Winter Lawn and Garden Prep

Jane Matthews

If you are sick of the white stuff and cold, why not imagine a spring awakening courtesy of your lawn and garden? When frigid winter days have you longing for spring showers and their magical flowers, there is no need to suffer in silence. Instead, start prepping for the upcoming bloom season and sunnier days with these tips.


Organize Your Tool Shed: Every lawn-care provider needs the right tools for the job; yours will vary based on the physical landscape and your vision of what’s to come. Your budget and ideas and an hour at a local home-improvement store can set you on your path. Some basics to include:
  • Work gloves (to protect your hands)
  • Lawn and leaf bags (bag that garbage)
  • Cultivator (disturb soil)
  • Garden fork (loosen, lift, and turn over soil)
  • Hand trowel (loosen the earth, dig small holes; handy for ground planting, weeding, fertilizing, and working with pots)
  • Shovel (digging and moving dirt for larger planting projects)
  • Snow fencing (The temporary fencing will give you control over drifting snow by allowing you to control where it accumulates.)
  • Pruners (to cut back branches and stems)
  • Weed care (weeder, weed whacker, or weed killer)
  • Garden hose
  • Knee saver (a comfort device)
  • Lawnmower
  • Lightweight trimmer (for shaping hedges)
  • Rain barrels for water collection
Take Care of Turf: Achieving a photo-worthy green lawn takes multi-seasonal effort that varies based on the type of grass you have. Cold-zone dwellers with cool-season grass should use a hands-and-feet-off approach to lawn care. Why? Because applying pressure may result in unsightly lawn marks that only disappear in warmer temperatures. Do you live in a more temperate climate and have a warm-season lawn? Late winter is the perfect time to pick up any debris that gathered over the season and to trim the blades courtesy of mowing.

Check for Snow Mold: Don't be deceived by the glistening snow; there could be some ugly underneath. Snow mold grows in wet, cold weather and can cause root rot, or kill grass after a thaw. Preventing this condition is cheaper than fixing it. We recommended crushing those mini-moguls with a shovel, scattering piles to prompt melting, and installing snow fencing in problem zones. It is worth the effort to commit a couple of hours to the task as it can save hundreds of dollars in professional assistance.

Whack Weeds: Those with warm-season turf can spot winter weeds this time of year. Now is the time to pull those guys, or to treat problem areas with a post-emergence herbicide. Make sure to read all the product instructions and confirm that what you are buying is right for your greenery; that step can help you from accidentally injuring or killing your lawn. If you have an afternoon to spare, pulling the weeds using specialized equipment can help you resolve the issue before turning to a chemical solution.

Nurture Your Yard: During the off-season, your greenery worked up a thirst and an appetite. It is time to feed that beast. Nourishing your lawn will help grass develop strong roots, and water is necessary for lawn life. A bag of food (for 15,000 square feet) costs around $40; make sure you know your yard dimensions so you can buy the right amount. Once there is a warming trend, you can water your yard, trees, and shrubs regularly.

Prep for Planting: While it may be too early to plant shrubs or trees, you can start clearing the way to make room for future flowers. The dead of winter is the perfect time to gather dead leaves, branches, and growth that didn't survive the season. If your routine requires tree trimming or removal, leave that to the professionals. While it can cost several hundred dollars, the investment will save you time and effort, and ensure the tree isn't overtrimmed, which can cause permanent damage.

Prune: In late winter, trees are bare, and many shrubs and trees lay dormant; that makes it the perfect time to cut. Proper trimming helps stimulate future plant growth because of the minimized wound exposure time until growing season. When you are ready, search for plant limbs that are more than an inch in diameter and follow this three-step method from
  1. Make a small wedge shaped cut on the underside of the branch just on the branch side of the stem collar. This will break the bark at that point and prevent a tear from running along the bark and stem tissue.
  2. Somewhat farther along the branch, starting at the top of the branch, cut all the way through the branch leaving a stub end.
  3. Finally, make a third cut parallel to and just on the branch side of the of the stem collar to reduce the length of the stub as much as possible.”
Plan on spending 15-30 minutes per plant, take your time, and do it right. And hold off on cutting maples and birches until summer, as they can leach sap if pruned in late winter.

Maintain the Mower: If you are handy, get ahead of the warm-weather rush and spend an afternoon conducting routine maintenance such as sharpening blades, replacing the air filter and spark plugs, and buying fresh gas. Not so good with the tools? Spend 15 minutes and around $80 for a professional mower-maintenance service.

To Plant or Not to Plant? Just like opinions range from coast to coast, so will planting times; North America has 11 separate zones based on the USDA Hardiness Zone Map. Enter your zip code to find your zone’s seasonal planting calendar. When it is time to buy and plant, dedicate an entire weekend (or several afternoons) to doing the job.

If you'd rather outsource your outdoor work, visit your local home improvement store or nursery, and/or hire a landscape contractor. Make sure to arm yourself with a list of your existing tools, a budget for new expenditures, an idea of what you would like to do, and photos of your lawn and areas of particular interest. With that info in tow, a local lawn-care expert can provide you with tips for your region and help you select the right products for your specific needs.

Jane D. Matthews is a writer-for-hire living in the heart of Hollywood. She has created content for dozens of websites, worked as a ghostwriter, and contributed her words to a published NYC shopping guide. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, camping, vegetarian cooking, decorating, advising, and laughing until it hurts.