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4 Ways To Winterise Your Lawn

Handyman Magazine logo Handyman Magazine 24/03/2018 Adam Woodhams
a person standing on top of a grass covered field © Adam Woodhams

The lawn, just like virtually everything else in the garden, slows down during winter.

This is hardly surprising with cold, possibly even icy nights, cool soil and shorter days providing less of the sunlight that’s so essential for growth.

It all means that there is the very real potential for your lawn to end up looking the worse for wear.

But with a little bit of warming winter work, you can have it ready to bounce back to life in spring.

1. Mowing

a motorcycle parked in a grassy yard © Adam Woodhams

There’s a high chance you’ll only need to mow about once a month, or even less, during winter in many regions.

This is partly because most of the turf grasses we grow are warm-season grasses, meaning their main growth period is in the warmer months.

The big questions are how to tell if you need to mow and how to cut.

When it comes to timing, it’s fairly simple.

If the lawn looks a bit shaggy and feels too spongy underfoot, it’s time to fire up the mower.

Maintain the mower

© Adam Woodhams

There’s no better time to give your mower a little attention.

It’s wise to have it professionally serviced once every 12-18 months, but there are a few simple things you can do DIY in between.  

GIVE it a good clean up all over, paying particular attention to underneath the deck.  

USE the cleaning port if your mower has one. With the mower set high and on the lawn, click on the hose, put the mower on full throttle, turn on the water, then run it for about 30 seconds.

CLEAN the air filter, dust it off or replace if necessary. Also check the filter seals.

DISCONNECT the spark plug lead and check that the blades are clean and sharp. Use a file to remove any bumps or burrs and, if they’re very damaged or blunt, replace.

Set the mower blades to the same height as you would at any other time of year 

2. Feeding

a close up of a flower garden © Adam Woodhams

It wasn’t long ago that feeding the lawn was something we only talked about in spring and early summer.

But with increased understanding of how turf grows and soil functions, plus advances in fertilisers, feeding in the cooler months is considered a very worthwhile practice.

While lawns aren’t growing fast, they do need extra energy reserves to repair damage caused by cold weather and to maintain their strength.

The soil also needs to be considered when it comes to feeding.

The myriad microorganisms in the soil convert the nutrients you apply as fertiliser into ones that grass can consume.

So it’s important to keep these soil workers healthy by providing them with organic components, such as a seaweed tonic.

If using a granulated fertiliser, make sure it’s slow release and apply about half the recommended dose.

Or use a cool-season formulation fertiliser.

To nurture soil, water in regular fertiliser with a seaweed tonic or use an organic-based fertiliser.

3. Watering

a close up of some grass © Adam Woodhams

It’s easy to forget about watering in winter.

We tend to be more aware of water when it’s warm than cold, but an extended dry period in winter can leave your lawn parched and suffering.

Watering at this time of year can be tricky.

The main reason for this is it takes longer for water to dissipate or be used by the lawn, so it can stay damp for too long, which leads to fungal problems.

Here are a few tips.

CHECK the soil to see if it feels dry before you water it.

REDUCE your normal watering duration by half. If you water for 20 minutes in summer, then make it about 10 minutes in winter.

MAKE the best use of rainfall by applying a premium soil wetter.

APPLY a hose-on product fortified with seaweed to nurture your lawn and soil while you water.

4. Weeding

a close up of green grass © Adam Woodhams

Your lawn may have slowed down for winter, but the weeds haven’t.

Many lawn weeds are actually annual plants, so their mission in life is to grow and produce seeds at this time of year.

As lawn weeds, particularly the broadleaf types, grow and spread, they tend to smother the surrounding grass and cause dead or bare patches when they die off in spring.

In small-to-medium sized lawns, hand-weeding is often the best option.

You’ll find the weeds are lush and green and easy to spot and pull out. Difficult weeds and larger lawns may need an application of a selective herbicide.

Just make sure it’s a product formulated to be safe for winter use and your lawn type.

Moss is quite common in lawns in winter and, in most cases, is not a concern.

But it can be an indicator of underlying problems such as compacted soil and poor drainage.

You can easily eradicate moss with a few applications of sulphate of iron, but any issues with drainage may need to be physically improved.

Improving drainage

a close up of some grass © Adam Woodhams

You can improve drainage by opening up the soil with a garden fork.

Drive in the fork to a depth of about 100mm all over the affected area of lawn, then rake in washed river sand to keep the holes open and free draining.

If there are more serious drainage problems, it may be necessary to install surface or subsurface drains to carry away the excess water.

Winter weeds 1. Broadleaf

a frog in the grass © Adam Woodhams

Broadleaf weeds spread and cause bare patches in your lawn.

Watch out for these weeds and remove them as soon as possible to help keep your lawn lush and healthy.

2. Onehunga

a tree with green leaves © Adam Woodhams

Probably the most annoying of lawn weeds with its painful prickles.

Winter grass

a green plant © Adam Woodhams

This is a very conspicuous winter lawn weed, as it tends to be bright green and stands well above the lawn.


a close up of green grass © Adam Woodhams

Unsightly and common in winter, especially in damp, shady areas, moss can be a sign of an underlying soil problem.

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