When to Stop Mowing the Lawn for Winter

As summer turns to fall, a homeowner begins to think about when is the right time to stop mowing the lawn and let it rest for the winter. Making the decision of when to put the lawnmower away for the season depends on a variety of factors, including grass type, climate, and personal preference. Finding the optimal time ensures a healthy, vibrant lawn next spring.

How Grass Growth Slows in Fall

Grass growth begins slowing as day lengths shorten and temperatures cool in fall. Cool-season grasses like fescue and bluegrass dramatically slow their vertical growth, while transitioning energy toward developing stronger roots and storing carbohydrates. Warm-season grasses like zoysia and bermuda also begin to taper off active growth as nighttime temperatures dip consistently below 55°F.

As photosynthesis decreases, lawns require less frequent mowing. Growth dilution causes grass blades to thin out, taking on a straw-like consistency rather than succulent green leaves. Trying to maintain the same mowing height as mid-summer will scalp and stress the lawn unnecessarily.

Familiarizing yourself with the growth habits of your specific grass types will help determine the optimal time to stop mowing. Letting the grass grow slightly taller insulates crown tissue and protects the lawn throughout winter.

Factors That Influence Fall Mowing

Several key factors come into play when deciding when to put up the lawnmower for the year and allow the lawn to rest over winter:

Grass Type

  • Cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue stay semi-active well into fall. Growth continues until the soil cools below 50°F.
  • Warm-season grasses like zoysia, Bermuda, and centipede enter dormancy earlier, once nighttime temperatures remain below 55°F for several weeks.

Climate and Location

  • Northern cool-season zones can mow until late October or November. Grass remains semi-active despite cool air temperatures.
  • Southern lawns enter dormancy sooner. Warm-season grasses stop growing with the first fall cold snaps.
  • Coastal climates may continue mowing warm-season grasses like Bermuda into December or later.
  • Higher elevations reach dormancy thresholds sooner than warmer lower lying areas.

Lawn Care Objectives

  • Those seeking optimal spring green-up may continue mowing until growth fully stops.
  • For low-maintenance lawn care, stop earlier and allow the grass to rest once growth is reduced.
  • Golf-course putting green lawns remain actively growing the longest, requiring the latest final mowing.

Proper timing balances healthy grass with maintaining desired aesthetic looks. Observe your lawn carefully through fall to determine when to put away the mower based on actual grass growth and conditions.

Signs It’s Time to Stop Mowing

Visual indicators signal that lawn growth has slowed enough to discontinue mowing for winter:

  • Thinned turf density – Healthy summer lawns appear thick and lush. As day lengths shorten in autumn, density thins out as growth rates decline.
  • Straw-like blades – Initially the grass looks pale green and thin. As dormancy increases, the softened blades begin to take on a yellowed, straw-like consistency.
  • Slow growth – The days between needing to mow lengthen. During peak growing seasons, mowing is usually needed every 4-7 days. As fall growth tapers off, mowing frequency decreases to every 10-14 days or longer.
  • Frost – The first light frosts of late fall initiate dormancy, causing warm-season grasses to stop actively growing. Cool-season types may continue growing for several more weeks.
  • Few clippings – Mowing removes only small amounts of thinned grass blades. Scalping potential increases as blades naturally grow more erect.

Observing these changes ensures mowing is discontinued before causing damage. If you are still mowing into late fall just on principle, it is definitely time to stop.

Problems With Mowing Too Late

Mowing cold, semi-dormant lawns too late into fall causes a number of problems:

  • Weakened grass plants prone to winter injury or spring die-out.
  • Thinned turf is more susceptible to weed seed germination.
  • Scalped areas create unsightly brown spots that are slow to fill in.
  • Excess stress reduces carbohydrate storage needed for winter survival.
  • Frozen grass blades are prone to shattering or tearing from mower blades.

Discontinuing mowing once grass growth truly slows for winter helps avoid these unnecessary stresses.

Ideal Final Mowing Height

As a general rule, the final mowing of the year should be slightly higher than normal summer mowing height. Typical final mowing heights:

  • Cool-season grasses – For bluegrass, ryegrass and tall fescue, maintain final mowing height around 3 inches.
  • Warm-season grasses – For Bermuda, zoysia, centipede and others, mow last time at 1.5-2 inches.
  • High-cut grasses – Bahia, buffalo and other tall grasses should be 4+ inches for winter.

This slightly taller height helps insulate the crown of the plants. It also provides more leaf surface area for capturing warming sunlight during winter months.

An extra inch of grass height may seem excessive after keeping lawns trimmed all season. But rest assured, the lengthened blades will lay down flat once dormant, while providing important cold protection.

Last Mowing Tips

To get your lawn ready for end-of-season hibernation, keep these final mowing tips in mind:

  • Make the last cut shorter than previous mowings, but not excessively short.
  • Use a mulching mower or leave clippings to provide insulating organic matter.
  • Remove any fallen leaves or debris that may smother grass after mowing ceases.
  • Apply any last fertilizer application at least one month before the final mowing.
  • Adjust mower deck to a higher setting and sharpen blades to avoid shredding dormant grass.
  • Water thoroughly before the final mowing to prevent dormant grass from shattering when cut.
  • Follow up with one more light watering after mowing to help blades recover before winter.
  • Cover or safely store mower once finished to protect it from cold weather deterioration.

Pulling out the lawn mower one last time before winter may seem like an exercise in futility given the slowed grass growth. But a proper final mowing ensures your lawn enters the dormant season as healthy as possible.

Regional Guidelines for Stopping Fall Mowing

Determining exactly when to put away the mower for the year depends greatly on where you live. Here are some general guidelines based on USDA Hardiness Zones:

Zones 1-2

Stop mowing cool-season grasses once nighttime temperatures remain below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, usually by early to mid-October.

Zones 3-4

Aim to finish final mowing around Halloween, or once temperatures consistently drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Zones 5-6

Discontinue mowing when nighttime lows stay under 55 degrees, normally around mid-November.

Zones 7-8

Make the last cut before the first frost, typically late November but may extend into December in warmer zones.

Zones 9-10

Stop mowing warm-season grasses once they enter dormancy following cool snaps in November or December.

These are general guidelines only. Closely observe your lawn’s growth habits and adjust accordingly. Letting grasses enter winter at their healthiest is the number one priority.

Alternatives to Stopping Mowing

Some homeowners want to continue mowing as long as possible for aesthetics or because they enjoy the chore. Here are a few acceptable options that keep you mowing while protecting dormant grass:

Adjust to a Higher Cutting Height

Making the final mowing passes at a higher cut leaves healthy insulation for winter. Cool-season grasses can be left at 3-4 inches, while warm-season types look acceptable at 2-3 inches.

Mow Only Occasionally or As Needed

Reduce mowing frequency to only once every 2-3 weeks, or on an as-needed basis only. Avoid cutting off more than one-third of the grass blades with each mowing.

Mulching Mower

Using a mulching mower to finely shred leaves and return clippings helps enhance the insulating layer while allowing you to keep mowing.

Manual Reel Mower

Non-powered push mowers are less likely to scalp or rip dormant grass at low heights. The light trimming may be therapeutic during cooler fall days.

With extra care and adjustments, passionate mowing enthusiasts can keep the hobby going a little longer into the fall. Just be sure to stop before causing harm.

FAQ About Stopping Fall Lawn Mowing

Below are answers to some common questions about determining when to put away the mower for the year.

What temperature should I stop mowing the lawn?

Stop mowing once nighttime temperatures remain below 55°F for warm-season grasses, or below 50°F for cool-season turf. This stimulates dormancy before winter.

Is it OK to mow dead grass?

It’s best not to mow fully dormant or dead grass. The straw-like blades are prone to shattering and provide no growth benefit.

Should I mulch leaves into my last fall mowing?

Yes, mulching fallen leaves returns nutrients to the soil. Just be sure the leaf layer is not too thick to smother the grass over winter.

Can I cut the lawn after first frost?

Mowing after a light frost is acceptable if grass remains semi-active. But harsh freezes initiate dormancy, making further mowing counterproductive.

How short should I cut before winter?

The final mowing of fall should be slightly higher (1-2 inches) than normal summer mowing height. This provides insulation for the crown.

How late is too late to fertilize before dormancy?

Apply the last fertilizer treatment at least 4 weeks prior to the expected final mowing date. This allows nutrients to fully absorb before growth cessation.

Should I continue watering grass after final fall mowing?

Allow rain or light sprinkling to provide moisture leading up to the final mowing. Then discontinue all watering to help initiate dormancy.

What setting should I use for the final mowing of fall?

Raise cutting height 2-3 notches higher than normal summer mowing height. Also, sharpen mower blades to prevent shredding.

Proper fall lawn care ensures your grass survives winter stress and rebounds vigorously next spring. Listen to what your lawn is telling you and let it rest once the growing season ends.

Wrapping Up When to Stop Mowing for Winter

The decision of precisely when to put away the mower for the winter season depends greatly on location, grass species, and personal objectives. Pay close attention to visual clues like reduced density, straw-like blade texture, and frost occurrence. These signal that lawn growth has slowed enough to warrant ending mowing for the year.

Aim to make the final cut of the season once night temperatures consistently remain below 55°F, usually sometime between Halloween and December depending on your zone. For optimal health, allow grass to enter winter slightly higher (1-2 inches) than summer cutting height. This provides protective insulation while removing minimal amounts of thinned foliage.

With proper fall mowing timing, your lawn will be poised to come out of dormancy thick and lush next spring. Preparation in autumn is key to helping cool- and warm-season grasses survive harsh winter conditions. Resting the grass once top growth ceases avoids needless stress while allowing energy to be directed toward root and crown health.

Observe and adapt to your unique growing conditions when determining the ideal time to put away the mower each fall. With the right winter preparation, your lawn will reward you with vibrant green density year after year once spring growing season kicks off.