Yard & Garden Report


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Did You Winterize Your Lawn?

Prepare your lawn for the long winter ahead.

Frost on lawn
Frosted lawn.

Winter this year came early and with a blast! The blizzard shocked us—and our lawns. Bitter cold temps then quickly followed, putting an abrupt end to the growing season. Our lawns have stopped growing, but there are a few activities we need to take care of before the long, frigid winter sets in. 

Mulching and Raking Leaves. The leaves of some trees are still dropping. We can manage fallen leaves by shredding them with a mulching mower. It’s quick and easy. There is no need to rake shredded leaves in the lawn if you can see the grass blades after mowing.

This strategy won’t work with thick layers of leaves, which we often find beneath large trees. In these cases, we need to rake the leaves or they will suffocate the lawn and create diseases. 

Mowing. Our lawns have stopped growing. Make sure your lawn has been mowed before a blanket of snow covers it. A tall, lush turf is not desirable during winter. A tall turf gets matted down by snow and becomes susceptible to diseases. Tall grass blades will attract voles that rip our lawns and eat the bark off our trees and shrubs—sometimes killing the plants.

Fertilizing. Fertilizing the lawn this late in fall is not recommended. Our lawns are nearly dormant and will absorb very little of the nutrients this late in the season. Any fertilizer that remains on frozen ground is at risk of running off the land. Let’s wait to fertilize in spring. In most cases, the next best time to fertilize will be around Memorial Day.

Killing Weeds. It’s too late for effective control. Weeds should be sprayed while they are actively growing. Mid- to late September was the most effective time to control weeds. Let’s wait at least until weeds start growing in spring.

Sowing Seed. The best time to sow grass seed was in early fall (August 15–September 20). We missed that opportunity.

You can still “dormant seed” your lawn in November. Scratch the soil and sow the seed. The seed will stay dormant through winter and then germinate in spring. Dormant seeding works best in level sites where soil will not wash away during the spring thaw.

If you dormant seed, do not use a crabgrass preventer next spring. The crabgrass herbicide will kill all germinating grass seedlings, including your desirable lawn grass seedlings.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Photo courtesy of Luke Hayter.

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