In terms of winter preparation, warm season lawns differ from cold season lawns in that they go completely dormant and lose their color (most cool season lawns will remain green although they stop growing), and they will do so much earlier in the season. That means that all of your heavy-duty maintenance, such as dethatching, aerating, and fertilizing has to occur in the very early fall or late summer. However, there are several things that you can do now to help your warm season lawn prepare for its dormant season. Complete the following six tasks to ensure that your lawn has a healthy spring green-up.
- Remove leaves from your lawn. Autumn leaves and other debris will limit the amount of photosynthesis your lawn can perform, a crucial part in storing carbohydrates for winter. A leaf-free lawn will be able to store more energy, and therefore be better prepared for its dormancy.
- Gradually decrease the mowing height by mowing more frequently and removing only 1/3 of the leaf blade. You should stop mowing when the grass stops growing, and a shorter lawn will retain less moisture and be less susceptible to disease. Waiting until the last mowing to cut it short will only increase your chances of scalping the lawn, a stress that it is not prepared to handle when it isn’t actively growing. If you have shortened the grass over time, your clippings should be fairly small too and can be left on the lawn. They will act as light mulch and, as they break down, will be able to replenish nitrogen to the soil.
- Apply a very light fertilizer with next to no nitrogen and that is high in potassium. Potassium will not encourage growth as nitrogen would, but it will help increase the lawn’s tolerance for cold and other environmental stresses. Keep in mind that potassium fertilizer can burn as well, so only apply the bare minimum. Do it before the grass becomes completely dormant, and follow the recommendations of a soil test, if possible.
- Limit the amount of foot traffic. As grass growth slows down, it will be less able to repair from injuries. Use sidewalks and other pathways while the grass is dormant.
- Irrigate the lawn deeply. You will not need to irrigate the lawn as frequently when it is dormant. Provided there is no snow or heavy rainfall, every 4 weeks will be sufficient.
- Drain your sprinkler pipes. If there is any possibility of temperatures dropping below freezing, remaining water could expand as ice and crack the sprinkler pipes. Even if your pipes automatically drain, double check!