The winter is almost done, which means it won’t be long before it’s time to swap the shovels for lawnmowers. As the snow melts and the ground thaws, the extreme temperatures and excess moisture can leave behind damage to our lawns. This is known as winter kill. It has several causes, but they all lead to the death of turfgrass. Here are the most common causes of winter kill in the grass and how to treat it.
Winter Kill On Lawns
As you might have guessed, this type of winter lawn damage is caused by snow under specific conditions. Typically, the ground will have already frozen before the first snow arrives, which means the grass is prepared for extreme colds. However, if snow falls early, it creates an idyllic environment for bacteria, mold, and fungi to thrive on the ground that’s still rather warm. Most often, snow mold will occur when warmer autumn temperatures continue late into the season. As the snow falls, it creates an insulation layer where moisture builds. You won’t notice snow mold until all the snows melt in spring. Snow mold is fuzzy pink or grey patches that cover the grass. Thankfully, treatment is fairly easy and can benefit the overall health of your lawn. Thatching, aeration, and fertilizer all will remove the mold and bring nutrients to the soil. If you notice especially thin or bare patches, you can use an overseeding application, where turfgrass seed is sprinkled directly on top of the soil, to remediate any damage.
Another usual winter kill is called winter desiccation and, like snow mold, it’s caused by harsh weather. It can affect not only grass but trees and shrubs as well. In a way, it’s the opposite of snow mold. As we discussed, snow mold is caused by excess moisture that builds up under that fluffy white blanket. Winter desiccation occurs when there is a lack of snow cover, leaving your grass exposed to the dry winter winds. The wind pulls moisture out of the leaves, and the plants cannot replace it since the ground is frozen. As a result, the affected areas will die from dehydration. The best way to defend against winter desiccation is by keeping your lawn nourished throughout the year. Applying fertilizer and keeping it well watered will allow your plants to store as much moisture as possible before winter.
Snow mold is too damp; desiccation is too dry. Crown hydration occurs somewhere in the middle of these two conditions. When temperatures rise to above freezing conditions then plummet back below zero, the sudden drastic change sends mixed signals to the grass. The warmer temperature signals that it’s time to sprout, so the grass will begin absorbing water in the crown. But when the temperature drops again, this newly absorbed water freezes and destroys the plant cells. As you can imagine, this causes a great deal of winter lawn damage. Like winter desiccation, the best thing to combat crown hydration is to make sure your grass is healthy year-round. Any dead or dying patches can be remedied with an overseeding application in the spring. Anything you can do to reduce stress on your lawn is also helpful. This includes things like mowing at the correct height and compensating for periods of drought or excess rain.
Unlike winter desiccation and crown hydration, which can be difficult to tell apart since both result in dead patches, voles are very easy to spot. You can see their tunnels as the snow melts, and you may see ridges underneath fallen snow. As they tunnel in the winter, they carve out paths in the grass as they chew on it. Unfortunately, they will eat not only the grass blades but also the crown and roots of your lawn. Luckily, the turf is usually able to recover quickly. Dethatching your lawn will help the regrowth as it removes excess dead material. A spring fertilizer will further help your lawn bounce back. If the damage is more extensive, a seed application may be needed. To prevent future vole infestations, be sure to trim low hanging branches on ornamental shrubs and trees, which keeps voles hidden from predators. Be sure to mow your lawn until it has fully stopped growing for the season, as voles are attracted to taller grass. Tall grass means more food and better hiding places.
Repair Winter Lawn Kill With LawnRx
Help your lawn turn over a new leaf this spring and recover from winter kill. The experts at LawnRx will assess your lawn’s needs and treat it using our five-step lawn care program. If needed, we can easily add aeration, lime treatment, and dethatching to your program. Give us a call today at 724-539-1003 or request a free estimate online. For tips on lawn care or pest control, be sure to read our monthly blog. And for the latest deals and offers, be sure to follow us on Instagram.