Winter Lawn Damage: Protecting Your Lawn from Extreme Winter Weather

By TruGreen November 1, 2023
Frost on a lawn

Winter Lawn Damage: How Unusually Cold Weather Can Impact Your Grass

When it gets cold outside, we cope by snuggling up under a plush blanket or gathering around the fireplace. Your lawn doesn’t have that option. While cool-season lawns are generally equipped for winter conditions, extreme drops in temperature (or long periods of frost) can result in winter kill. While not entirely preventable, there are some things you can do to better equip your lawn to stand up to frigid temperatures. Here, we’ll review a few different types of winter lawn damage and offer advice on preparing your lawn for the winter months. Plus, you’ll learn a little bit about what TruGreen® can do to help restore your lawn’s health once spring arrives.

Does Grass Die in the Winter?

Typically, when winter draws in, your lawn goes into a period of dormancy — you can think of it as akin to hibernation. As the days get shorter and there is limited sunlight, plants stop growing and remain dormant to conserve energy in an effort to survive freezing temperatures and a lack of available nutrients. During dormancy, your grass may become discolored and thin, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead. This dormancy period is what helps protect your lawn from harsh winter conditions, allowing it to come back lush and green, year after year.

How Can Unusually Cold Weather Impact Lawns?

Regular winter weather is unlikely to affect your lawn long-term: it’ll go dormant once temperatures drop, and green up again in the springtime. Extreme cold or prolonged snow cover, however, may result in winter lawn damage.

There are many different types of winter lawn damage, but the most problematic is winter kill. Winter kill is — as you can probably guess — when a plant (or part of a plant) dies due to exposure to unusually harsh winter conditions. Winter kill can affect anything from small patches of grass to the majority of your turf.

Cool-season grasses are typically better adapted for the cold, and therefore are less likely to suffer winter kill than warm-season lawns. However, it’s not just the temperature that plays a part in determining the health of your lawn, but also other factors including your grass type, location and how long the cold weather persists.

Types of Winter Lawn Damage

From snow mold to desiccation, here are some of the most common types of winter lawn damage to look out for.

1. Ice Damage

A small coating of frost may cause wilting or discoloration, but a thick layer of ice can outright kill your grass. When ice covers your lawn, it prevents your grass from accessing the oxygen it needs to survive, essentially smothering it. And if temperatures get cold enough for the soil to freeze, grass can’t get the water it requires for basic survival. This can lead to winter kill. The time it takes for an ice layer to kill grass can range from a couple of weeks to a couple of months — it depends on the grass type and thickness of the ice. Younger plants and new growth are more susceptible to winter kill, as their foundations are not as strong against the cold. For warm-season grasses that have a low tolerance to cold temperatures, eliminating nitrogen from your fertilizer about 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost will reduce new growth and help prevent damage.

2. Desiccation

Winter desiccation is a bit like windburn. It occurs when cold, dry winds remove excess moisture from plants faster than they can regain it. The lack of moisture can dehydrate the grass’ crown tissues — where new growth emerges — and may lead to eventual winter kill.  To help prevent or reduce desiccation damage, ensure your grass is sufficiently hydrated by maintaining a regular watering schedule throughout the fall.

3. Snow Mold

Snow mold is a fungal lawn disease that occurs when snow cover remains on the ground for extended periods of time in late winter. The trapped moisture combined with the weight of the snow creates ideal conditions for snow mold to develop. It typically becomes noticeable in springtime as the snow and ice begin to thaw. This damage often presents as large patches of matted, yellow-green areas that can turn white or pink. Mowing your grass short for the last mow of the year will prevent long blades from becoming matted down in late winter, and can help to prevent against snow mold growth. You can also manually remove thick piles of snow to help defend against snow mold on grass.

4. Crown Hydration

Crown hydration primarily occurs in the late winter, after repeated cycles of thawing and freezing. In thawing periods, the frost melts when the temperature gets slightly warmer, and plants assume it is spring and absorb the water. However, when there is a rapid drop in temperatures, the absorbed water re-freezes, which can rupture cell membranes and damage (or even kill) the grass. Crown hydration appears as large patches of discolored turf and is common in poorly drained areas, such as golf courses.

How To Prevent Winter Lawn Damage

One of the key things you can do to help protect your lawn from frosty weather is to plan during the fall. Proper watering, mowing and fertilization in the fall will all help your lawn to survive the winter and spring back to life. Grass types will differ in their specific needs prior to dormancy. Before the first frost hits, aim to mow your lawn a little shorter than you normally would to increase how much sunlight reaches your grass and protect it against damaging winter conditions.

How To Bring Your Lawn Back From Winter Damage

Grass after winter may appear discolored, thin or brittle. The good news: these problems are manageable. If you’re struggling to restore your lawn from winter lawn damage, contact your TruGreen lawn care expert. We’ll help determine the best time to repair your lawn and develop a tailored plan that addresses your lawn’s unique needs. Whether your spring lawn just needs a bit of a nudge in the right direction or you’re facing bare spots on the lawn after winter, we’re here to help. When you partner with us, you’ll love your lawn — guaranteed.◆

It’s never too early to prepare for winter weather. Compare our plans and get started on your TruGreen journey today.


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