We all enjoy a good-looking lawn. By November, however, most homeowners can't wait to put the lawn mower away and take a break from cutting the grass.
But giving up on your lawn prematurely can have adverse effects. If your grass is still growing, then it still needs to be mowed and maintained, even into the fall—even after the first light snowfall!
So, how do you know when to stop mowing and start winterizing your lawn, and what can you do to protect your lawn throughout the winter?
There are two types of grass found in lawns. Each type grows better in different climates:
Cool-season grasses grow more actively in the spring and fall, while warm-season grasses grow more actively in the summer. But here's the secret: both types of grass will go dormant and stop growing below certain temperatures.
Warm-season grasses grow dormant when the soil temperature reaches about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. For cool-season grasses, the soil temperature needs to sink to about 45 degrees Fahrenheit before dormancy sets in.
In general, once the air temperature consistently stays below 60 degrees around warm-season grasses and 50 degrees around cool-season grasses, then it's good to consider putting away that mower.
This means that you might keep mowing all the way into late November, even if there happens to be one strange day when the temperature briefly dips before rising.
But wait! Don't just shove your mower into storage and leave your lawn untreated. Before winter arrives, it's time to mow your lawn and care for it the proper way to prepare it for the cold. Follow the two steps below to winterize your lawn.
If you stop mowing your lawn while it's still growing in autumn, you risk it growing tall enough to be open to some of the worst winter lawn problems:
However, you also don't want to mow your grass super-short all at once. Because grass makes most of its food in the uppermost part of its blade, it's good to never cut grass down by more than a third of its height at one time.
Once temperatures start dropping in the fall, gradually begin mowing your grass shorter each time, until your final mow leaves your grass about 2" tall. Warm-season grasses can be cut shorter for the winter, around 1 1/2" tall.
Early fall is an excellent time to fertilize a cool-season lawn. While it's actively growing, it's more likely to take up those nutrients and incorporate them into its system. You won't use the fertilizer in an attempt to instantly grow your grass. You'll be doing it to help the plants recover from the stresses of summer and fortify themselves ahead of the spring.
For fertilizing a cool-season lawn in early fall, choose a fertilizer that's higher in nitrogen than other nutrients to encourage blade growth.
You might see "winterizer fertilizers" available in your nearest lawn and garden stores. These have more phosphorus than other nutrients, which supports root growth. If you choose to use one, apply it in late fall.
If you love a good-looking lawn, then don't rush to stop mowing it or caring for it at the end of summer. Mow your lawn until the weather gets cooler, and you'll be rewarded with a healthy yard come spring and summer.