Last Lawn Care Before Snow

By Beth Berlin, University of Minnesota Extension
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Although your grass may not have grown much over the past few weeks, proper lawn care before the snow flies is important for long term health. Removing leaves and mowing to the correct dormant season height is important and may take a few steps.
During the growing season, to promote healthy turf grass the ideal height of your lawn should be 2.5-3.0 inches. However during the dormant season the grass should be at 2.0-inches. For best results, this should be a gradual lowering of your mower deck over two to three weeks. This allows the grass to adjust more gradually to the lower height rather than scalping. All too often, home owners and lawn care companies scalp the turf grass for the last mowing. This leaves the turf in a sensitive state, and may even damage the crowns of the plants. Scalping is when more than one-third of the grass blade height is removed in one cutting. Scalping is particularly stressful for turf right before cold conditions and winter set in. However, regardless of the time of year, scalping stresses the plant and reduces turf density which provides opportunities for weeds to establish.
Our lawns do need care before they go dormant; this not only includes reducing the height but also removing leaves. Leaving tall grass or leaf cover can cause turf grass damage by smothering the grass and creating an environment more susceptible to “snow mold”. The fungi that cause snow mold thrive in moist, cool environments, and therefore fall is the time to remove the leaves from our lawns to help prevent snow mold from occurring next spring.
A small amount of leaves, typically less than an inch, can be left unraked or bagged and instead be rotary mowed. Excess leaves can be utilized in several ways including composting. Leaves can be added to a compost pile with other lawn clippings, non-woody plant trimmings, yard waste, straw, etc. Shredding leaves is not required but will speed up the process of decomposition. Compost piles consisting of only leaves will require an extra source of nitrogen, such as commercial fertilizer, or materials high in nitrogen to assist with the decomposition.
Another way to dispose of your leaves is to use them as mulch for your perennials and bulbs. Snow is a fantastic insulator for our plants, but putting a layer of leaves after the ground freezes on top of the perennials or bulbs will insulate them in case there isn’t a sufficient layer of snow this winter.
So don’t put all your garden equipment away just yet, take a few more steps yet this fall so your lawn and gardens can fare the winter a little better.

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