Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

Preparing Turf for Winter

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Fall is good for more than just raking leaves and cooler nights.  Fall is actually one of the better times of the year to improve your turf.  Take advantage of these cooler temperatures and prepare your lawn for the coming spring.

The last fertilizer application of the year is often referred to as winterizer fertilizer.  This fertilizer application is more than just a tongue twister, it is important to prepare cool season turfgrasses for the following year.  Winterizer fertilizers are normally applied at the time of the last mowing, which is usually late October to early November.  The lawn isn’t growing ‘up’ at this time of the year, which will relocate the fertilizer to other parts of the plants, mainly the root system.  The remainder of the fertilizer will be stored in the crown and rhizomes of the turf and will be utilized next spring.

The type of nitrogen and make-up of the fertilizer can make a difference.  When you look at the fertilizer bag, there will be three numbers present.  These numbers indicate the ratio of the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the bag.  Nitrogen, the first number, is usually the nutrient that is most needed especially in the winter.  Ideally you would like to have at least half of the product to be a slow release nitrogen source, like sulfur coated urea.  Nitrogen should be applied at a rate of 1 to 1.5 pounds per 1,000 square feet.  The ratios on the bag should be similar to a 1-0-1 or 1-0-5.5, or some examples of typical numbers for winterizer fertilizers could be 21-0-20 or 19-2-13.  These ratios will provide close to an equal amount of potassium, the third number, along with the nitrogen.  Studies have shown that potassium aids the turf in tolerating stress.

Before you apply the fertilizer; can you see your turfgrass in lawn?  Heavy layers of leaves can do a few things to your lawn.  If they are thick enough, leaves can smother the lawn and also create conditions that can be favorable to snow mold.  Raking or mowing the leaves on a regular basis can help to prevent this heavy layer of leaves from forming and matting down on the turf before winter.  If the leaves aren’t utilized in the compost pile or worked into the garden soil, they can simply be mowed over.  Using the mulching blade on the lawn mower will chop up the leaves into smaller pieces that are able to filter down between the grass blades.  This helps keep you from having to haul the leaves away and it also helps to add organic matter back into the soil.  By removing or mulching the leaves on the lawn, you can ensure that your high quality winterizer fertilizer will be able to filter down to the soil where it can be used by the turfgrass, rather than sitting up on top of the leaf litter.

Good news. There is still time to control pesky perennial weeds.  The ideal season to control perennial weeds like ground ivy, also known as Creeping Charlie, was between September 15th and the first frost, but there is still time.  Research out of Purdue shows that herbicides that contain triclopyr, like Turflon, were effective on ground ivy and retained their effectiveness when applied later in the season regardless of the first frost.  The study showed that broadleaf applications should be effective when made into the first week or two of November, but control might be not be seen until spring.

With a little time and effort now, your lawn can still look green and lush next spring and hopefully with a few less weeds too.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:

Author: Elizabeth Exstrom

A Nebraska Extension Educator out of Hall County with a focus in horticulture and sustainable landscapes.

One thought on “Preparing Turf for Winter

  1. This was really helpful. thanks, Elizabeth

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