Drop the Rake: Dispelling Winter Lawn Care Myths as the Mercury Drops

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The temperature is dipping, and the leaves are falling. The maintenance you do for fall, however, is quite different from the maintenance required for winter.

And, of course, the myths are out there about cold weather lawn maintenance, too. So we reached out to a local expert —  Davey Devlin of Scapes Incorporated  —  to help us suss out what is true and what is false when it comes to keeping your lawn and landscaping healthy in the winter months.

“According to the Greek myth of Persephone, winter is a time of mourning and grief for the goddess Demeter who reigns over the harvest and agriculture,” Devlin told us as some background. “This time is represented in the form of dead plants and no growth, and while many of us embrace the barren trees and brown lawns of winter while we patiently await the regrowth of spring, it doesn’t have to be so bleak.”

“Although lawn care and maintenance may seem as foreign to us as Greek mythology,” Devlin said, it’s not as difficult once you clear up some misconceptions about Texas winter yard care.

Myth 1: I don’t have to water my lawn during the winter because it’s going to die anyway.

“Not so. While there may not be any active growth, also known as a dormant period, during the winter months, it is not dead and will benefit from being watered,” Devlin said. “In North Texas, most lawns are comprised of warm-season grasses such as the St. Augustine variety that thrives in temperatures between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit.”

“When temperatures plummet below this comfortable zone, many varieties of grass stop producing new blades,” he continued. “However, watering regularly throughout the winter may actually help insulate the stems and culms of the grass stem from impending freezes as moist soil stays warmer than dry.”

“A good rule of thumb for winter months is about an inch of water per week,” he concluded. ”Maintaining moist soil, while being sure not to over-water, is one of the most effective ways to ensure a full lush lawn come spring.”

Myth 2: I should only seed/fertilize my lawn in the Spring.

Not true, said Devlin.

“In fact, one of the best times to seed your lawn is during the winter months!” he said. “By laying down new seed during the dormant period of grass’ growth cycle, you can assure the seeds are ready for the wetter months of spring.”

“When it comes to seeding your lawn during the winter months, there are two options — slice seeding, and broadcast seeding,” Devlin explained. “Slice seeding involves creating slits in your existing lawn and depositing the seeds into these breaks. This type of seeding improves the seed to soil contact bettering the chances of germination and growth in the spring.”

“Slice seeding is recommended for those whose lawn is peppered with bare spots due to lack of sun or those with overall thin growth,” he continued. “For those looking to simply spruce up what is already existing, a more economical approach is broadcast seeding which is what most people picture when they imagine seeding their lawns.”

“Broadcast seeding is a general distribution of seeds either by hand or mechanically over the area,” he added. “One of the added benefits of broadcast seeding during the winter is that the freeze/thaw cycle of winter actually pulls the seeds deeper into the soil.”

Myth 3: Laying sod in the winter is risky business.

“The jury is out on this one,” Devlin said. “While some claim sodding during the winter benefits the growth of new roots with the deluge of water from melting ice and snow, others believe the roots of new sod are too fragile to survive the harsh conditions of winter.”

“Laying new sod during the winter removes the hassle of having to work around spring rain and muddy conditions,” he allowed. “However, after laying new sod during the winter, it is important to periodically make sure the soil beneath it is not drying out, a process called desiccation. This check can be done by gently pulling up an edge of the new sod to ensure the soil beneath is moist.”

“Keep in mind that warm-season grasses tend to be more sensitive to freezing temperatures and some of the damage may not become apparent until the spring,” he added. “So, while laying sod during the winter months may give you a jump start on establishing your new lawn, be mindful when it comes to tending your new grass through this dormant period.”

Myth 4: Continuously raking my leaves is a chore I just have to live with.

Kinda, sorta, but …

“Raking leaves may seem like a rite of passage into the winter months, but the constant clean up isn’t as necessary as we may think,” Devlin said. “In fact, fallen leaves serve as insulation for delicate plants through the colder months and act as a great source of nutrients as the leaves break down.”

“Fallen leaves act as food for earthworms and beneficial microbes,” he continued. “On top of all of that, they lighten up heavy soil and help sandy soil retain some moisture.”

“So this fall rather than raking and bagging fallen leaves, try simply driving over them a few times with your lawn mower to help break down the volume and spread the nutrient-rich mixture left behind,” Devlin suggested.

Myth 5: Topping my crepe myrtles keeps them fresh for the next year.

Don’t do it!

“The practice of topping crepe myrtles should be better known as crepe ‘murder,’” Devlin said. “Although commonly done, this practice has claimed the beauty of too many of the South’s most revered trees.”

“Known for their drought resistance while maintaining their beauty, the crepe myrtle is commonly found throughout Texas,” he explained. “As colder temperatures begin to dominate the weather forecast, many people believe it is best to cut back the crepe myrtles’ flowering branches in order to help the tree produce larger blooms come spring.”

“However, doing so jeopardizes the strength of the branches and limits their ability to support the larger blossoms,” he continued. “This practice sacrifices the gentle arching branches that create the beautiful vase shape found in healthy crepe myrtles leaving behind drooping branches.”

“The best practice when caring for crepe myrtles is to remove all suckers which are the long shoots that grow from the base of the tree,” he said. “Once this is completed, remove branches that are growing in toward the center of the tree or crossing other branches.”

“When stepping back to look at the tree, it should not appear ‘pruned’ but rather clear of debris that could prevent proper air circulation and growth of appropriate branches.”

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson lives in a 1961 Fox and Jacobs home with her husband, a second-grader, and Conrad Bain the dog. If she won the lottery, she'd by an E. Faye Jones home. She's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Online News Association, the Education Writers Association, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and the Society of Professional Journalists. She doesn't like lima beans or the word moist.

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