First aid for winter lawn damage

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Is the melting snow uncovering dead grass? Give your turf a good tug and check for resistance.

Spring can bring unwelcome surprises if you live in a frigid climate. As the ice and snow thaw, damage may be revealed. Lawns can die from freeze-thaw-freeze conditions. Snow mold and deicing (road) salt can also cause injuries. Here’s how to diagnose these common winter stressors, and some first aid steps that may help your lawn recover.  

Is it dead?

Give your turf a good tug. If it comes up easily, it’s probably not going to recover. But the prognosis is hopeful if you encounter some resistance.

Diagnosing and treating the damage

Understanding why your lawn has winter damage may help you prevent it from happening next year. Here are typical reasons for a stressed lawn:

  • It got too darned cold: Ice crystals can rupture plant cells, especially if your lawn is exposed to freeze-thaw-freeze conditions. The effect can be lethal. Similarly, bitterly cold wind can dehydrate plant tissues. Your lawn can also suffocate from a prolonged build-up of impermeable ice.
    • RX: After the last chance of frost and soil temperatures reach 50 to 65 degrees, pull up any dead areas and replace with new sod. Following proper installation procedures will help ensure it establishes itself well.
  • Snow mold: This fungal disease shows up as circular, matted patches in your lawn.
    • RX: If the mold is gray, it will likely clear up on its own. If it’s pink, apply a fungicide so that your turf’s roots aren’t killed by the infection.
  • Salt damage: Turf along your driveway, the street in front of your home and along walking paths can get weakened by deicing salt. The salt can leach into the soil where it draws moisture away from the grass roots. These are areas where you may also see snowplow damage.
    • RX: After all the snow has melted and your turf has dried, applying gypsum may help your lawn bounce back. Be sure to water it in thoroughly.

Take that proverbial ounce of prevention

garden

Prevention of winter damage is key to maintaining a beautiful green lawn in the spring.

Once you’ve identified the primary cause(s) of winter damage, you’re one step closer to preventing it next year.

  • Build up low areas of your yard with topsoil, to lessen the impact of ice.
  • Spread out piled snow over a larger area.
  • Switch from sodium chloride-based deicing salt to less harmful calcium-chloride brands.
  • Use core aeration to help water filter through areas that frequently accumulate standing water. This may help reduce the formation of an impermeable ice layer.
  • Avoid applying a high-nitrogen fertilizer in the fall. Nitrogen is associated with snow mold damage.

Bring your lawn back to life with new turf

Use sod instead of seed to replace dead patches. Be sure to choose the right species of sod for your climate and activity levels. You’ll have a healthier lawn, which will reduce the stress of upkeep and maintenance.  

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