7 Essential Winter Lawn Care Tips

As temperatures remain lower throughout the day and yards are covered by fallen leaves and the occasional blanket of snow, many Knoxville homeowners may hope for a few months free of lawn care. However, not preparing your lawn properly for the cold can make it harder to revitalize your grass, garden, and other landscaping once spring arrives. If you’re planning to buy or sell a house, an unattractive and barren yard could be discouraging. In order to keep your property grow-ready for the warmer months, follow these simple tips for winter lawn care.

1. Know Your Grass

How you prepare your lawn for the winter depends partly on whether your turf consists of “warm season” or “cool season” grass. For Tennesseans, this can be tricky, as both warm and cool season grasses are planted in this area. If you’re not sure which category your grass falls under, consult this handy online tool from Scotts or another like it. This tool uses your zip code to list possible grasses while providing helpful pictures and descriptions.

The kind of grass you grow will help you determine the best fertilizing and winterizing practices for your particular lawn.

2. Keep Grass Short Before Winter Hits

Before your yard begins to frost over, your grass should already be at a nice, short length. Lawns that are left too long in the winter become a haven for mice and other critters, which can eventually cause serious damage to your yard and leave bare patches in the spring. To avoid this, make sure you mow the lawn one last time before a freeze is predicted. This will keep your lawn healthy and prepped in anticipation of the next growing season.

Try to avoid abruptly cutting your grass short, however. Not only will this leave your grass less able to survive the winter, but it will leave your lawn vulnerable to winter weeds. Instead, slowly trim your lawn shorter and shorter as winter approaches, allowing your grass time to adapt.

3. Fertilize Your Lawn

Fertilizing the lawn before winter sets in might seem contradictory, but this, more than any other step, can ensure that your grass emerges healthy in the spring. During the harsh winter, grasses that remain active start to draw their energy from their roots rather than their leaves. Applying a winterizing fertilizer sends food directly to their roots just when they need it, allowing them to bounce back a few months later.

It’s typically recommended to apply winterizing fertilizer in October or November. If you didn’t do so, however, fertilizing some warm season grasses after September can harm new growth. This can be tricky to gauge, especially in the East Tennessee region. If you have warm season grass, consider consulting a local expert to find out when and if you should still fertilize your lawn to prepare for winter.

4. Aerate Before Winter (If You Can)

Like fertilizing, aerating will also keep your grass’ roots healthy during the winter. Aerating allows you to distribute oxygen and nutrients into the soil and doing so before winter gives the grass a better chance of growing healthily in the spring. Aerating can be done manually or with a powered aerator, depending on the expanse of your lawn.

5. Clear Dead Branches and Other Debris

Dead branches that are ready to fall not only present a potential danger to your lawn but can also be deadly if they fall on your home or car. Rather than let them fall on their own, take them down yourself using a limb pruner or hire a landscaper with experience in this area.

Branches that have already fallen and any other debris, like toys and lawn tools, should also be cleared before winter or early on in winter. Once your grass slows its growth, items left on it for too long can cause bare patches in the spring.

6. Avoid Damage from Your De-Icer

One common mistake that homeowners make during winter is distributing too much salt on their walkways. While de-icing products can be a great way to help keep people safe on their way to your door, too much salt straying onto your grass will eventually kill it. Each time you shovel salty snow off your paths or salty run-off enters your lawn, you risk the health of your grass and other plants.

To avoid this, only use the de-icer when necessary. Make shoveling your walkway your primary line of defense against slipping. Also, check your de-icer’s instructions to ensure that you only use as much salt as you need.

7. Protect Sensitive Plants

Many of the plants in your garden or on your porch will struggle to survive the harsh winds and low temperatures of winter. To protect them, move them away from windy areas. Lining plants against the house or in the center of a large, grown-in space can help.

After that, prepare your plants for winter by keeping their roots insulated with a thick layer of mulch. Additionally, when a frost or freeze is expected in the coming days, water your plants and cover them before temperatures fall too low. The cover you should use depends on the plant. In some cases, a large tarp or even old bedsheets or towels might work best. Smaller plants can be covered with an upside-down container.

If you’re looking to find a new home with a bigger lawn to keep beautiful in any season, try using Holloway Westerling’s MLS Search to filter homes based on your needs. Or, you’re welcome to contact us directly, and we’ll help move you into the home you’ve always wanted.

This post was originally published on October 31, 2016, but was updated on January 21, 2020. 


  1. I had a hard time looking after my lawn this winter and I had to do some research. After reading this great post of ready for this fight next year.

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