As the summer heat cools down to a brisk and chilly autumn, winter will soon be upon you and your lawn. To ensure your lawn survives the harsh winter, there are steps you should take to maintain your lawn during the cold.
Feed your lawn
Feeding your lawn in the fall and then again just before the ground is frozen will help prepare it for the coming spring. Cool weather grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, and perennial ryegrass should be fertilized twice--the first time in mid- to late September, and the second time just before the ground freezes (usually around Thanksgiving). Have your soil tested to make sure you're giving your lawn the nutrients it needs. You'll learn the soil's pH and nutrient levels, and the tester will give you recommendations for fertilizers.
There are exceptions for certain United States regiona, however. Areas with lawns comprised of Bermuda, Zoysia, St. Augustine and centipede grasses go dormant in the winter and don't need fertilizer. These areas include the Deep South (Georgia, Alabama), south Texas and the Southwest.
Repair damage from the summer
The fall is the perfect time to repair your damaged lawn. Reseeding while racing the cold can be tough, so in areas where it will be cold quickly, put down perennial ryegrass which will germinate in four to seven days--unlike two to three weeks for bluegrass. A top layer of about a quarter-inch of compost will help the seeds take root.
Clean up before snow
It's important not to leave debris like leaves or toys out on the lawn. The lawn can be smothered, creating disease conditions inviting insects, rodents and other damaging pests to your yard.
When mowing you lawn for the last few times before snow, lower the blade between .5 inches to 1 inch so the grass will be shorter before the snow falls. Tall grass can end up smothering itself, leaving it at risk of damage from freezing and thawing. Be careful not to cut the grass too short, or it will leave the crown of the plant exposed to extreme weather.
In the winter when everything is snow covered, you might not think about the grass underneath. Excessive foot traffic can cause the lawn to become compacted, which will slow the growth in the spring.
Put down your shears and trimmers in the middle of autumn. Pruning your plants promotes growth but doing so when they are preparing to go dormant is troublesome. However, dead branches and wood should be trimmed before the winter so insects have no place to hide.
If you have a pond or other water feature on your lawn, make sure they are winterized properly before the season's onset. Autumn is a good time to change out pond equipment. During the winter, the pump shouldn't be run all the time because it disrupts the thermal layers in the water. The fish use this to keep warm when they settle near the bottom in "hibernation." Bring the water pump and filter inside during the winter and loosen fittings to prevent cracking when it's below zero outside.
Consider a de-icer or a bubbler for your pond to prevent the top layer from freezing over entirely. You should also start to let up on feeding the fish in your pond. Continually feeding them can cause them to become ill. When the temperature is around 60 degrees F, switch to a lower-protein food that digests easier. Once the temperature hits 50 to 55 degrees F you can stop feeding them altogether.
Before putting your garden tools away for the winter, take a few minutes to think about what went well and what didn't that year. This will help give you a better idea of where to start in the spring after your lawn has thawed.