Should You Fertilize in Winter?

Applying winter fertilizer is a great way to help your lawn weather the colder months and bounce back to its healthy green state in spring.

But, while that may be true in some cases, it largely depends on your grass type and where you live—because you want to add nutrients when the grass is actively growing. For example, the warm-season grasses that thrive in the warm, humid climate of Florida, grow most actively in late spring through summer into early fall and thus do better with a fertilizer application in spring.

Nevertheless, winter fertilizing is a proactive measure to ensure your grass survives freezing temperatures and is ready to flourish in spring.

Should You Fertilize a Dormant Lawn?

Dormancy is a natural survival mechanism for grass during stressful periods. With shorter days and cooler temperatures, warm-season grasses grow slower in winter, specifically when the temperatures are below 74ºF. They may also enter a dormant state when temperatures consistently fall under 60ºF, completely stopping growth.

But because of the generally mild winters in Florida, warm-season grasses may not enter full dormancy and will continue to grow, albeit at a slower rate. It means whether you should fertilize your warm-season grass in winter will depend on your local weather and whether your grass has completely stopped growing or is growing more slowly.

When fertilizing in winter, remember that less vigorously growing grass requires fewer nutrients. Meanwhile, full dormancy lawns will stop growing and thus don't need fertilizer. With reduced absorption capacity, it's advisable to delay fertilizing until spring when your grass starts greening up again to ensure optimal results and avoid the risks of nutrient runoff. So, if you've been fertilizing regularly throughout the year, your lawn should remain resilient even during winter.

When to Apply Winter Fertilizer

The best way to prepare your lawn for winter is to apply fertilizer ahead of the cooler weather. Aim for a final application around mid to late September, as the fall season concludes. However, in certain regions, applying winter fertilizer a bit sooner may be necessary to accommodate the earlier onset of colder weather. This proactive step is essential for storing nutrients to aid the lawn in weathering the harsh winter conditions and kickstarting its growth when spring arrives. Read here for a more comprehensive guide on the best time to apply fertilizer to grass.


Slow-Release Fertilizer vs. Liquid Fertilizer: What's the Best Winter Fertilizer?

Most warm-season grasses respond well to slow-release fertilizer, which you can apply once in the fall before the soil cools. Its gradual nutrient release contrasts with the rapid-acting nature of liquid fertilizers, ensuring a consistent supply of nutrients for stronger root development and uniform growth while reducing the risks of nutrient leaching and other environmental concerns.

NutriPod is a slow-release grass plug fertilizer formulated to supplement them with the essential nutrients for stronger root growth and uniform development. It lays the groundwork for the newly transplanted plugs to adapt and thrive in their new environment successfully.

Should you apply winter fertilizers, consider conducting a soil test to identify the precise nutrients your soil needs and allow for a targeted approach, thus maintaining optimal soil health and strength during winter.


Winter Lawn Care in Florida

While you may not have to fertilize your lawn in the winter when it's dormant, proper lawn care measures are essential to minimize damage during the season.

Never Aerate Dormant Lawns

Aerating a lawn involves either spiking the lawn to create holes or removing small plugs of soil to allow for better air, water, and nutrient penetration so they reach the grass roots and thus strengthen your lawn. It also relieves soil compaction and helps break up thatch to improve air circulation.

While beneficial, we advise refraining from aerating dormant lawns to prevent adding further stress to the grass already in survival mode, potentially delaying post-winter recovery. The optimal time to aerate warm-season grass is mid-spring to early summer when the weather is warmer, and the grass is actively growing.

Avoid Foot Traffic

During dormancy, a lawn becomes more sensitive to foot traffic damage as the lack of moisture prevents the grass from quickly recovering. When stressed and weakened, it also becomes more vulnerable to weeds and will have difficulty greening in spring.

Refrain from walking on dormant grass and moving heavy equipment across to minimize winter damage. If walking is necessary, stay on designated walkways to limit damage.

Skip Mowing Dormant Lawn

As long as the grass grows at its standard rate, you can maintain your regular mowing schedule throughout winter. Set the mower at the highest setting and avoid removing more than one-third of the grass blades to prevent scalping.

However, when the grass stops growing and becomes fully dormant, it's advisable to refrain from mowing, as doing so can potentially stress the grass, leading to damage. Wait until the grass is actively growing again in early spring before resuming regular mowing.


Water Once Every Two Weeks

Dormant grass generally requires less water than it does when it's actively growing. But, even in dormancy, the roots continue growing slightly, and some water is essential, particularly in unusually dry winter conditions, to ensure its healthy return in spring.

Water sparingly—ideally once every two weeks, applying 1 to 1½ inches of water in a single application. Water in the morning, allowing enough time for moisture to evaporate during the day, preventing the grass from staying wet overnight, which may encourage fungal diseases.

Leave Grass Clippings on the Lawn

Florida winters are generally mild and drier than other seasons. Before winter, as your grass enters dormancy, conduct your last mowing session and leave the grass clippings on the lawn. Mow over them to break them into smaller pieces and spread them to 1-2 inches thick to help preserve soil moisture. Remove any excess clipping beyond this thickness to avoid suffocating the grass.

A winter lawn maintenance routine generally entails measures to prepare your lawn for the colder temperatures and things you shouldn't do during the season. Applying fertilizer is a necessary preemptive measure to boost your lawn's resilience and ensure your grass survives freezing temperatures and is ready to flourish in the next season.

Fertilizer applications can seem like a complex task considering when, how, and whether to use them at all. However, it doesn't have to be overly complicated. By observing your local conditions and understanding your soil's specific needs, you can nourish your grass and help your lawn survive the season.

It emphasizes the importance of choosing a slow-release fertilizer to reduce the potential risks associated with traditional fertilizers by ensuring a steady nutrient supply to your grass as you approach the winter season.

Did you find this article helpful? How do you prepare your lawn for winter in Florida? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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