Ask a Master Gardener: Should I Winterize My Lawn?
BY: Jack LeCroy, Regional Extension Agent, JML0003@aces.edu www.mobilecountymastergardeners.org
After an interesting year weather-wise, winter is finally upon us. Winter always brings with it some confusion for homeowners as to what to do with their lawns as our warm-season turfs finally go dormant. Lawn questions are year-round in our office as we have a very demanding environment for growing turf here on the Gulf Coast. One question that always pops up this time of year is, “Should I winterize my lawn?”
Let’s stop for a second to think about what that means and what we are trying to accomplish. If you ask five different people what to do when you "winterize" your lawn, you will most likely get five different answers. Many people consider winterizing your lawn as putting out a specific fertilizer. Some people think winterizing means overseeding with cool-season grass to have green grass all year around.
Many homeowners treat any landscaping or lawn practice as a guessing game. They keep trying multiple things because they might have heard it from a neighbor or watched a YouTube video from someone in another state and just followed what they do. Most things that are related to horticulture are not a guessing game. There is research available that will tell you precisely what you need to do to help you achieve your goals for your lawn.
“Winterizing ” is a term we use only occasionally when dealing with a Gulf Coast homeowner's lawn. You might see winterizing more often on athletic turf fields, trying to keep the grass green longer for sports. Winterizing might be as simple as sheltering the grass with a cover whenever frost is expected. So, we will use the term “winter maintenance” for homeowners instead of “winterizing.” Every season requires some maintenance to keep your grass healthy. Winter is no different.
One thing to be mindful of is that we live on the Gulf Coast, an entirely different environment than even 100 miles north of Mobile. These environmental differences are going to affect the way that we deal with our warm-season grasses. Due to our environment, we can only have warm-season grasses in south Alabama. Our winters are generally mild, so we usually spend only a few short months before we find ourselves back in our lawns, mowing and fertilizing.
As we think about winter maintenance, one cultural maintenance practice that some homeowners practice is applying potassium, as potassium promotes winter hardiness and disease resistance in turf. Before you immediately stop reading to head to the store, how do you know if you need potassium? I read hundreds of soil tests every year, and many people already have enough potassium in their soil. To determine if you need potassium, you must conduct a soil test. I do recommend liming in winter, if you have completed a soil test and it shows your lawn needs lime. Liming ensures that your lawns can be ready by spring. Incorporating lime or potassium without conducting a soil test is a great waste of time and money. You can find more information on home soil testing at www.aces.edu/soiltest.
Some homeowners in our area also overseed with cool-season grass when getting ready for the cooler months. I'm not fond of recommending overseeding with cool-season grass (like ryegrass) for a few reasons. Overseeding adds competition for nutrients and space with our warm season grasses. Frankly, it doesn’t stay cold enough to justify the time, labor, and money you expend to keep grass green all year long. We invite the dormant winter period as a time to relax and plan for our next year of lawn care.
Lawn care is a year-round project. I recommend having a schedule of tasks to accomplish annual goals in your yard. Timing is crucial for almost every aspect of lawn care. Taking care of your lawn correctly in spring, summer and fall will lessen the amount of work you must do in the winter. Consider five items crucial in a lawncare program: Pre/post emergents for weed control, soil test, knowing your grass type, watering, and insect control.
We have grass schedules by type and all the information you need to prepare to have the best lawn in 2023. Feel free to call our office (251-574-8445) to set up an appointment to meet and discuss your lawn needs.