Preparing for winter – if it ever arrives!

20 degrees at the end of November – it happens! I’ve seen many a gardener in short sleeves working away on the cusp of December. It’s a fact that our autumns and winters are changing. And with it our gardening habits are changing too. But there’s a dual problem with this.

TV shows and magazines still make us believe that our gardens basically shut down over the winter (so what are we to do in a mild spell late in November? Get out the deck chairs?); and grass – well, grass is overlooked at the best of times, but of course it never completely shuts down. In fact, winter preparation and some care through the coldest months is one of the most important things you can do for your lawn.

It’s true that many plants and shrubs do hibernate through the coldest months – so we cut them back and protect the more vulnerable ones from frost, and the job’s done. But preparing your grass is different. Your lawn is made up of millions of individual plants, each with its own fragile root system. If you stopped to think about it, you’d want to throw a thermal blanket over the lawn at the first sign of frost!

Fortunately you don’t have to resort to such extreme measures. Although small and delicate, your grass plants are more than capable of surviving even the toughest winters providing you give them some help.

In fact, I think the state of your lawn in mid-winter should be one of the main measures of good lawn care. After all, anyone can make their grass look good in summer, with some fertilizer, good sunshine and some neat mowing. But real lawn care is year-round – and this year you can do a few simple things to get yours ready for winter – if it ever comes:

  • If you haven’t aerated your lawn and conditions are good, do it now. Hollow tine and don’t forget to clear up those cores. Don’t worry about filling up the holes – they’ll help keep the moisture moving through the soil profile.
  • Use a ferrous sulphate application sometime over the next couple of months. It will lock up valuable nutrients and harden up the turf as well as deterring any moss.
  • If your lawn is still growing – keep on mowing. As long as your blades are sharp and you don’t cut too short your lawn will actually enjoy it.
  • Continue to edge, shape and tidy – and use turf rather than seeds for any repairs; you’ll enjoy the results much faster.
  • Keep removing fallen leaves from the lawn. They create a warm, damp environment, ideal for diseases, and they can lead to dead patches that you only notice when you finally get round to raking up the leaves. It’s also a good time to inspect any overhanging trees and shrubs and maybe prune them back to help those struggling shady areas.

And finally, when the sub-zero temperatures do eventually arrive, try not to walk on a lawn covered with frost. You’ll just bruise the grass. Instead, make some tea and sit by the fire, reviewing last year’s lawn care and making plans for any changes you’ll make next year.