There’s not a lot of outdoor maintenance to perform during the colder months of the year. Most warm season lawns go dormant and the areas farther north are usually covered with snow. Weather conditions are too cold for plants to actively grow at this time. There are still a few projects you can complete to prepare for the upcoming spring season, though. Take a look below to learn about a few ways you can set your lawn up for success.
1. Service Your Lawn Mower
During the winter months, it’s important to take preventive care of your lawn mower before resuming a regular mowing schedule. Doing this improves the mower’s lifespan and performance. It will also save you time and money repairing a damaged mower or spending hours going over your lawn with a dysfunctional mower. For example, you may need to sharpen your lawn mower’s blades so that it neatly cuts the grass instead of “whacking” it and opening up the grass to opportunity for disease. Your mower also requires an oil change every 50 hours of running it. Take care of your mower now before the warmer months arrive so that you spend less time in the hot sun. Read more in Winterizing Your Lawn Mower.
2. Level Your Lawn
Leveling out a bumpy or uneven lawn carries a lot of benefits, and it’s something you can do while the weather is cold. Homeowners who level their lawns usually have some sort of drainage issue. Leveling a yard will reduce standing water, which we talk about further down in this article.
This project also eliminates a lot of threats of disease and helps your lawn absorb more water. A lot of homeowners aren’t always sure how to level a yard in the first place. There are two main ways to complete this project: 1) Leveling your soil and preparing for new sod installation, or 2) applying a layer of topsoil without removing any grass. The second option is usually the easier of the two choices. However, if you are about to install new sod and want to level your yard, it is important you follow the steps in the first option. In both scenarios, you will add topsoil, which contains healthy, organic matter that improves the soil’s health, structure and water holding capacity.
3. Watch Out for Standing Water
Standing water can be a huge problem in home lawns because it is so unsanitary and extremely harmful to lawns. Standing water has the potential to damage your home’s foundation as well. Your grass won’t be able to thrive underwater and it can eventually damage your grass’s root structure. It can be an even larger issue during the winter if you receive a lot of rain or have a lot of melting snow. Creating a slope, leveling your lawn or using some form of drainage system will really help with this. Some drainage systems include ditches, catch basins or drains.
4. Install Sod
Yes, you have the opportunity to install sod during the coldest times of the year—but this widely depends on where you’re located. If you are located in US Ag Zones 8b–11, you should be clear to install sod during the winter. However, if you live outside of these zones, we recommend waiting until it starts to warm up some more. Laying sod in the winter carries a few benefits because it requires so little maintenance while it is dormant. There’s no mowing or fertilizing and very little irrigation is required.
Dormant sod is not dead grass, it’s just “sleeping”, so it can’t absorb a lot of nutrients found in fertilizer either. However, you will want to make sure the grass receives a small amount of water to stay alive. A coating of water will also serve as a protective layer from colder weather as temperatures will freeze the water surrounding the roots instead of the roots themselves.
It should be known that you can get away with installing sod during the winter in US Ag zones 8b–11. Installing sod in the winter is a great way to prepare for lush, beautiful growth come springtime. Read The Benefits of Laying Sod in the Winter for more information. Be sure to also check our guide on how to install sod if this is a project you are thinking about.
5. Prune Ornamentals and Trees
A lot of lawn care professionals suggest that late winter is the best time to prune ornamentals and trees because they’re usually dormant. Harder pruning should take place right before the spring to promote new growth. The benefits include: 1) a reduced risk of disease or pest invasion since it’s so cold out and 2) the fact that wounds heal faster and there’s less sap in trees during the winter. This simply makes things less messy.
Some homeowners may be confused with identifying dead limbs vs. dormant limbs. It’s actually easier to see what you’re doing in the winter without all of the leaves getting in your way, which will help you determine if the branches are dead or not. Without all of the leaves, it’s actually easier to see the plant’s true shape.
6. Remove Dead or Unwanted Plants
Similarly to pruning ornamentals and trees, you also have the option to go ahead and remove any dead or unwanted plants altogether. When you’re pruning your ornamentals, you may come across plants that have been killed by the colder weather. Now is the time to remove them so that you can have a lively, colorful lawn in the spring. Make room for new plants and keep an eye out for any newly bred annual or perennial varieties. Each year, new varieties of ornamentals are developed by plant breeders. Check out a few from 2020 in Planting Ideas for Your Garden.
7. Prepare Garden Beds
There are a lot of different ways you can prepare garden beds for the spring. You can start by clearing them of any unwanted weeds, mulch or other debris until you have nothing but bare soil. Throw any dead organic matter into a compost pile.
During the winter, soil usually becomes compacted. Loosening it up with a small trowel or hand rake will help out. Next, adding compost or other soil amendments will improve the soil’s structure, health and nutrient levels so that plants have a healthy environment to grow in. Then lightly rake the new soil in and water it to get rid of any air pockets. You can also add a layer of mulch to regulate the heat in the soil. It also keeps the moisture in the soil and keeps it from being evaporated quickly. Read more about soil management in Soil Management for Lawns and Gardens. Be sure to collect a soil analysis to see all of the nutrients your soil may need.
Now that your garden is ready, you can begin researching the plants and vegetables you want for spring!
8. Clean Up Garden Tools
Cleaning up any frequently used garden tools is the same idea as servicing your lawn mower: perform any maintenance to your technology and equipment now before spring arrives so that everything is ready. Annual maintenance on your tools guarantees a prolonged lifespan, which will save you money in the long-run. Tools that remain dirty creates opportunity for rust or pests. Use oil on hinges, sharpen any blades, use canned air for hard to reach places, change your fuel and oil filters and store your tools wisely.
9. Fill in Bare Patches
As you’re performing some of these winter projects, you may notice a few bare spots in your lawn where grass isn’t growing. You can perform simple maintenance and fill these patches in with grass plugs or seed. Simply locate and purchase the grass plugs or grass seed for your type of grass, plant them in the bare spots throughout your lawn and perform a little bit of establishment maintenance to help the grass grow in. Sod Solutions offers a variety of St. Augustine plugs and zoysia plugs as well as plugs for other grass types. View our grass plugs and seed pages for more information.
As your grass and garden start to flourish in the spring, so do weeds. Weeds are one of the most notorious pests once warmer weather ensues. Researching and applying a pre-emergent herbicide is highly recommended before this happens. Pre-emergents, as opposed to post-emergents, prevent weeds from germinating and sprouting from the soil’s surface.
It is common practice for homeowners or even turf managers to apply pre-emergents before weeds start to appear. It serves to save time and effort on pulling or treating weeds that have already begun invading your lawn. Some suggested pre-emergent herbicides are listed below. As always, be sure to read the product label thoroughly before application. Learn more in How to Use a Pre-Emergent Herbicide in the Spring.
The same goes for spring fertilizers. Helping your lawn flourish in the springtime will ensure a beautiful lawn well into the summer and perhaps even the fall season. Starting it out right with the nutrients it needs to come out of dormancy and transition into the heat of the summer is the best thing you can do for your lawn.
Start by collecting a soil sample so that you know the exact nutrients your lawn may need in a fertilizer. Then, select a grass fertilizer that has these nutrients in the appropriate proportions your lawn requires. Learn how to read a fertilizer label appropriately so that you can make the correct purchase.
Sod University recommends two different fertilizer options for the spring. You will only need to use one of the two options for spring fertilization. The Lawnifi® Spring Fertilizer Box contains three bottles of liquid fertilizer designed to match your lawn’s needs as it transitions from dormancy to the heat of the summer. For those who prefer traditional granular fertilizers, Lawnifi Foundation is a granular fertilizer used for residential lawns and gardens that can be used throughout the different seasons all year long. You can learn more in Why Use Lawnifi Fertilizer?.
The last thing Sod University suggests is the removal of any objects that may be laying around in your lawn. The winter season is hard enough on your grass as it is, so any objects on top of dormant grass has an increased possibility of damaging it. This could include garden gnomes, slides, dog toys, outdoor tools, parked cars, flower pots, fire wood, etc. Objects on top of grass keep sunlight or any other nutrients from reaching it. It also creates places for pests to invade and make their homes. As previously mentioned, dormant grass is not dead grass—it is still alive.
These 12 tips are things you can start doing now to help prepare your lawn for spring. The more prepared you are ahead of time, the more likely you’ll have a successfully thriving lawn later in the year. Be sure to keep an eye out for our Spring Lawn Maintenance Tips series coming in March to know how to take care of your lawn as it comes out of dormancy.