Winter and the Lawn

At this time of year, most outdoor activities are limited to putting up Christmas lights and shoveling snow. Rarely do we think about our lawns, especially when they are yellow, frozen and possibly even covered in snow. If you live in the southern U.S., you might not have any snow to worry about, or a frozen turf for that matter, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be noticeable changes in the lawn, such as a change in color.

Regardless of where you live, the winter season will affect your grass. How a lawn responds to winter depends on several factors: the grass type, the temperature, the amount of snowfall (if any), and the type of care the lawn has received, particularly in the months just preceding winter.

Cool-Season Grasses

Lawn care in the northern regions pretty much comes to a standstill during the winter months. This is where cool-season grasses, like Kentucky bluegrass and fescue, have gone into winter dormancy. It isn’t dead though, so you shouldn’t ignore it completely.

Think of your grass as a perennial, which it is. It goes through a cycle of growth, dormancy, and re-growth. During winter dormancy, the grass is still growing (as long as the ground isn’t frozen) where you can’t see it – at the root level – and storing energy for a busy spring. In some cool-season areas, such as Virginia, the grass may even keep its green color.

Hopefully, you applied a late fall application of fertilizer, such as Scotts Fall Lawn Winterizer, which will help your lawn during this time.

And even though you aren’t actively caring for your grass right now, like you do in the summer, there are still a few simple things you can do to help maintain its vigor. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Keep leaves and other debris on the lawn to a minimum. It can prevent much needed sunlight from getting to the grass.
  • While the lawn is frozen or snow covered, keep traffic over it to a minimum. Frequent walking across a frozen lawn can wear it out.
  • Avoid driving a car or any other heavy machinery on your lawn.

When winter is over and temperatures begin to rise, rake your lawn vigorously to rid it of debris and to help stimulate new growth in the existing grass. You may want to fill in bare spots that don’t naturally mend themselves, and continue with your annual lawn care program of regular feedings to your lawn.

Warm-Season Grasses

The warm-season grasses of the southern regions usually go dormant in winter as well, turning yellow or brown and remaining so until temperatures warm up in spring. This is especially true of zoysiagrass and Bermudagrass, which turn brown as soon as the temperatures drop.

This dormancy can occur in even the warmest areas, but typically it doesn’t because temperatures are rarely cold enough to cause such a distinct color change. For example, St. Augustinegrass grows in the warmest areas of the south, such as Texas and Florida, where there isn’t much of a chance that cold temperatures or frost will affect its growth. In fact, owners of St. Augustinegrass lawns may still need to mow during the winter months.

But other warm-season grasses can be an eyesore when they are dormant, particularly when surrounded by lush plantings that are still growing in the landscape. To keep a warm-season lawn green over the winter, many homeowners overseed it with an annual cool-season grass, such as ryegrass.

This hides the dormant warm-season grass and provides a fresh, green, temporary lawn for the winter. As the weather warms in spring, the permanent lawn will replace the temporary lawn of ryegrass. Overseeding is typically done in October or November. If you start too early, the warm-season grass will still be active and will crowd out the cool-season grass. If you start too late, cold weather may inhibit seed germination.

The following spring, encourage the regrowth of the warm-season grass by closely mowing the cool-season cover. Then fertilize at the recommended rate for the type of warm-season grass you have.

When spring arrives, continue with your annual lawn care program of regular feedings to your lawn, and repair bare spots that don’t naturally mend themselves.