Brrr… Are we really talking about “winter” at the beginning of October? It seems so early and yet now is the time to prepare your lawns for the next 4 months. Here’s the scoop and why our lawns perform so poorly in the PNW over the winter months… Our winters are cold, dark and wet. And guess what lawns like? Yep… Hot, bright and relatively dry. So it is no wonder our lawns go into a tailspin — We are trying to grow them in conditions they do not like.

But there are some things we can do to prepare our lawns for the long nights ahead. Here are my top 5 tips for helping our lawns overwinter…

#1: Mow your lawn fairly short and don’t let leaves build-up. Mowing your lawn short isn’t scalping your lawn. Mow it short enough so the grass blades stand up on their own and don’t fall over creating a mat. But, do this as you get into your last 2 mowings of the year, usually around Thanksgiving. As long as we have warmer and sunnier days, leave your grass long as the increased blade length increases photosynthesis and builds deeper roots.

Also, be persistent and keep your lawn clean by removing leaves as they fall. The grass needs sunlight and leaf debris not only blocks out the sun but also keeps excess moisture from evaporating. It is perfectly okay to put the leaves back into your beds but keep them off your lawn.

#2: Apply a good organic fertilizer, maybe even twice. As the soil temperatures drop, the grass will naturally slow down and not absorb much in the way of nutrients. The lower soil temperatures will also slow down its metabolism. Applying organic fertilizers will still supply low amounts of nutrients and as they overwinter will feed soil microbes so when your lawn wakes up in the spring all that food will be available for your lawn to take off!

#3: Promote probiotics. Yes, it is true that as the soil temperatures drop so too does the microbial activity. But this is still a good time to apply a thin layer of compost (1/4″ or less) or add compost tea (we call ours, FertileTea) to build the life in the soil. The microbes will continue to breakdown the organic fertilizers and organic matter and when springtime comes — Boom! You are off and running…

#4: Check and adjust your pH. Our lawns like a fairly “neutral” pH but our weather tends to drive our soils to a more acidic nature. Now is a good time to apply granular lime to “sweeten” the soil over the winter. The granular form breaks down slowly and our winter rains are perfect for helping with that process. But before applying, be sure you need lime by doing a soil test.

#5: Please be very careful with applying anything where you don’t have good data on hand… Do not apply an insecticide because you think you “might” have a Cranefly issue. Do not apply Iron (for moss) without a current soil report and knowing exactly what the ramifications of applying Iron means to the pH of your soil and heavy metal build-up. Do not apply a fertilizer high in any macronutrient (those 3 numbers they put on the bag of fertilizer) without a soil test and understanding exactly what you are doing. And do not apply an herbicide for killing lawn weeds without knowing exactly what you are targeting and the proper time of year for application (and never, ever apply a weed-and-feed).

Finally, don’t panic. Healthy lawns are quite resilient and with just a little care your lawn will bounce back nicely in the springtime. And remember, in the wintertime in the PNW, there is no such thing as the “perfect” lawn. So, enjoy your time outside and give yourself a semi-break on lawn care…