Winter Lawn Care For Warm Climates

winter lawn care

Winter in the deep South is sublime. The sun shines, humidity drops, and you don’t have to struggle with ice and snow, and only occasionally with freezing temperatures. All of that means your lawn still needs some TLC, and you need a winter lawn care plan. Here are some tips for keeping your lawn healthy during the winter in a warm climate.

Winter lawn care vs. summer lawn care

During the summer, you mow, water, and fertilize more than you would in any other season. It’s common to use herbicides, repair bare spots, or seed, overseed, and dethatch in the summer.

Although winter in warmer regions is mild and there’s a minimal threat of frost, you still need to follow a winter lawn care routine. So, when the rainy season comes to an end and temperatures start to drop, you would need to continue mowing to encourage growth and prevent diseases. 

Winter lawn care also involves clearing debris so the grass gets plenty of air and sun. In the late fall, your lawn needs aerating to promote breathing, increase root growth, and minimize thatch build-up.  

Dormant isn’t dead

grass goes dormant at winter
wikimedia

Most grass goes dormant at some point, even in warm climates like those in the deep South that get only occasional cold snaps. It’s just a matter of how dormant. Warm-season grass begins to grow more slowly as the cooler weather approaches, often around mid-November. Then it becomes completely or partially dormant in the winter depending upon how low the temperature drops. This means that your lawn may not appear as vibrant and green as usual, but this isn’t cause for alarm, and it doesn’t mean you should heap fertilizer on it to jumpstart it. 

Your lawn will bounce back to its lush, green self when warm weather returns. Most warm-climate lawns will awaken from their winter slumber when the soil temperatures climb above 65℉. You might even see some growth once the soil temperature reaches 55℉. 

If you’re worried that your lawn has truly succumbed to an unexpected temperature dip, you can do a little test to see if it’s really dead or just dormant. Cut a few small plugs with shoots and roots attached and plant them in a pot. Place this pot in a warm space that gets sunlight and see if it grows. If it does, don’t worry; your lawn has just gone dormant for a while.  

In states like Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and other Southern states, lawns might stay green all year. This depends on the grass species. A few common warm-season turfs include:

  • Bermudagrass will stay green all winter in areas that don’t get frost. In cooler regions, it goes dormant and turns brown in the winter months. Generally, dormancy for Bermudagrass starts earlier, when the temperature drops to 55℉, and lasts longer than other warm-season grasses such as bahiagrass or Zoysia. Bermudagrass starts to turn green when the soil temperature rises to 60℉ in the early spring.  
  • Zoysiagrass, like all other warm-season grasses, slows down in the winters. In warmer climates, Zoysia retains its green color throughout winters when taken care of. It’s hardier than Bermudagrass, and possibly will stay green all year round in USDA zones 6-11, and transition zones. 

The color might fade in a freeze, but no need to worry. Zoysia has deep roots that help it to stay healthy in temperatures as low as 20℉. It’s drought-tolerant and has minimal watering needs. All in all, Zoysia is a pretty self-sufficient grass. It emerges from dormancy when the temperature hits 50℉.  

  • St. Augustinegrass goes dormant in winter when the soil temperature drops down to 55℉ or lower. Then, it stops growing, and the grass turns brown. Since St. Augustinegrass stops growing, it requires very less water to survive winter, but mowing could stress it. 

Dormancy can last for a few weeks or months depending on the climate and return to life when the temperature rises above 55℉. In very warm areas, such as South Florida, this grass species might never enter dormancy and remains green year-round.

  • Centipedegrass is also called “the lazy person grass” because it is very low-maintenance. It doesn’t go dormant like Bermudagrass or Zoysia; it just enters a semi-dormant state when temps drop below 55℉ in warm climates. 

So chances are that your centipede lawn stays green all winter. Mowing and fertilizing needs are little to none for centipedegrass, but it needs occasional watering. If you get a freeze, the top can turn brown in the semi-dormant period. Don’t stress about it.

Keep weeding

weeding grass
Evgeny Shaplov | istockphoto

Although residents in warm climates get a break from shoveling snow, one activity that continues year round is weeding. No breaks there! 

Continue weeding during the winter months while you rake and clear away debris and thatch. Keeping the yard clear of unwanted growth makes a lawn healthier and able to cope better during the winter. Make sure you’re weeding by applying a broadleaf weed control during this period. 

Early winter is perfect for controlling henbit, dandelions, creeping Charlie, and other weeds. You may spot-treat them with a herbicide or dig them out. If you’re using herbicides, pay special attention to the temperature guidelines. Herbicides are more effective when the temperature is 50 degrees or warmer because that’s when weeds grow. 

Aerate for a fuller spring lawn

spring lawn
PVecislavas Popa | Pexels

Your lawn needs strong roots to survive the winter and blossom fully in the spring. Aerating allows the grass to breathe, increases root growth, and minimizes thatch buildup. Thatch can reduce drought tolerance and make your lawn susceptible to insects and diseases, so getting rid of it timely is important. 

The spongy thatch layer may also lead to soil compaction. Go for core aerators to treat and reduce the further incidence of soil compaction. They effectively get rid of small plugs and allow water, air, and nutrients to easily penetrate the roots, making your lawn healthier and greener. You can also leave the soil plugs on the grass so they can decompose naturally and offer some benefit to the soil. Always aerate the lawn when it is moist, not wet.

Fertilize only if you must

It’s best not to fertilize your lawn in the winter because grass doesn’t grow much when it’s cold, and the soil will not take up the added nutrients from fertilizer. Zoysiagrass, St. Augustinegrass, Bermudagrass, Bahiagrass, crabgrass, or centipedegrass respond well to fertilization when the grass is growing vigorously.

Instead, fertilize your lawn before mid-September. This last fertilization before winter should be done with a product that contains equal or higher amounts of potassium than nitrogen, like 15-0-15. Doing this helps grass tolerate the cold.

Also, never use fertilizers that contain winterizers. They are designed for lawns that go completely dormant in the winter, not for lawns in warm climates where winterizing isn’t much of an issue. If you MUST use fertilizer during winter in a warm climate, look for fertilizers that have these three major ingredients:

  • Phosphorus (P) for root health and growth
  • Nitrogen (N) for dense top
  • Potassium (K) for overall strength
  • Zinc and iron are also helpful micronutrient additions 

Mow until it doesn’t grow

warm-season grass
sonatuks | Pixabay

Keep mowing both cool- and warm-season grass until they stop growing. You will probably continue until the late fall, which is great because mowing over fallen leaves will add organic matter to the soil as they decompose. This also prevents the leaves from forming a mat that might smother grass. 

Also, reduce your mower’s height and cut the grass a little shorter. Shorter grass allows better air flow and helps drain off excess water.

For instance, if you mow to 2.5 to 3 inches during the growing season, bring the mowing height down to two inches gradually in two or three mows before the last cut. Make sure you don’t go too short or you will invite diseases and weeds. 

Slow traffic

Slow winter growth makes your lawn more susceptible to soil compaction. Limit foot traffic during the winter by creating paths with stepping stones, gravel, or wood chips on routes that are used often. Dormant or sensitive grass in winters can take a moderate amount of traffic, but you might end up with bigger issues from heavy traffic.  

Water sparingly

water_on_grass
Photocurry | Pixabay

Your lawn should get at least half an inch of water every week during the cold weather. If you completely cut the water off, you might end up losing the turf system during the lowest temperatures. 

A simple rule would be to reduce your lawn watering schedule by about half during the winter and irrigate as needed. Also, turn off the sprinkler system to avoid overwatering your lawn. 

Rake and remove debris

remove debris
MaYcaL | Istockphoto

Different kinds of trees will drop leaves at different times of the season. Don’t let them accumulate. Wet leaves left to pile up can cause fungal growth, smother grass or provide good habitat for unwanted lawn pests.

Similarly, winds might blow branches and other debris onto the lawn that can impede drainage and cause crown hydration. All of this is easily preventable if you continue to rake and clean the yard during winters. 

Overseed throughout the fall

overseeding
Elena Elisseeva | Shutterstock

Overseeding is covering your existing lawn turf with a layer of grass seed. In warm climates, you should overseed with cool-season grass such as perennial ryegrass or bluegrass. 

Doing this will keep your lawn looking lush and fresh all year long as new grass will replace the warm-season grass in case it goes dormant. Early winter is a good time to overseed in warm climates and it works best for areas that do get a little snow. 

Anticipate a luscious spring lawn

Winter lawn care is all about prepping for a beautiful and healthy lawn once spring arrives. And to achieve that you would need to design an effective lawn care regimen for the cooler months.

If you feel like you need some assistance doing so, you can always reach out to a lawn care pro at Lawn Love to lend you a hand.

Main Photo Credit: Matej | Pexels

Farah Nauman

Farah Nauman is a freelance writer and an accountant based in Pakistan. She spends most of her time combating the South Asian heat and being a mom to her three fluffy cats and a dozen little Aloe Veras in her house.