ALABAMA A&M UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Cold weather and frosts mark the end of the growing season and the start of fall and winter. Now is a great time to prepare your lawn for the fall and winter months. It is time to get back outside and start clean-ups, preparations and plantings for the spring.
“Here are some actions you can take to prepare your lawn for the fall and winter months,” said Rudy Pacumbaba, an Alabama Extension horticulture specialist.
Remove Finished and Dead Plants
Overwintering plant litter can harbor pests and diseases. Tilling under pest and disease free litter is an option. Be sure to replenish your compost pile with pest and disease free plant litter. Always remove diseased litter to promote good sanitation and to prevent future pest problems.
Build a Compost
Nature also works during winter. A finished compost can be used as a soil amendment. Litter from a finished garden is ideal to replenish the compost pile. Remember the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.
Cut the Grass
Cut warm season lawns to a height of 1-2 inches and cool season lawns to a height of 3-4 inches. If you are in an area that receives snow and cold, cutting the grass too short may damage roots and cause sections to die out. If the grass is left too long, blades could mat under snow and develop mold disease that can causes bare spots in the spring.
Fertilize Lawns and Control Weeds
Apply a winter fertilizer to cool season lawns to encourage thicker root growth. Warm-season lawns go dormant and turn to amber shades after frost. Warm-season lawns really don’t benefit from applying fertilizers in the fall.
Fall and winter is the best time to get a head start on controlling lawn weeds. Apply a granular pre-emergent weed control in the fall and late winter. A pre-emergent will control fall, winter and early spring weeds. It will also greatly reduce or eliminate the amount of weeds in your lawn during the growing season.
Drain Irrigation Systems
Turn off your automated sprinkler and irrigation system and properly drain. Blow out the systems to avoid damage from freezing and thawing temperatures. Call the company that installed your system if you’re unsure how to do this. Drain and coil hoses for winter storage. Remove hose nozzles, sprayers and wands. Store these items in a non-freezing spot such as a garage or basement. Cover and insulate outside hose bibs.
Add Mulch to Landscapes
Adding mulch helps to manage soil moisture. Mulch can also help to manage soil temperature and to add organic material to the soil profile as well. Adding a good layer of mulch around dormant perennials can prevent potential winter damage during very cold months. It is recommended to provide a minimum of 3 inches of mulch in and around your planting beds.
Winter is the best time to prune plants and flowering beds. Shrubs and trees require periodic pruning to remove diseased or dead material, to help control and direct growth, and to prevent potential hazards. Ornamental grasses are best pruned during the spring.
Divide and plant perennial bulbs. Late fall and winter is the best time to divide and plant. If it blooms on “new” wood, prune it in winter and spring. If it blooms on “old” wood, prune it in summer and fall. It’s essential that you prune after flowering.
More information about caring for your lawn this winter can be found in the Extension publication Winter Maintenance for Lawns and Landscapes. For further information, visit www.aces.edu or contact your county Extension office.