How to Winterize Your Lawn

ice covered branches with a single leaf visible

As the seasons change and winter approaches, it is crucial to give your lawn the care it needs to survive the cold months and emerge vibrant and healthy in the springtime. Winterizing your lawn pays off in lush, green grass once the snow thaws. Discover how to winterize your lawn and ensure it remains resilient and beautiful, even in the harshest winter conditions. From proper mowing and fertilization to addressing potential issues, we’ve got you covered with the essential tips and tricks for a winter-ready lawn.

How to winterize your lawn (no matter where you live)

These pre-winter lawn chores apply whether you live in Miami or Minneapolis. 

1. Prepare your lawn

It doesn’t matter if you have a warm-season or cool-season lawn, with a few simple steps, your lawn will be well on its way to braving the cool weather. 

Keep mowing

It’s important to continue to mow as long as your turfgrass is growing, and it is crucial to give your lawn a final trim before the winter sets in. However, you’ll want to increase your mower’s height to prevent cutting the grass blades too short, which can leave it vulnerable to winter stress. 

Cool-season grass tip: Mow to 1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches for the last mow of the fall, after the grass goes dormant. This will help prevent diseases from gaining a foothold in your grass when it snows.

illustration showing the cool and warm season grasses on the US map, along with the transitional zone
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Warm-season grass tip: If you raised your mowing height over the summer by ½ inch, bring the mower back down by ½ inch for a shorter fall cut.

Here are the recommended mowing ranges for popular grass types:

Grass TypeGrass Height
Bermudagrass1-2 inches
Centipedegrass1-2 inches
Fescue2.5-3.5 inches
Kentucky Bluegrass2-2.5 inches
Perennial ryegrass2-2.5 inches
St. Augustine2-3 inches
Zoysia1-2 inches

Rake leaves and debris

Fall is the time of year for breathtaking foliage. Unfortunately, fallen leaves and debris can smother your lawn and hinder its ability to breathe. Rake leaves and remove debris regularly throughout the fall. Piles of wet leaves also invite disease and pests, so don’t let them accumulate.

Watering and irrigation

As winter approaches, it is important to adapt your irrigation schedule to meet the changing needs of your lawn and garden. Here’s how to adjust your irrigation for the winter months:

  • Reduce frequency: Lawns and plants require less water during the winter because they experience slower growth and reduced evaporation. Begin by reducing the frequency of your watering schedule by 50% or more, aiming for 0.5 inch of water per week. If you water three times per week during the growing season, drop your watering sessions down to once per week. 
  • Monitor weather: Keep an eye on weather forecasts, paying special attention to rainfall and temperatures. Only water when necessary, and avoid watering before expected freezing temperatures to prevent ice buildup.
  • Morning watering: If you need to water, do it in the late morning when temperatures are above freezing. This allows time for the moisture to be absorbed before nighttime, reducing the risk of frost damage.
  • Adjust run times: If you have an automated irrigation system, reprogram it to shorten run times. You also may skip watering altogether during prolonged periods of cold and wet weather. For example, if you typically water for 30 minutes, reduce it to 15 minutes during the winter.
  • Check soil moisture: Periodically check the moisture level of the soil. Stick a screwdriver or soil probe into the ground to gauge moisture depth. Water only if the top few inches of soil are dry.

Aerate and dethatch

illustration explaining thatch on grass
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Aeration and dethatching are two critical steps in your winter lawn care process that impact the health of your lawn. These practices address compaction, improve soil health, and promote strong root growth, ensuring your grass is well-prepared for the challenges of winter.

Both dethatching and aeration should be performed in the fall, between late August and early November, depending on your region’s climate. This timing allows your lawn to recover and take advantage of the improved soil structure before winter sets in.

Lawn aeration involves perforating the soil with small holes at regular intervals. This process enhances soil aeration and reduces compaction and thatch buildup. Specialized machines called aerators remove small plugs of soil from your lawn. 

On the other hand, dethatching involves removing the thatch layer from your lawn. Thatch is a dense accumulation of dead grass, roots, and debris that can hinder water and nutrient absorption. The buildup creates a barrier that restricts water, nutrients, and air from reaching the soil and grass roots.

Pro tip: Assess your lawn to determine if dethatching is necessary, If your thatch layer is more than half an inch thick, it’s time to address it using a dethatching machine or dethatching rake. Be sure to remove the loosened thatch from your lawn using a rake when you are finished. 

Overseed your lawn

After dethatching and aerating, consider overseeding to ensure your lawn comes back full and lush next year. Choose a high-quality grass seed that’s suitable for your region and lawn type. Spread the seed evenly across your lawn, paying extra attention to bare or thin areas. 

Water the newly overseeded areas thoroughly to encourage germination. This process will help your lawn withstand the winter months and fill in any patches or gaps with new growth.

2. Fall fertilizing and soil care

Spreading seed by hand over an area that has little to no grass

A thriving winter lawn requires choosing the appropriate fertilizer for the season. Winter fertilizers are specifically formulated to meet the unique needs of your lawn during the colder months. Consider the following factors when selecting the right winter fertilizer:

  • Select a winter fertilizer with a balanced nutrient ratio, typically represented as N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). A balanced blend provides the essential nutrients your grass needs for root development and overall health.
  • Opt for a slow-release fertilizer. These fertilizers provide a steady supply of nutrients over an extended period, ensuring your grass receives nourishment even during winter dormancy.
  • Consider choosing a fertilizer with a lower nitrogen content for winter use if your soil typically suffers from high nitrogen. While nitrogen is vital for overall lawn health, too much nitrogen in the winter encourages excessive top growth that is vulnerable to frost damage.

Pro tip: Contact your local agricultural extension office to find out how to send in a soil sample for testing. Your soil test results will detail the best fall amendments for your landscape. 

Applying fertilizer and soil amendments

Once you’ve chosen the right winter fertilizer, it is essential to apply it correctly:

  • Apply winter fertilizer in late fall, typically between late October and early December, before the first frost. This allows your grass to absorb nutrients and strengthen its root system for winter survival.
  • Use a broadcast spreader to distribute the fertilizer across your lawn. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the recommended application rate.
  • After applying the fertilizer, water your lawn lightly to help the nutrients penetrate the soil. Avoid overwatering, as excessive moisture can promote disease and root rot.

Pro tip: Consider incorporating soil amendments like compost or organic matter into your lawn care routine. These amendments improve soil structure, enhance nutrient retention, and provide a better environment for beneficial soil organisms.

3. Weed control 

close-up of crabgrass along the edge of a lawn
NY State IPM Program at Cornell University | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Weeds are inevitable, but you can reduce them by denying them favorable conditions. While winter is not a time when you typically expect weeds to thrive, some persistent varieties can still cause trouble. Here’s how to prevent weed growth during the colder months:

  • Fall pre-emergent herbicide: Apply a pre-emergent herbicide in the early fall to prevent winter annual weeds from germinating. These herbicides create a barrier in the soil, inhibiting weed seedlings’ growth.
  • Mulch: Lay mulch to suppress weed growth by blocking sunlight and preventing weed seeds from establishing themselves.
  • Hand removal: On milder winter days, take the opportunity to walk your lawn and remove any emerging weeds by hand. Be sure to get the entire root to prevent regrowth.
  • Regular maintenance: Even in winter, it is important to continue regular lawn care practices like mowing, as taller grass can provide a haven for weed growth. Keep your lawn at the recommended height for your grass type.
Man trimming and pruning a tree up above his head
Claudio Barrientos | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Common fall lawn weeds and treatments

Your weeds are like your grass — they require certain conditions to thrive. If you deprive them of those conditions, they weaken or die. 

Ground ivy 

Problem: Thrives in soil with poor drainage. 

Solution: Aerate to open up the soil’s pores and add good organic matter such as compost.


Problem: Low mowing heights, low soil fertility, and too much or too little water encourage growth. 

Solution: Mow taller to shade out the seeds, get a soil test to correct imbalances, and regulate moisture in your lawn.

Annual bluegrass 

Problem: Prefers compact soil, low mowing heights, and excessive fertility and water. 

Solution: Aerate, mow taller, and reduce fertilization and watering.

4. Pest prevention

Pests can still pose a problem in the winter months, especially in mild climates. The key to minimizing pest problems is prevention. Regularly inspect your lawn for signs of pest activity, and take action as needed. Additionally, maintaining a healthy lawn through proper maintenance practices, such as watering and fertilizing, can make your lawn more resistant to pests and better prepared for the winter months. It’s a win-win. 

Pro tip: Select an insecticide designed for your specific best to avoid harming beneficial insects. Always follow the instructions on the product label, and only spray where necessary. 

5. Protect your landscaping from the cold

Illustration of the US showing the frost lines across the country
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Certain plants and shrubs require extra protection during the winter. While you can bring container plants inside, larger plants may need help to survive the winter temps. 

  • Plant covers: Invest in plant covers or burlap sacks to shield delicate plants from harsh winter winds and frost. These covers can provide a microclimate that’s slightly warmer and less exposed to the elements.
  • Wrap shrubs: Wrap vulnerable shrubs with burlap or special shrub wraps to protect them from cold and drying winds. Be sure to remove these coverings in the spring to avoid moisture buildup.
  • Mulch: Apply a layer of mulch around the base of shrubs to insulate their roots and help them retain moisture during the winter.
  • Straw for turfgrass: For your lawn, consider spreading a thin layer of straw. This serves as an insulating blanket that helps maintain more stable soil temperatures and minimizes frost.
green leaves from a plant covered in snow

Snow removal

While snow may bring a picturesque winter landscape, it poses challenges to your lawn’s health. Proper snow removal is essential to protect your grass from potential harm. 

Excessive snow buildup leads to compaction, which suffocates your grass and inhibits air circulation. Use a snow blower or a snow shovel to remove heavy snow layers, taking care not to damage the grass beneath. 

Pro tip: Shoveling or blowing away snow exposes your lawn to air and sunlight, reducing the risk of snow mold development. Snow mold is a fungal disease that thrives under prolonged snow cover. 

6. Maintain your tools

Gardening tools placed in a garden
demaerre | Canva Pro | License

Ok, tool fans. You’ve used your tools all summer long, and now it is time to put them away. However, they need a little TLC before they go into winter hibernation. Here’s how to get your mower and hand tools ready for winter storage:

  • Clean thoroughly: Before storing your equipment, clean your tools to remove dirt, grass clippings, and debris. Use a wire brush, scraper, or compressed air to clear any residues.
  • Drain fuel tanks: For gas-powered equipment like lawnmowers and trimmers, drain the fuel tanks or add a fuel stabilizer to prevent the gasoline from going stale and clogging the engine.
  • Change oil: If your equipment requires oil changes, it is a good idea to change it before winter. Used oil contains contaminants that can corrode engine components over time.
  • Sharpen blades: Check the condition of mower blades, trimmer lines, and any cutting implements. Sharpen or replace them as needed to ensure clean cuts next season.
  • Lubricate moving parts: Apply lubricants to moving parts, such as bearings and hinges, to prevent rust and ensure smooth operation.
  • Store properly: Store your equipment in a dry, sheltered area like a garage or shed. Cover equipment with tarps or specialized covers to protect them from dust and moisture.

7. Winterize your sprinklers

sprinkler on and sitting in a yard
Mohammad Rezaie | Unsplash

Winterizing your sprinkler system is essential to protect it from freezing temperatures and potential damage during the winter months. Most homeowners leave this job to the pros, but if you’re up for a DIY challenge, it’s within the reach of most. Here’s a guide on how to winterize your sprinklers:

  • Turn off the water supply: Begin by shutting off the water supply to your sprinkler system. Locate the main shut-off valve, typically found in your basement, crawl space, or a valve box in your yard. Turn it clockwise to close the valve and stop the flow of water to the system.
  • Drain the system: Open all the drain valves and drain plugs on your sprinkler system. This will allow any remaining water in the pipes to drain out completely. If your system has automatic drains, activate them to ensure all water is expelled.
  • Release pressure: To prevent damage to valves and pipes, relieve any remaining pressure in the system. Open the test valves on the backflow preventer if your system has one. Additionally, open the manual drain valve at the system’s lowest point.
  • Remove filters: If your system includes a backflow preventer or filters, remove them and store them in a safe, dry place for the winter. Inspect them for any damage or wear and replace them if necessary.
  • Protect above-ground components: Cover above-ground components like sprinkler heads and valve boxes with insulated, waterproof covers or blankets. This protects against frost and keeps them from freezing and cracking.
  • Insulate pipes: Insulate any exposed pipes with foam pipe insulation to safeguard them from freezing temperatures. Pay special attention to pipes located near the surface or in areas prone to cold drafts.
  • Disconnect hoses and sprinklers: Disconnect garden hoses from outdoor spigots and store them indoors. Remove any hose-end sprinklers or attachments to prevent damage from freezing.

Pro tip: Consider hiring a professional sprinkler technician to perform a blowout. Using compressed air, they’ll remove any remaining water from the pipes, ensuring a thorough winterization process. This step is especially important in regions with harsh winters.

FAQ about how to winterize your lawn

When is the best time to start winterizing my lawn?

It is best to start winterizing your lawn in the last fall, between late October and early December, before the first frost. 

Can I walk on my lawn over winter? 

Try to avoid heavy foot traffic on your frozen lawn, However, gentle walking is typically fine but avoid walking on snow-covered areas to prevent compaction. 

Can I skip winterizing my lawn if I live in a mild climate? 

No. While winters are mild, it is beneficial to follow the steps for proper winterization, even in mild climates. 

Call in the pros

If winter lawn preparation is too much for your to-do list, contact one of our local lawn care professionals. They’ll get your lawn winter-ready before Jack Frost starts nipping at your nose and the ground freezes.

Main Photo Credit: Artem Sapegin | Unsplash

Kimberly Magerl

Kimberly Magerl is a writer and data analyst specializing in landscaping, gardening, lawn care, and pest control. She enjoys growing orchids, tending to fruits and vegetables in her garden, and getting outdoors. A resident of Texas, when she isn't gardening, Kimberly enjoys trying new recipes and cooking with her home-grown herbs.