over! Lawn care to prepare your winter lawn is mostly complete in the fall.  Your grass care for your winter lawn during those winter months is all about monitoring your grass. How much water is it getting? Is there a lot of debris on your winter lawn? Are there signs of disease? By paying attention to your lawn, you will be able to adapt your grass care plan. There may be some weeks you are out there removing fallen leaves or branches all the time, and others where you don’t have to water or tend to your lawn. It’s all about creating the safest environment for your winter lawn to remain dormant, so it can come back growing even and green!

Snow Misconception

Many homeowners get anxious about their lawn when the snow starts to fall. Let us put your worries to rest: snow can be good for your lawn! Snow creates a hydrating barrier between your grass and the sharp chill of winter temperatures. If your grass was exposed to that cold chill straight on, you might have a dead lawn pretty soon, so leave the snow to protect your lawn. One of the biggest mistakes in winter lawn care is plowing snow on your grass. That force is going to create an uneven lawn when the snow finally melts!

Snow Mold

Snow has some benefits for your winter lawn, but when the snow melts is when your lawn is in danger. Snow mold is a fungus and disease that can severely damage or kill your lawn. Because this happens when the snow melts, it usually attacks lawns in late winter, sometimes even early spring if you live in a very snowy area. Two types of snow mold can bring dangerous consequences to your winter lawn: gray snow mold and pink snow mold. Gray snow mold attacks the blades of your grass. While it’s the less damaging of the two, your grass will be aesthetically damaged. Gray snow mold is known to stick around through the summer. Pink snow mold attacks the roots of your winter lawn, and can completely wipe out significant patches of your lawn. If pink snow mold takes hold of your winter lawn, you’re looking at a lot of seeding and sodding in your spring grass care to get your even lawn back.

Preventing Disease for your Cool-Season Grass

If you have dealt with winter lawn disease before, or want to do everything in your power to prevent it, it’s time to re-visit your lawn care for winter preparations. When you fertilize in the fall, instead of delivering the 16-4-8 Complete Balanced Liquid Lawn Food, try a formula that focuses on stress. Our 3-18-18 Liquid Lawn Food has high doses of potassium and phosphorous. Potassium keeps your grass roots strong so that it can hold onto those nutrients throughout dormancy.  Potassium aids in water regulation which is important during times of stress.

Ice, Ice, Ice

When ice comes for your pathways and driveways, it’s easy to throw down rock salt or ice melt and trust it will be melted. But remember that your lawn often borders those pathways and driveways, so the ice melt you just put down is trickling onto your lawn! You don't want your lawn to have burnt edges because of ice-melting salt. If you really want to be careful, try breaking up the ice manually first to see if you can avoid rock salt or chemicals altogether. But if you live in a very snowy area, you may have no choice but to use a chemical reaction. Avoid compounds like calcium chloride and choose calcium magnesium acetate instead. This will allow you to break up the ice so you can walk safely without harming your winter lawn!

Icy Water

We’ve expressed how important the amount of water on your lawn can be in your winter grass care. Too much water can do so much damage! Well, if you ice melt off the walkway or driveway...where is it going? Your lawn. Keep an eye on where that water goes and adjust the watering schedule of your lawn care accordingly. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to get rid of existing standing water without possibly damaging your lawn further. Instead, find all the problem areas and see how you can fix it for the future. Maybe you need to level out your ground to avoid any low points, or you need to implement a French drain into your landscaping. Observe your winter lawn to help create the best lawn care plan for future winters.

Winter with Cool-Season Grass

The majority of your grass care for your winter lawn is about preparation. Once your preparation is complete, there’s not much to worry about, especially with cool-season grass. Cool-season grass can withstand harsh winters, year in and year out. As long as you help your lawn maintain the perfect balance of water during the winter months, it will come back to life in the spring, lush and green!

Sticking to your lawn care plan in the fall can save you a lot of time and effort when winter arrives. Avoid having to plant new seed and lay down new sod in the spring by staying disciplined with your grass care. With our help at Simple Lawn Solutions, you can help your lawn have a safe and healthy dormant season.

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