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Winter Grass Problems: How to Prevent and Address Them

As winter looms, our vibrant lawns transition into a dormant landscape while some are even draped in frost and snow. While the temptation to hibernate indoors is strong, remember that winter presents its unique set of challenges for your lawn. From soggy soil and fallen leaves to biting cold, elusive voles and winter desiccation, obstacles abound for your winter grass.

A Quick Word on Key Winter Grass Care Practices

While your lawn may appear dormant, it remains very much alive and has specific needs, such as adequate moisture. Winter lawn care is equally vital as other seasonal maintenance routines, as the care you provide during this season will significantly impact your lawn’s reawakening in spring. Some care tips include:

  • Mowing if it’s still actively growing
  • Watering
  • Weeding

For more details on winter lawn care tips, check out our blog here. This blog will primarily focus on the common problems and challenges lawns encounter during the winter season and how to tackle them.

Pro Tip

Fertilization should generally take place during the active growing seasons such as the spring, summer and fall. There is really not a need to apply fertilizer once temperatures consistently drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s similar to giving someone a pill while they are sleeping—it won’t be as effective. It’s best to prepare your lawn with the nutrients it needs to survive winter dormancy during the fall. Sign up now to automatically receive spring, summer and fall fertilizers to your doorstep precisely when needed for application each season!

Problem 1: Wet Soil

⚠️ Problem: In winter, lawns often struggle with soggy soil due to increased precipitation and frozen ground’s poor moisture absorption. This excess water can cause compaction, reduce root oxygen and invite fungal diseases. Managing and mitigating winter’s wet soil is vital for a healthy and robust lawn in spring.

Solutions: 

  • Aerating the lawn is a highly recommended practice, perforating the soil for improved water infiltration and root oxygenation. If you’re nervous about aerating, check out these aerating shoes!
  • Installing French drains also helps redirect excess water, preventing waterlogging.

🛡Prevention: 

  • First, ensure your lawn has proper grading and drainage to direct water away from low-lying areas. 
  • Regularly aerate your lawn to improve soil structure and water infiltration. 
  • Raking and removing fallen leaves promptly can also help prevent water buildup. 
  • Finally, if necessary, install French drains or other drainage solutions to divert excess water away from your lawn, ensuring it stays healthy and vibrant even in the wettest of winter conditions.

Problem 2: Fallen Leaves and Debris

⚠️Problem: Fallen leaves, though innocuous at first, can harm your winter lawn. They create a moisture-trapping barrier, promoting fungal diseases and blocking sunlight and air circulation, hindering photosynthesis and grass growth.

Solutions: 

  • Regular raking is a simple yet effective method to prevent leaf buildup, ensuring that sunlight and air can reach the grass beneath. 
  • Alternatively, mulching the leaves with a lawnmower can provide an eco-friendly solution. The mulched leaves break down over time, adding valuable nutrients back into the soil while minimizing the risk of suffocating the grass. 
  • Combine the two above options by removing the majority of early fallen leaves for aesthetic purposes and bag them and/or mulch leaves for the remainder of the year. 

Pro Tip

Leaving some of autumn’s fallen leaves on the ground benefits wildlife, enhances soil fertility and reduces weeds. It also provides habitat for various creatures, aiding pest control and pollination. Learn more about managing fallen leaves here.

🛡️Prevention: 

  • One effective approach is to regularly prune and trim the trees in your yard to reduce the number of leaves that fall. 
  • Additionally, consider installing leaf-catching screens or barriers around trees and gutters to intercept leaves before they reach the lawn. 

Problem 3: Cold Temperatures

⚠️ Problem: Winter’s freezing temps can harm lawns. Cold makes grass brittle and vulnerable to damage, while freeze-thaw cycles lead to soil heaving, exposing roots and causing desiccation or winterkill.

🛡️Prevention:

  • Start by selecting cold-hardy grass varieties that are well-suited to your region’s climate. Some examples of warm season grasses that can grow in cooler areas include Latitude 36® and NorthBridge® Bermudagrass, as well as Innovation® Zoysia, which can all grow up into the transition zone. Additionally, cool season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescue grow well in cooler climates. Learn more about the differences between warm and cool season grasses here
  • Refrain from excessive foot traffic on frozen grass to prevent damage, and insulate sensitive plants with mulch or protective covers. 
  • Before winter arrives, ensure your lawn is well-fertilized and adequately hydrated, as well-nourished grass is more resilient to freezing temperatures. Check out the Lawnifi Fall Fertilizer Box, a fertilizer program that contains the nutrients lawns need to transition from the heat of the summer to the cold winter months.

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The Lawnifi Fall Fertilizer Box comes with three different bottles of liquid fertilizer designed to help your lawn recover from the hot summer months and transition into the coldest time of the year.

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Problem 4: Pesky Voles

⚠️ Problem: Winter voles wreak havoc on lawns, seeking food and shelter by tunneling beneath snow. They feed on roots, causing substantial damage. Implement protective measures to deter them in the colder months.

Solutions:

🛡️Prevention:

  • Maintaining a well-groomed lawn
  • Reducing potential vole food sources
  • Creating an environment that is less hospitable to voles, such as removing debris and securing potential entry points.

Problem 5: Crown Hydration

⚠️Problem: Crown hydration is a winter issue when soil briefly thaws, causing grass crowns to absorb water. Subsequent freezing damages cells, weakening grass and potentially causing brown patches or death, posing a threat to your lawn’s winter health.

Solutions: 

Detecting crown hydration damage in winter grass can be tough since symptoms usually appear in spring. Watch for delayed greening, thinning, stunted growth, dead patches and weak roots. 

If your winter lawn has crown hydration damage, here are steps to aid recovery:

  • Gently remove dead grass and thatch for improved air circulation and growth stimulation by raking or dethatching.
  • Reseed or use grass plugs to fill in damaged areas in spring with appropriate grass varieties.
  • Apply balanced fertilizer for recovery without excess nitrogen.
  • Monitor for fungal diseases and apply disease control if needed.

🛡️Prevention

Problem 6: Winter Desiccation

⚠️ Problem: Winter desiccation, often known as “winter burn,” is the dehydration of lawns and plants during winter due to freezing temperatures, harsh winds and low humidity. It causes browning, brittleness and potential damage, weakening lawn health and making it susceptible to pests and diseases, requiring spring recovery efforts.

Solutions:

  • Water during thaw periods and mild winter days to restore moisture.
  • Apply light mulch or straw where snowfall is insufficient to protect against further moisture loss.
  • Trim overhanging branches and remove debris blocking sunlight and airflow.
  • Minimize de-icing chemicals/salt and use a more lawn-friendly de-icing method.
  • Overseed damaged areas, fertilize, aerate and dethatch for healthy regrowth.
  • Watch for disease or pests and address them promptly.

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🛡️Prevention

  • Deeply water your lawn before freezing to ensure sufficient moisture.
  • Keep the lawn clear by raking away leaves and debris.
  • Apply anti-transpirants to reduce water loss from leaves.
  • Hope for prolonged snow coverage, as it provides insulation and moisture.

How to Protect Grass in Winter – Answered

In conclusion, winter presents unique challenges for lawn care. However, proactive winter grass care is essential for a healthy spring revival. Implementing practical prevention techniques such as choosing suitable grass varieties, avoiding excessive foot traffic, ensuring proper fertilization and hydration, averting issues with wet soil, minimizing fallen leaves, deterring troublesome voles and vigilantly monitoring for crown hydration and winter desiccation can yield substantial benefits.

Use these tips to proactively prepare your lawn for winter, and it will reward you with a lush and healthy appearance come spring. Take action now to protect your lawn from the challenges of the winter season and enjoy a beautiful landscape all year round.

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