How to Winterize Your Lawn in Detroit

Pile of leaves with a person standing in the background holding a rake

Winter is brutal here in the Motor City, but with the right lawn care steps taken in fall, your northern lawn needn’t bear the brunt. We’ll show you 10 easy steps to winterize your Detroit lawn, so grab a rake, dethatcher, and some fertilizer. 

10 ways to winterize your lawn in Detroit

1. Rake the leaves

Autumn is a beautiful time of year here in Detroit, and it’s thanks to the ever-changing leaves. But once those colors begin to fall on your lawn, it’s time for them to go. 

A thick layer of leaves covering your turf invites pests and disease and even prevents photosynthesis. Leaves can kill your grass if you don’t remove them soon enough. Rake your leaves every few days, and you won’t have to worry so much about your lawn’s health. If the leaves are wet, remove them even sooner.

2. Dethatch the lawn

illustration explaining thatch on grass

Another way to protect your lawn’s health this winter is by removing excess thatch. Thatch is a layer of dead and living organic matter that accumulates between the soil and the turf. Some thatch can be healthy for your Detroit lawn, but too much thatch can do more harm than good. 

A thatch layer less than half an inch thick acts as mulch for the grass and helps retain moisture. 

But a thatch layer over half an inch thick isn’t so healthy. Too much thatch makes desirable real estate for pests and diseases. It also prevents water, oxygen, and fertilizer from reaching the roots. 

Pro tip: Dethatching your lawn in early fall gives your turf plenty of time to heal during its growing season before the temperatures start to plummet. Rent a dethatcher or power rake, or hire a lawn service pro to do the job for you. 

3. Aerate the ground

illustration showing how aeration works and the benefits of aerating soil

With winter right around the corner, your lawn’s compacted soil will hinder any ability to prepare for the cold. Compacted soil’s tough barrier makes it difficult for any water, oxygen, and nutrients to reach your turf’s roots. Core aeration in fall gives your grass full access to the food, oxygen, and water it needs to grow strong before winter. 

Similar to dethatching, aeration can be an invasive treatment. Aerate your lawn in early fall, so the turf has plenty of time to heal and grow throughout the season. 

4. Overseed your grass

You won’t have the greenest lawn in Detroit if you let your grass thin out. Keep your green carpet thick and soft with annual overseeding. Overseeding the turf in early fall rejuvenates your lawn after a stressful summer and helps bring forth a patchless yard come springtime. 

Pro tip: Overseed your lawn after aeration or dethatching. Both lawn treatments help expose soil, creating space for your grass seeds to land and take root.  

5. Fertilize your lawn

Warm summers deplete our cool-season lawns of nutrients. Revitalize your turf with fertilizer so that it has plenty of energy to heal and grow before winter. Most turfs need a combination of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

According to the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, fertilizing in autumn rebuilds summer-stressed turf, encourages a deep root system, and results in a thick spring lawn. 

Some homeowners may wish to fertilize cool-season turf in spring, but be careful. The extension warns that early spring applications often stimulate rapid growth at the expense of root development. 

Note: Don’t go pouring fertilizer over your yard like it’s fairy dust. Too much fertilizer isn’t healthy for your lawn or the environment. 

The best way to determine a fertilization routine is by performing a soil test. A soil test reveals pH imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, and salt levels in your soil. Conducting a soil test also uncovers what soil amenities will remedy your lawn and how much to apply. 

6. Apply pre-emergent herbicide

According to the MSU Extension, Michigan’s worst winter annuals include common chickweed, henbit, marestail (horseweed), and purple deadnettle. Keep these nuisance invaders at bay with a pre-emergent herbicide.

Apply the herbicide before the weeds have a chance to sprout from the ground. Otherwise, you’ll need to apply a post-emergent herbicide. Always wear the appropriate clothing when using weed control and follow all product instructions. 

7. Time your last mow

When it comes to the last mow of the season, the general rule of thumb is to mow low. But how low should you go? It depends. 

Cutting the grass too short can prevent your turf from photosynthesizing. It can also make your Detroit lawn susceptible to freezing temperatures. On the other hand, keeping the grass too long can cause unsightly matting and snow mold. 

Before your last mow of the year, it’s essential to do your homework. Not every grass type should be cut to the same length. Start by determining your grass type and the safest minimum height to cut it. 

Pro tip: Never cut off more than one-third of your grass’s height. For example, if cutting your grass down to a height of 2½ inches requires you to cut more than one-third of the grass blade, then you should not mow low. 

Mowing too much at once is harmful to the grass. Instead, lower the mowing blades gradually over a series of mows so that the last mow isn’t so harsh on the turf.

When is the last mow? Your cool-season grass will continue to grow throughout the fall season. Once the turf stops growing, that’s when it’s time for the last mow. 

8. Winterize your flower beds

Your spring lawn won’t look so appealing if unhealthy flowers surround it. Your prized flower beds need some help getting through the winter months, so prepare to get your hands dirty. Perennials are vulnerable to winter pests and disease, and you should remove your spent annuals from the flower beds. 

Here are a few winterization tips that will help protect your flowers from the falling mercury: 

  • Pull weeds and remove dead annuals to ensure those pests and diseases can’t find any winter housing. 
  • Divide the perennials, so your flowers have ample space and less competition next spring. 
  • Insulate the beds with mulch, so your plants don’t grow too soon on an unseasonably warm day. 
  • Give your plants a big drink of water before cold temperatures arrive to avoid dehydration. 
  • Cover vulnerable plants with landscape fabric for an extra layer of warmth. 

9. Water your grass and flowers

Autumn may mean cooler weather, but your turf still needs plenty of water. Most grass types need 1 to 1½ inches of water per week, but this will vary depending on your turf type. Some grasses need more water than others. 

Remember: Only water your grass when temperatures are above 40 degrees. The air might not be freezing, but cold winds can make droplets of water freeze on your lawn. If a layer of ice on the lawn persists for more than a month, it could suffocate your grass

Winter watering will depend on the grass type you have. A good rule of thumb is to ensure a dormant lawn gets a half-inch of water per week.

10. Winterize your irrigation system

You won’t start your spring lawn care routine off on the right foot while dealing with a broken sprinkler system.  

Winterize your lawn’s irrigation system before autumn’s first hard freeze. Any remaining water could result in frozen pipes, broken sprinkler heads, cracked plastic, and a damaged irrigation system. Professional sprinkler winterization usually costs $60 – $120.

Protect your lawn in winter for a green lawn in spring

It might be tempting to skip fall lawn maintenance. After all, who has the time for yard work when the Lions are on TV or you have to take the kids to soccer or tennis?

But avoiding fall lawn care will show poor results in spring. Your turf’s root system won’t be strong enough for summer, you might have to wrestle with spring pests and disease, and your neighbor’s green lawn is sure to outshine your own. 

You don’t have to do the winterizing yourself if you don’t want to. Hire a Detroit lawn care pro to take the job off your hands so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy your favorite ice-cold Faygo. 

Main Photo Credit: Pixabay

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is a freelance writer and actor in New York City. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and enjoys a warm cup of French press coffee.