Helping Your Lawn Survive the Winter: A Step-by-Step Guide

The winter is coming – in some states, the biting winds and first frosts are already here. Just as you need to pull out your long sleeves and crank up the heat to survive the coming cold season, your lawn needs the right preparation to safely go dormant under the chill and snow.

If you’ve never prepared your lawn for the winter – and if you are tired of investing in all-new sod every spring – here is a straightforward, step-by-step guide to fall lawn care to help you tuck your lawn in for the next few freezing months.


Keep Mowing

While your lawn is growing, you should be mowing. Throughout the year, you want to avoid mowing your lawn too short or lopping off too much at once; doing so could send your lawn into shock, causing vast swaths of it to die. Worse, cutting with a dull blade could leave the blades of grass open to infection from bacteria or fungi, which will certainly devastate your lawn.

Even in the fall, you should be mowing every 10 to 14 days. You can usually stop after all the leaves have left the trees. Continuing to mow during this period keeps your grass looking green and fresh while it is still visible, and it sucks up all the dead leaves that could compact and smother your grass under the winter snow.

At your last mowing, your grass should be at .75 inches tall for cool climates or 1.5 inches tall for warm climates. This leaves enough length to keep your grass well-protected for the rest of the cold season.

Rake, Rake, Rake

If your lawn mower doesn’t adequately remove leaves from your lawn, you will need to rake them up yourself. Leaves don’t decompose quickly, especially in the winter when the bugs and bacteria responsible go dormant. That means any leaves left on your lawn will sink into the soil under the pressure of snow or rain, and they will prevent the grass roots from getting enough air. In the spring, you will likely need to aerate your lawn anyway, but this job is made much easier if you get rid of the leaves in the fall.


In the fall, you should by “winterizer,” not fertilizer. This is a special blend of fertlizer’s common nutrients that prepares grass to go dormant but survive the oncoming harsh temperatures. Specifically, you should look for fertilizer with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K) in the formula 13-25-12. The extra phosphorus will stimulate root growth during the winter, making your lawn more resistant to disease and ready to spring back when temperatures rise.

Control Pests

Fall can be damp in most places, which means your lawn is likely to get an influx of creepy crawlies. Pests like stink bugs and mosquitoes impede your ability to enjoy your hard-earned outdoors, while others like grubs and slugs can actually start killing your lawn before winter hits.

While there are some natural paths to pest maintenance, the fastest way to keep your lawn safe is to hire lawn experts to spray pesticides. When it comes to the health of your loved ones (including your lawn) you shouldn’t hesitate to use the most powerful methods for removing pests.

Slow the Water

Your lawn always needs water – that doesn’t change with the outdoor temperature. However, due to the moistness in the air and on the ground, you probably don’t need to run your irrigation as frequently as you do in the heat of summer. Plus, you don’t want to run your sprinklers and have the water turn into ice on your lawn or freeze inside the hoses and pipes. Thus, you should try to slowly cut back on the amount of water you throw on your lawn as the temperature drops.

Leave the Snow

After all that talk about preventing the suffocation of your lawn via dead leaves, you might be anxious about leaving any snow on your lawn during the wintertime. However, plowing your lawn is actually a big mistake; counterintuitively, that blanket of snow is keeping your lawn warm and safe, allowing its dormancy to continue uninterrupted. By peeling back that layer of snow, you are exposing your lawn to the crisp, drying winter air, which will desiccate the blades and leave dead patches come spring.

The most important lawn maintenance doesn’t always occur in the season you expect. If you want your lawn to be easy in the spring and summer – when you will most take advantage of its beauty – you need to prepare in fall for the long, hard winter ahead.

Erin Emanuel