University of Illinois Extension


Bruce Spangenberg,
Extension Educator, Horticulture Rockford Extension Center

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Preparing Lawns for Winter

With a variety of season-end chores to do, gardeners tend to neglect the lawn. There are a few guidelines to consider when preparing lawns for winter that can help keep problems to a minimum.

As conditions cool down in fall, some grasses go dormant faster than others, leading to multicolored lawns. For example, warm-season perennial grasses, such as nimblewill, appear as white or light gray patches in the lawn. Crabgrass, a warm-season annual, dies off in early fall, leaving brown areas in the lawn. Different cultivars of desirable lawn grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, may vary in how fast they go dormant, which can add to the mottled appearance of lawns this time of year.

One of the main problems facing lawns over winter is snow mold disease. Remember all the crusty patches early last spring as the snow melted away? Lawns left very high for the winter, along with being covered with debris such as leaves, are prime candidates for damage. Other factors increasing the chances for snow mold include excess nitrogen fertilizer, shade, poor drainage, and excess thatch.

Avoid heavy snow mold development by cleaning up fallen leaves and other debris off your lawn. If the lawn is quite tall, a final mowing may be needed; although it could be too late if grasses have gone dormant and are matted down. Also avoid packing down snow cover on lawns, as slowly melting areas may be more prone to snow mold early next spring.

Another lawn problem that can be very visible early next spring is vole or field mouse damage. These animals will leave a series of winding trails in the grass as they burrow under snow cover. Cleaning up leaves and mowing until the end of the season will help minimize damage. In addition, remove any excess vegetative debris near lawn areas, as it could be cover for voles.

Finally, one last problem to consider this winter is salt damage to lawn grasses. Avoid shoveling or plowing snow containing high levels of deicing salts onto turf areas, as high levels of salt will lead to turf damage next spring. Try to clear snow before putting down salt and only use enough salt to get the job done.

October - November 2000: Recycling Leaves in the Yard | Fall Garden Wrap-Up Checklist | Preparing Lawns for Winter | Pumpkins and Cranberries

Past Issues

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