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September 21, 2022  |  Lawn & Garden

How to winterize your lawn in the fall

Everything your lawn needs to survive the winter

Winter weather can be cruel to lawns. To make sure your lawn survives the coldest season, it’s best to start prepping in the fall to give it the best possible chance for thriving in the spring. 

Before preparing your lawn for the winter, it’s essential to understand the unique characteristics of the soil in your yard. You’ll want to check the ph, alkaline, and acidic levels in the soil. 

You don’t have to be a soil scientist to do this. Fortunately, the United States Department of Agriculture offers free help through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which partners with the Land-Grant University system

The LGU system includes the 1862 public universities, the 1890 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and the 1994 Tribal Colleges and Universities. These colleges and universities have department “extensions” with staffers who study issues about agriculture, food, and the environment that impact local communities. Contact your local university or extension for information about soil and grass specific to your region. 

Once you understand which nutrients your soil needs, you’ll want to weed, aerate, fertilize, water, and seed in order to effectively winterize your lawn. 

Weed

Weeds are unwanted plants that compete with your grass for nutrients. Think of weeds as uninvited guests to the lawn party; these party crashers soak up too much food and water and starve your lawn, so removing weeds is essential to protecting it.

Best of the best weed killer

Roundup For Lawns: available at Amazon

Our take: This is an affordable and effective weed killer that works immediately and is rainproof within 3 hours. 

What we like: The extended wand allows you to spot treat your lawn.  

What we dislike: Some customers reported that the battery-operated spritzer fails.

Best bang for your buck weed killer

Ortho B Gon Weed Killer for Lawns Concentrate: available at Amazon

Our take: This potent chemical works on hundreds of different weeds, including the pervasive dandelion. 

What we like: Ortho’s B Gon is tough on weeds but not on your grass. 

What we dislike: May not be as effective on clover or creeping Charlie.

Best affordable weed killer

Spectracide Weed Stop: available at Amazon

Our take: The Spectracide weed killer is a budget-friendly alternative to other brands. 

What we like: It kills grassy weeds, including dandelion, chickweed, clover, crabgrass, and yellow nutsedge. 

What we dislike: You may have to apply a couple of times before you see results.

Fertilize

Fertilizer is food for your lawn, which needs the proper nutrients to survive in the winter. All fertilizers include three primary ingredients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

When you see fertilizers labeled winter, fall, or shade, keep in mind the most important part is the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Your soil test will let you know what combination of those you need. 

Best of the best fertilizer

Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Lawn Food: available at Amazon and Home Depot 

Our take: Delivers nutrients to the soil to build strong deep roots for a nicer lawn in the spring.

What we like: This fertilizer helps the lawn absorb water nutrients. 

What we dislike: Sometimes, when stored, large clumps form in the bag. 

Best bang for your buck fertilizer

Scotts Turf Builder Winterguard Fall Weed and Feed: available at Home Depot and Amazon

Our take: This fall fertilizer doubles as a weed killer. It’s an affordable way to knock out two lawn winterizing chores at once. 

What we like: Kills common weeds while supplying nutrients to the lawn that will strengthen it during the tough winter months. 

What we dislike: It’s not recommended for St. Augustine grass, popular in Florida and other gulf states.  

Best splurge fertilizer

Super Juice All-in-One Soluble Supplement Lawn Fertilizer: available at Amazon

Our take: A water-soluble fertilizer that you can spray onto a lawn. Super Juice can be used as your primary fertilizer or to supplement a granular mixture. 

What we like: Because it’s sprayed on, the lawn absorbs nutrients quickly. There’s also enough to cover an acre.  

What we dislike: This product can’t be shipped to South Dakota or California. 

Aerate 

Aeration breaks up the soil, allowing your lawn to breathe and better absorb water. 

Best of the best aerator

Agri-Fab 48-Inch Tow Plug Aerator: available at Amazon

Our take: A universal hitch allows you to attach this workhorse to any riding mower or lawn tractor to aerate tough soils, including clay. 

What we like: Comes with a 3-year warranty. This is a well-built aerator that will last for years.

What we dislike: Bulky to store and may be overkill for a modest-sized lawn. 

Best bang for your buck aerator

Yard Butler Multi Spike Lawn Aerator: available at Amazon

Our take: This manual aerator requires more manpower, but its 3-inch spikes go deep into the ground, helping you loosen soil. 

What we like: Allows you to access tight spaces you might not be able to get to with a larger aerator.  

What we dislike: Requires more sweat-equity and takes longer to aerate. 

Best simple aerator

Agri-Fab Push Spike Aerator: available at Amazon

Our take: If you’d rather not muscle your way through your lawn, this rolling option allows you to manually aerate your lawn in less time

What we like: You can add a concrete block to drive spikes deeper into the lawn.  

What we dislike: Some people might find this aerator difficult to maneuver. 

Seed

Lawns take a beating during the summer. Heat, drought, and outdoor activities can leave lawns with missing patches of grass, known as “bald spots.” The fall is a great time to seed lawns so that they can take root in the winter and produce a lush lawn in the spring. 

Best of the best seed mix

Scotts Turf Builder Grass Seed Northeast Mix: available at Amazon

Our take: This is a disease-resistant grass mix developed to survive harsh winters in the Northeast. Scotts Turf Builder is also available in a Pacific Northwest Mix and Southern Gold Mix

What we like: This seed mix produces dense growth patterns that help squeeze out crabgrass and dandelions. 

What we dislike: May need more watering than other seed mixtures. 

Best bang for your buck seed mix

Jonathan Green Black Beauty Ultra Grass Seed Mix: available at Amazon

Our take: This seed mixture contains a variety of grasses and produces a lush green lawn. 

What we like: It grows well in clay and sandy soils. 

What we dislike: Sometimes grows unevenly, due to some seeds failing to germinate fully. 

Best quick fix seed mix

Scotts PatchMaster Lawn Repair Mix Sun and Shade Mix: available at Amazon

Our take: A quick-fix solution to patch up bald spots in your lawn. 

What we like: Premixed with mulch, fertilizer, and seeds, this mixture is ideal for smaller lawns that don’t experience a prolonged deep freeze.

What we dislike: This mixture is for patching only. It’s not designed to be spread over the entire lawn.

 

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.