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Winterizing Your Home Lawn

submitted by Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Educator

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Nebraska's growing season is drawing to a close, but there are still a few things you can do to make sure your lawn emerges green and healthy next spring.


Continue mowing as long as your lawn keeps growing, and return clippings to the lawn. Grass unmowed late in the season can become matted under snow, making the turf more prone to snow mold diseases. Recommended mowing height for Kentucky bluegrass throughout the growing season, is 2.5-3.5 inches and 3-3.5 inches for tall fescue.

In the past, recommendations were common to raise and lower mower height settings during the growing season, however research has shown very little benefit from this practice, compared to mowing at a slight taller setting throughout the entire season. Plus, it certainly is easier for most homeowners to set their mower at one height in spring and leave it for the entire summer.


Even through grass foliage vertical growth slows down and finally stops in fall, turfgrass roots continue to absorb and utilize nutrients as long as the leaf blades are green and the soil is not frozen. Late fall fertilization is important for extended fall color retention, early spring lawn green-up, root growth, and increased stress tolerance.

About the time of the season's last mowing, between October 15 and November 15, Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue lawns should receive 0.5-0.75 pounds of Nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, using a fertilizer that contains mostly water soluable nitrogen, such as urea. Do not apply fertilizer after the turf has become brown or if the soil is frozen.

Though "winterizer" fertilizers that are available in retail outlets often have high potassium and maybe phosphorus, there is no benefit from additional potassium or phosphorus unless soil tests indicate a deficiency. Plus potassium and phosphorus tend to be the most expensive nutrients in the bag, so they can often be minimized unless a soil test justifies the need.


Homeowners with large, mature trees in their landscapes need to manage tree leaves on the lawn in late fall. A thick layer of leaves left in place can become wet, matted and smother the underlying grass, making conditions more conducive for snow mold development. A thick leaf layer also provides great habitat and protection for voles, which can cause significant amounts of damage to a lawn from their winter-feeding activities.

If the lawn does not have thatch problems then a light layer of leaves, up to two inches, can be chopped up with a mower and allowed to filter back to the soil surface. Heavier layers of leaves should be removed, and could be added to a compost pile as a great source of carbon-rich organic matter.

This resource was added November 2013 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement


University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

Contact Information University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lancaster County
Web site: lancaster.unl.edu
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A, Lincoln, NE 68528 | 402-441-7180