Design Q+A: How can we prepare our lawns for the winter?

Leaf it to Wonderful Landscape owner Justin Dodge.

What are the best ways to prepare our lawns for the winter?

You really should aerate your lawn every year and the fall is the best time to do this. Aerating is super beneficial for the health of your grass. It relieves compaction that happens over time as well as opens airways and passageways for nutrients to reach deeper into the soil. That promotes deeper root growth which in turn creates a stronger plant. There are several ways to aerate but a core plug aerator is the best.


After aerating, top dressing with compost and then seeding is a fantastic way to make your lawn healthier and stronger. Just before the first frost, you should put down a fertilizer as well.


Any recommended fertilizers?

Look for a fertilizer that specifically labeled for winter or late fall. If there isn’t one labeled for winter, look for an NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) ratio similar to 24-4-12 or 22-0-14. The nitrogen (first number) should be double the potassium (the last number), which will be higher for a winter fertilizer. A low phosphorus (middle number) content is ideal. An extended or slow release fertilizer is optimal. You’ll want to fertilize a few weeks before the ground freezes. This is, essentially, the most important fertilizer application of the year. The grass soaks up and stores all the nutrients it needs for the long winter and a proper fertilizer application will have the lawn looking spectacular. 


Tips for mowing the lawn?

You should continue on a regular mow schedule once weekly. Just like in the summer, you should cut your lawn at 3 inches. Continue cutting weekly until the grass stops growing. It is advised to wear a mask while mowing. Even though the fall isn’t the driest month, there will still be dust in the air.


Thoughts on raking leaves?

It’s imperative to remove the leaves from covering your lawn to avoid them matting down and destroying the grass. Leaves shouldn’t block sunlight from reaching the grass. In some cases, it would be best to rake your leaves twice. Instead of waiting for all the leaves to fall, you should do your first leaf removal when half the leaves are down, especially if there are significant areas of your lawn covered. The easiest way to remove leaves is to blow or rake into piles, and then put those piles onto a tarp and drag to your designated spot somewhere off the lawn. If there is nowhere to put the piles on your property, there are places that will take them for free, as they will be used to make compost. You yourself can also use them to help build your own compost pile — leaves can be a great way to feed your lawn!


Should people be burning leaves?

No! Burning leaves is a bad idea. Too many bad things can happen. The fire can spread, there will be mass amounts of smoke (which your neighbors will love you for), and embers can drift easily. Leave that to professionals.