Winter Maintenance – The secret to having a well-kept green lawn in winter is to start preparing it in autumn.
It might seem your lawn is dormant in winter, but it’s how the grass is cared for during this period which will make the difference to the overall health and beauty of it during the summer.
All leaves and other debris on the grass must conscientiously be raked up and put in the compost bin during autumn. The lawn will not receive proper moisture, nutrients, sunlight and air if the leaves are left on the grass. While most lawns do not grow at all during winter, they can still die if buried under any kind of debris.
Also keep in mind that weed growth does take place in summer only, the opposite is true. Weeds grow much faster in the winter than the grass, as the lawns are lying dormant during this time. If weeds aren’t controlled and permitted to grow wild over the winter, there may be very little grass left when summer comes along.
It’s a good idea to scarify the lawn in late winter, just before spring. Planning ahead is very important. You need short dry grass for raking or scarifying so bring the grass height down gradually over a week or two beforehand. This doesn’t shock the grass and allows the lawn to breathe and receive maximum light. Plan to rake or scarify on a dry day, afternoons are often best.
Cover the lawn with a fine layer of lawn dressing once the grass has been cut. You can buy your lawn dressing at Grass Factory & Eco Organics outlets in Johannesburg and Pretoria. The lawn dressing will protect the lawn from any frost, and it will nourish the grass. Be sure to water the lawn twice a week until the grass has grown through the dressing.
Steps to a Healthy Lawn.
1. Mark irrigation heads to avoid damage during mowing
For areas that are irrigated, flag all sprinkler heads, especially if rotors are used. Rotors tend to stick up a half-inch or more and could get damaged by lawn mower blades during the scalping process.
2. Closely mow, or scalp, the lawn close to the ground
Two passes on the mower will be necessary to adequately remove all the grass and any thatch from the lawn. It’s best to bag the clippings for a debris-free lawn that enables the best penetration of seed. Ideally, the first mowing should remove all of the top growth by cutting about half the height of the grass. The second pass should cut the remaining growth as close to the dirt as possible while leaving some grass as a cover for the seed.
3. Apply ryegrass seed generously across the lawn
Overseed the lawn using a rotary spreader that typically is used for applying fertilizers and bug control granules. It’s best to put down 10 lbs. of seed per 1,000 square feet of law. Typically, an average residential yard is 5,000 square feet, so 50 lbs. Use the highest setting on the spreader to fully cover the lawn.
4. Keep seeds moist for two weeks to promote germination
Once the seed is done, turn on the water. The idea is to keep the seeds moist over the 14 days. This may require watering three times per day – early morning, late afternoon and middle of the night – if restrictions permit. Be careful not to overwater. Standing puddles can drown the grass seed.
5. Fertilize lawn to stimulate root growth
After the seeds germinate, apply a starter fertilizer to stimulate root growth. Choose a fertilizer that is high in potassium and phosphorus, but not necessarily nitrogen. Nitrogen is more for stimulating growth of foliage and mature grass.
6. After lawn fills in, mow for the first time
About 10 days after fertilizing, the lawn should be filled in with the winter grass. At that time, mow for the first time. Mowing prior to that could actually pull the grass from its roots rather than clip it.
7. Reseed any spots where first seeding did not take hold
After the first mow, it may be necessary to reseed spots where the grass did not take for whatever reason. It’s best to do this by hand, applying an evenly spread and generous amount of seed into the area. If seeding a bare spot, the seeds only need to touch the soil.
8. Fertilize during winter season to keep grass green
Fertilize two or three times during the winter season to give the winter grass strength. Using a greater amount of nitrogen will help top growth and keep the lawn looking green throughout the winter, even as summer grass goes dormant.
As winter turns to spring, it’s best to do another scalping to remove winter grass going dormant as summer grass comes to life. Fertilizing again will ensure that your lawn has a healthy start to the spring.