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Don't Let Winter Kill Your Lawn. Here's How to Keep It Looking Great

You need to take care of your lawn all year long. Here's how.

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Keep your lawn looking lovely all year.
D. Petku/ClassicStock/Getty Images

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

Even though mowing season has come to an end in many parts of the country, it's still important to take care of your lawn through the fall and winter -- even if you're not a big fan of yard work. After all, a healthy lawn will boost your home's curb appeal. It can also increase the value of your home ahead of a sale and help save money on your energy bills by reducing solar heat gain (PDF).

Lawn care doesn't have to be arduous or expensive, either. This guide tackles everything you need to do to keep your lawn looking healthy all year, no matter the season. Let's start with the basics. (For more lawn care tips, find out how much you can save by switching to an electric mower and how to get your old mower back in shape.)

Sunlight

Similar to other plants, your lawn needs sunlight, water and food to remain healthy. You want to pick the type of grass that correlates to how much sun you receive. Some turf-based grasses can do well with only four hours of direct sunlight per day, while others require as much as six hours. 

Another consideration is the shading in your yard. If you have shrubs or trees, you need to find grass that grows well in the shade, too. Meanwhile, some grass requires full sun, meaning it needs access to eight hours of sunlight per day in order to grow properly. 

If you don't know what kind of grass you have, a landscape professional can help you identify the type of grass you have and how much sunlight it needs. You'll also find lots of resources online to help you ID your lawn, including this guide from the University of California.

Use a DIY sprinkler system to water your lawn.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Water

In general, most grass needs 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. A smart, automated sprinkler system might be a worthy investment, but you can also set up an effective sprinkler system for less than $100 . Doing this allows you to adjust the watering schedule automatically by pushing them back a few days after a rainfall, while ensuring your lawn gets an even distribution of water. 

Fertilizer

The spring is prime time to start fertilizing your lawn. As a rule of thumb, when your grass looks ready for its first cut of the season it's ready for fertilizer. After your first application, you need to fertilize once every six to eight weeks until October if you use a slow-release fertilizer. 

Fall

Continue to water, fertilize and mow on schedule as needed. Maintaining the same schedule each year is vital to keeping your lawn healthy, as fertilizing or aerating too late in the season could restrict nutrient absorption. 

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At this time, you should overseed if you notice bare patches in your grass from foot traffic, pets or other causes. Early autumn is a critical period to do this because the soil is still warm and moist. 

You'll also want to prepare your grass for the cooler months ahead. As you approach the first frost, continue to reduce the blade height with each cut. By your last mow of the season, your grass should be between 2 and 2.5 inches, which can prevent snow mold

Winter

If you live in an area with a cooler climate, maintenance will be much less demanding during the frigid winter months. However, you still need to remain vigilant. For example, prevent undue lawn damage by eliminating foot traffic across it. 

And if you must de-ice your walkways, choose a product with calcium chloride. Doing this prevents your grass from incurring salt damage. Once the temperature rises above freezing, make sure to give your lawn a thorough rinsing to flush out any excess salt.

Moreover, when you have to shovel snow from your driveway or sidewalk, avoid placing piles on your grass. All that extra weight can result in soil compaction, creating bare spots in your yard. Meanwhile, if you live in a warmer climate, continue to mow your grass. You also want to leave the blades longer to protect them from the cooler weather. 

Ultimately, these tips can help your yard look fantastic no matter the season. Just remember to inspect your yard regularly to assess its health. Noticing and dealing with trouble signs promptly will help prevent further problems down the road. 

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Spring

Spring is the perfect prep time for a great lawn season. Start by inspecting your yard for any debris or weeds and then promptly removing them. If you notice bare spots, overseed the area with grass seeds, then apply nitrogen fertilizer five weeks after application. 

Next, you should tune up your mower for the season. Sharpen its blades, replace its filter and spark plugs, and change the oil if necessary. If you want to buy a mower, choose one that works well for yard size. If you have a yard larger than a quarter acre, then a riding lawn mower will make the job much more manageable, since it likely has a wider cutting width. 

When you do your first mow of the season, adjust your mower to its highest cutting setting. Doing this trims the least amount as possible, at most one third of each grass blade. With more blade length, grass absorbs more sunlight. This, in turn, promotes root growth. Spring is also an excellent time to aerate your yard. Aerating your lawn allows the fertilizer to reach deep down to the roots of your grass. 

Summer

During the hot summer months, continue to cut your lawn high. This allows grass roots to grow stronger. You also want to keep applying fertilizer every six to eight weeks.

Summer is also when you need to be proactive about weed control. Use a targeted post-emergent pesticide to keep weeds from sprouting while protecting your grass. You also should have a grub control product on hand to prevent the spread of insect pests like Japanese beetles.

Since many climates are warmer and drier this time of the year, you'll also want to make sure to water once to twice per week. Hot weather increases water loss due to evaporation, too. Try to water your lawn in the early morning hours when temperatures are relatively cool.

More lawn care recommendations

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