As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, lawns become vulnerable. Common lawn issues in winter include patchiness, weeds, and fungal problems. Luckily for us, these problems are easy to avoid.
Prevention is always better than cure and with a few simple measures and an adjusted lawn care routine for the colder months, your lawn will be fighting fit to make it through the winter.
What happens to my lawn in winter?
The most common lawns in Australia are warm season grasses – they thrive and flourish in the warmer months but when the weather turns cold their growth slows right down.
In winter there’s more shade and less daylight hours, leading to less sunlight for the lawn to use to photosynthesise. This makes lawns less resilient than in growing seasons, so even the hardiest of lawns will take longer to bounce back from damage, and unable to tolerate less-than-ideal conditions.
Start preparing your lawn in autumn
With a few measures in autumn you can have your lawn in top notch condition to make it through the winter and be ready and raring to spring to life at the first sign of warmer weather.
Firstly, prune any trees around your lawn so they don’t block those precious rays of sunlight. If you’ve got a particularly shady yard or trees which you don’t want to compromise with excessive pruning, it’s best to opt for a shade-tolerant lawn variety in the first place.
Broader leafed varieties tend to handle shady conditions best, so a good old Buffalo grass is the best candidate for making it through a shady winter strong and healthy. Buffalo can handle as little as 3 or 4 hours of sunlight per day if it doesn’t endure much wear and tear. It’ll need more than that, though, if the cold weather doesn’t stop your family for playing outside on the lawn.
In late autumn you should fertilise and use a pre-emergent weed killer. Laying down a winter fertiliser in May will ensure your lawn has enough nutrients to get through the cold weather.
Pre-emergent herbicides will stop weeds in their tracks before they have a chance to over-run your lawn in winter. This is especially important if you’ve had weed problems in previous winter seasons – if you’ve had them before you’re more likely to have them again, and it’s important to get on top of it early.
Caring for your lawn in winter
Mowing: it’s super important to increase your mowing height during winter. The lawn needs a bigger leaf surface area to absorb sunlight. Some lawns won’t recover from the stress of being moved too low in cold weather. This is one of the main causes of the common problem of patchy winter lawns.
It’s also important to use a catch bag on your mower so that off cuts don’t lay on top of the lawn. These will prevent sunlight reaching the lawn and can encourage fungal diseases.
Watering: Over-watering in winter is a major cause of common lawn issues. Excess water can cause the thatch layer to rot and increase the incidence of fungal diseases.
Poor drainage is another cause of lawn patchiness in winter. Water-logged soil is starved of oxygen and puts lawns under stress, meaning they’ll die off and leave brown patches where there is poor drainage.
Only water when the soil is actually dry, and try to do so in the morning so that excess water can evaporate during the day.
Fertilising: Apply another round of winter fertiliser in mid-winter, around July. Applying a seaweed tonic once a month can increase your lawn’s resistance to fungal infections.
Controlling weeds: During winter weeds take advantage of any gap in the lawn. Weeds can be a problem in winter lawns particularly when they’ve been present in previous years. They drop seeds which lay dormant in the soil and then spring to life the moment the cold sets in and the lawn’s resistance drops.
Common winter weeds are bindii, clover, dandelions, capeweed, cudweed and thistles. Thankfully, these are easily controlled with a simple application of herbicide. Just make sure you choose the right herbicide for your lawn. Where kikuyu and couch lawns will take a traditional herbicide, these formulas shouldn’t be used on buffalo turfs. There are special buffalo-turf-friendly herbicides which you need to use on those lawns.
Talk to your lawn care experts for specialist advice on your lawn, or just to grab the right products to keep your lawn fighting fit over winter.