Turf grasses are divided into two main types, cool season and warm season.
Cool-season turfs, like Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue and creeping bent, come from temperate to cold areas where the highest rainfall is in winter or spring.
Warm-season varieties, including couch, buffalo, kikuyu and zoysia, come from subtropical or tropical areas where the highest level of rainfall is in the warm months.
At this time of year cool-season grasses are looking better than their warm-season counterparts, as they handle the cold much better.
The roots of these grasses grow best in autumn and spring when soil temperatures are about 10 to 19ºC, with some growth in winter.
Warm-season grasses slow down or stop growing altogether until the soil temperature is above about 23ºC.
We asked the experts how to keep the lawn healthy in winter for a lush carpet of grass in spring.
Mow it less
‘Most of the grasses we grow for lawns are warm-season varieties,’ says garden writer and TV presenter Adam Woodhams.
‘The onset of the cooler weather means your lawn’s growth slows dramatically, and it has to tolerate cold conditions as well as reduced light and increased shade,’ he says.
‘The lawn uses up its stored energy as it struggles to make do with limited sunlight, making it more susceptible to some diseases and weed invasion.
‘Switch your mower from mulch to catch mode, as you need to get as much sunlight to the grass as possible, and don’t mow too often as growth decreases quite substantially. Every three or four weeks should be enough.
‘Also, raise the height of your mower to help the grass cope with wear as its growth slows down,’ says Adam.
Aerate the soil
Meredith Kirton, award-winning author and ambassador for Turf Australia (turfaustralia.com.au), adds her advice for keeping lawns healthy.
‘Neighbours who share mowers or garden contractors should wash mower blades between jobs to stop the spread of weeds,’ she says.
‘In very cold areas you can use spray-on frost protection to help increase the lawn’s season and let your grass grow very long as this keeps it alive, much like a doona.
‘Work a pitchfork or garden fork into the soil a few centimetres, leaving holes where water and fertiliser can penetrate to aerate your lawn. For large areas it’s worthwhile hiring a lawn coring machine,’ says Meredith.
Do the maintenance
A little regular work through winter can reduce your list of lawn problems come spring, so survey the yard now and make a list of essential tasks.
RAKE UP any autumn leaves left on the lawn as they shade and ultimately kill off the grass below.
DEHATCH by running a metal rake over turf areas to remove older grass and mulch build-up, to encourage
new and thick growth in spring.
CONSIDER PRUNING or thinning large trees to allow light to reach the grass underneath the canopies, helping the lawn to grow.
AVOID WATERING unless it is very dry, as wet lawns in winter are more susceptible to fungal problems. Water in the morning, if necessary.
EDGE THE BORDERS of the lawn or remodel beds now when the weather is cool, making heavy jobs easier.
REMOVE WINTER GRASS by hand, as it will stand out as bright green against the duller colour of the lawn.
APPLY SEAWEED TONIC each month to boost the lawn’s resistance to fungal problems and cold weather.
USE A HERBICIDE formulated for bindiis and other broadleaf weeds if this has been a problem in summer, treating the lawn before spring.
CONTROL WEEDS regularly as they still thrive during winter, removing them by hand or spraying.
CHECK ALL EQUIPMENT is in good working order and do a mower service, focusing on blades, spark plugs, oil,
air filters and fuel levels.