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Ensure a lush springtime landscape with these 8 tips from the experts

Aside from the occasional pretty snowfall, Greater Cincinnati winters come with bare trees, gray skies, and scraggly grass that can be downright depressing. But as every DIY gardener knows, winter dormancy is vital for plants—and it’s no time to retreat indoors. Take advantage of the downtime and ensure a vibrant and green spring with these essential winter lawn care tips.

Start by removing all barriers to success.

A messy garage or blocked walkway is easy to overlook when the weather is nice, but these obstacles will quickly kill your motivation and progress in winter. Before the first hard freeze, take some time to organize your tools, check outdoor lighting, and clear fallen leaves and brush from decks and pathways—but don’t throw them away! (More on that in the next step.)

Protect vulnerable plants and trees.

Some bulb flowers, tropical plants, young trees, and annuals are not hardy enough to survive the harsh winter temperatures. Cover bags are a great way to protect plants that can’t be moved indoors, and the fallen leaves you gathered can be used to provide an extra layer of natural hydration and insulation against the winter chill.

Cut grass a little shorter—but not too short.

Grass requires a specific length to survive the winter season after your last mow is done. Too long, and it becomes a tangly, suffocating mess as it lays dormant. Too short, and you expose the plant’s crown to damaging conditions. As you wind down your mowing season, lower the lawnmower blade by one or two notches to ensure a medium cut.

Test and fertilize soil as needed.

Lush, green lawns start with good soil, and having your soil quality tested is a lot easier than you might think. Click here to find local conservation districts, county extension offices, and universities where you can get complete analysis, usually for less than $10. With these results in hand, you can decide whether you'll need to add fertilizer or other amendments to your soil.

If fertilizer is necessary, use a spreader with a trigger release to apply the recommended amount. (Note: When fertilizing, aerating, or seeding, always go over your lawn a second time in a criss-crossing pattern to prevent ugly stripes and bare spots.)

Give your lawn some extra breathing room.

Aerating is a fancy word for poking holes in your lawn to allow air to penetrate the soil. Start by irrigating your lawn a few days in advance to soften the ground. Then, depending on the size of your lawn, use a manual or automatic core aerator to make two complete passes, first around the perimeter and then back and forth over the entire space.

Spread cool-weather grass seed.

Healthy grass requires three major components: quality seed, water, and warmth. And since your grass is smart enough to wait until all three are present before germinating, seeding after the first hard freeze is still worthwhile. Look for cool-weather grass seed indicated on the label at your local garden supply store. As you seed, using the same spreader you used to fertilize your lawn, remember to keep the spreader moving in even patterns to avoid clumps or bare spots.

Rake and water your entire lawn.

Evening out your lawn will provide cover for new seeds from wind and pests. After raking, give your newly treated lawn a good soaking and follow up with 15-30 minutes of water per day whenever temperatures allow.

Keep an eye on your lawn throughout the season.

Like all living things, newly treated lawns can tolerate a fair amount of impact—whether that’s from harsh temperatures or friction from people and animals. There’s no need to be obsessive, but it never hurts to keep an eye out for spots that are looking overly wet, exposed, or trampled and make adjustments as needed.

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