When winter rolls around, lawn care is the last thing on your mind. However, year-round care ensures your grass stays healthy when spring arrives.
When you think lawn maintenance, harsh chemicals and pesticides often come to mind. Luckily, a winter routine doesn’t require anything of the sort. Your kids and pets can romp around without risk of exposure to toxins.
Follow the tips below to cultivate a healthy lawn this season.
Remove Green Intruders
No one wants to weed, but it’s essential to a happy lawn. Weeds steal nutrients from grass and shrubbery — nourishment needed during the cold months. However, you should stay away from chemical killers. Studies discovered the sixth most-common herbicide in the U.S., 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), has adverse effects on health. It’s linked to cancer, kidney damage, reproductive toxicity and more.
Luckily, you don’t need a weed killer to do the job. Pulling by hand or using a shovel is just as effective. Try to focus on one area at a time, like the flower beds or edges of the sidewalk. If you fight for your grass’s nutrients, your lawn will thank you.
Clear Away Debris
It can be tempting to ignore leaves, pine cones and other natural debris until spring arrives. If you wait, however, it will create an unsightly brown spot. Instead, rake your lawn and pick up sticks. Raking also aerates your soil by opening up pores.
Do you have a rock driveway? If so, use a rake to clear stones out of the grass. You should also walk down the drive and pick up what you find, whether it’s crushed twigs or roadside litter. If you clear your lawn before winter, it will be greener in the spring. It will also make life easier since you won’t have a wet mush of leaves to pick up later.
Mow Grass Short
As summer and fall come to an end, cut your grass shorter. Each time you break out the lawnmower, lower the blade a bit. Keeping your lawn short in winter months will protect it from getting suffocated by ice and snow. Don’t go too low, though. Too-short grass can cause bare spots in spring.
Short grass will prevent pests from making your lawn a winter home. An unkempt yard can invite mice, rats and more. Nesting pests can cause serious damage to your grass.
Find the Right Fertilizer
It might sound crazy to fertilize your lawn in the winter. Why would you need it snow and ice cover the grass? Technically, you want to fertilize before the first freeze. Think late fall or early winter. Use an organic or pet safe variety to avoid harsh chemicals. Environmentally friendly fertilizers (EFFs) can reduce pollution and nutrient loss, even controlling the release of nutrients into the soil.
To spread fertilizer, use a seed spreader. You can try to apply it by hand, but it’ll be challenging to get an even layer. Liquid and water-soluble options are easy to spread with a hose attachment. As the snow hits, grass will slowly absorb the nutrients. When spring comes, your lawn is healthy and ready to grow. Say goodbye to those pesky brown spots.
Learn How to Aerate
Spring and summer can do a number on your lawn. Moisture evaporates from the soil, causing it to compact. The dirt can’t absorb nutrients and air. Plus, the roots grow poorly, up near the surface where they can be affected by drought. Aerating your lawn, making small holes in the grass, solves this problem. The result is a deep root system capable of resisting disease.
You don’t need fancy equipment. All you need is a pitchfork and some elbow grease. Work in a line, puncturing holes several inches into the soil. This practice opens the ground, allowing nutrients to flow in. Leave behind any debris produced during the process. It will break down naturally and aid the nourishment process. The best time to aerate your lawn is in the fall, when the grass is still growing, and the soil is moist.
Layer With Seeds
Overseeding is a process where you spread a dense layer of seed across your lawn. It rejuvenates dead and dying areas before cold weather hits. When you don’t overseed your yard, it will grow thin and unhealthy, allowing weeds to take over.
The best time to overseed is after you mow and aerate your lawn. Pick a crisp day in fall. Grass seeds germinate best in temperatures around 50° Fahrenheit. Allow a few weeks for the grass to take root and begin to grow. Once spring comes, bare spots will fill out, and your lawn will be lush.
Avoid Excessive Traffic
Your lawn is fragile in winter. During this time, try to avoid excessive traffic. Walking on snow and ice causes it to compact, suffocating the grass underneath and making your lawn unhealthy. As a result, you’ll see dead spots when the snow melts.
Keep sidewalks and paths clear of snow to ensure guests aren’t tempted to walk across the lawn. Not only does this protect your grass, but it also prevents falls and slips.
Stay Away from Salt
Salt can kill your grass and ruin your hard work. When you shovel your driveway and sidewalks, be mindful of where you throw contaminated snow. Start a pile at the end of the driveway that doesn’t touch the lawn.
Look at eco-friendly alternatives to salt. Alfalfa meal is an excellent natural option. Gardeners primarily use it as fertilizer. In winter, however, the grainy texture is ideal for traction. You can also sprinkle sand over slippery surfaces. The grains will add traction and absorb heat, melting snow and ice.
Maintain a Healthy Winter Lawn Without Chemicals
Winter lawn preparation may seem intimidating. It’s another task on the to-do list before the snow hits. Be sure to give yourself enough time to prepare.
Get a head start in late summer and fall. By the time the cold hits, you can call it a day and head inside for hot cocoa.
Emily Folk is a sustainability journalist and the editor of Conservation Folks.