New Turf in Late Fall

After the scourges of summer, many of us replanted or renovated the turf around homes and throughout the landscape.  As the winter sets in, there are a few steps to take to increase the odds of survival and regrowth next spring.


Perhaps the most important “to do” is to keep the soil moist…not soggy or dry.  New lawns that enter winter on the dry side are likely to dry even further, killing the new roots and crowns.  When young turf plants lose the roots, the result is bare soil once warm weather returns in spring.


Irrigating new lawns in mid to late fall can be challenging.  First, the sprinkler system has been blown out and the hoses are coiled up and put away; some sort of adjustment needs to be made to accommodate watering.  Second, water infiltration rates in fall can be tricky.  When temperatures drop low enough for irrigation water to freeze, it can remain frozen…usually not in sunny sites, but in shady locations.  Icy soils can slow infiltration, resulting in uneven distribution throughout.  Knowing where and when to water in fall is a difficult endeavor.

new new turf IMG_3718

In addition to watering, another caring step (no matter how odd it sounds) is adding.  Adding?  Yes, adding.  Especially if the renovation was recently done, the soil is likely to be still in some state of looseness, which means that grass seed may be able to drop into small voids between surface particles.  It’s not wise at this point to rake and loosen the soil, as the new fledgling seedlings are likely to be ripped out; however, it’s certainly likely that adding seed to a seedbed that has just turned into a new lawn will turn out favorably.


Essentially, this step is called dormant seeding, in that the seed is placed into the soil without the expectation (or desire) that growth will occur.  Instead, the hope is that it will be in place and able to take advantage of warm April days and begin growth.  Part of the strategy here is that due to March and April snow/drizzle, soils are usually too wet to cultivate to prepare for spring seeding.  With the dormant seeding approach, it’s already there.  Will some seed be eaten by birds?  Yes.  Will some remain on the surface and dry out and die? Yes.  However, some – usually about 40 to 50% – will grow and thicken up the new lawn.


A third action step is preventative.  When snow and ice arrives in early winter, the need arises to remove it from nearby or adjacent hard surfaces such as driveways and sidewalks.  If frozen water, aka snow and ice, are scooped and deposited on the same spot time after time, the result is usually damaged turf, stemming from the lack of oxygen.  Add in ice and snow treated with ice melt products, a “salty slush” so to speak, and the potential for dead spots in spring goes up dramatically.  To prevent this outcome, avoid tossing snow in the same spot repeatedly; at least as much as possible.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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