How to Care For Your Lawn During the Winter

The winter isn’t just a time of resilience for humans. It’s also a fairly tough time for plants. And like many humans, some plants need to welcome the winter by using their resources carefully, hunkering down, and waiting for spring.

There’s actually a term for this, and you can think of it as the plant version of the word “hibernation”: winter dormancy. But even if you’re not familiar with this term, you’ve seen winter dormancy in action, such as when leaves fall off the trees in the autumn, stand bare through the winter, and then grow leaves again in the spring. Some form of this process happens across a wide range of cold-tolerant plants.

Let’s get ready for the winter together. I’ll explain what winter dormancy is, why and when your lawn will go dormant, how winter dormancy affects your lawn, and how to care for your lawn before and during the winter. With this new understanding, you’ll be able to easily care for your lawn throughout the cold season—and ensure a lush, colorful growth in the spring.

What is Winter Dormancy?

Winter dormancy is a natural state that many plants enter during the cold season. During this time, plants stop growing and become less active. For some plants, you’ll notice their appearance change, such as through the loss of leaves or a dulling of color.

At a closer level, what’s happening is that the metabolism of dormant plants comes to a virtual standstill, because winter conditions slows chemical activity in plants.

So what exactly are those chemical processes that are slowing? During the active months of growth in spring, each plant uses photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide, water, and some inorganic salts into carbohydrates. Before winter comes, plants move these carbohydrates from the leaves down into their roots to stay nourished during the cold season. At this point, the plants are no longer growing, but stay alive through this bank of nutrients stored in its roots.

Next time you look out into your yard and think it looks “dead,” remember this: there’s a lot happening under the surface!

Why Do Outdoor Plants Go Dormant?

Now you know how plants go dormant. But why is it necessary in the first place? Well, winter dormancy helps plants conserve energy and resources. During the winter, the ground may be frozen, the air dry, and there might be less sunlight available.

Plants are actually pretty smart. It’s once they stop receiving abundant sunlight and feel temperatures begin to fall that they reign in their vibrancy. They’re holding onto their energy under the surface because when conditions aren’t conducive to their growth, that’s the only way they’ll survive.

It’s sort of like budgeting for a big vacation—in order to prepare for extravagance, you need to be a little more frugal in the meantime.

When Will Your Lawn Go Dormant?

The time of the year that your lawn goes dormant depends on where you live, since environmental factors like sunlight and temperature differ. Here’s what to expect based on the region you live in. During winter dormancy, plants typically enter a state of reduced growth or suspended development up to 4 weeks before the arrival of the first frost. 


First Frost Date


August 25-31


September 1-8


September 8-15


September 21 – October 7


October 13 – October 21


October 17-31


October 29 – November 15


November 7-28


November 25 – December 13


No freeze


How Does Winter Dormancy Affect the Lawn?

When many look out onto a brown lawn, they’re quick to think that their grass is just, well, dead. Some might even calculate the cost of pulling out the current grass, fertilizing, and reseeding. But if this happens during the winter months, that grass could simply be dormant. The same goes for the trees, shrubs, and other plants in your yard—especially if the species are cold-resistant, meaning they’re known to survive the winter.

In other cases, your grass may still appear green and lush in the winter, but you might notice that it’s not growing as quickly as it does during the warmer months. This is perfectly normal, and also a sign that your grass is in a state of dormancy.

If you live in a highly seasonal place, it might be advantageous to consider the winter when landscaping. Although we usually plant in the spring, imagine how any new additions will look in the winter. Some dormant plants actually look beautiful, especially when spotted with snow.

How Should You Prepare Your Lawn for the Winter?

Thankfully, the plants in your lawn don’t have to go against the winter alone. You can assist them for a smooth dormancy—and lots of vibrancy come spring—by aerating your lawn just before the first frost, followed by fertilizing the soil.

Fertilizing your lawn gives grass more of the nutrients it needs as it prepares for winter. Once fertilized, your grass roots will absorb and store those nutrients until the spring. Once the weather warms up again, your grass will tap into any unused nutrients to start the season greener and more vibrant, faster.

How Should You Care for Your Lawn During Winter?

When your grass and plants go dormant for the winter, it’s important to adjust how you maintain your lawn. Modify your lawn care routine to account for the fact that your grass is no longer growing as actively. This involves watering your lawn less frequently, mowing it less often, and avoiding certain lawn care products that could put too much stress on your grass during its dormant state.

It’s also imporant to keep your lawn cleared of piled up leaves and other debris. The last thing you want is for your dormant grass to suffocate over the winter. Help it during its hardest season, and you’ll be rewarded in the spring.

Winterizing Your Irrigation System

One major task before the cold season is winterizing your irrigation system in order to prevent damage caused by freezing. Actually, it’s only a major task if you don’t have a smart above-ground irrigation system like the highly-engineered OtO device.

If you have a more traditional inground irrigation, you should probably call in a professional to nail the winterization process. The OtO device, on the other hand, is all about smart simplicity. If you have the OtO device, all you have to do is bring it inside your garage or shed for the winter. Plus, it automatically calculates how to treat your lawn, including water and other necessities, such as organic (that’s non-synthetic) fertilizer. Its features make your life—and preparing for the winter—easier.

With this genius device and a little understanding about how winter dormancy works, your lawn will be ready for whatever the winter has to bring.

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