Protecting Your Turfgrass From Winter
Winter has come early this year... And doesn't seem to want to go away any time soon. You've worked hard on your grass all year...watering and fertilizing. You've battled drought, weeds, insects and disease. It may seem like you can finally sit back and relax... at least for a few months.
Not so fast!!
The truth is that weather conditions can put stress on turf. Careful management practices can help reduce our eliminate this damage.
DAMAGE DURING WINTER
For the most part along the Connecticut Shoreline we use cool season turfgrass such as bluegrass, perennial rye and turf tie fescues. It would naturally fine that these grasses are much more capable of withstanding low temperatures better than the warm season grasses.
Kentucky Blue is the most cold tolerant with various species of tall fescue ryegrass following. When you overseed, you want to be sure the species you are using are cold tolerant to our Connecticut winters, which can easily get below zero.
Damage in winter can also occur due to dessication - or loss of moisture from the leaf tissue faster than it can be replaced. This is especially true in conditions that we've had lately where the ground is frozen and the winds are whipping.
Although it seems counter intuitive, sometimes in certain conditions, it may help to irritate your lawn in the winter to prevent excessive drying. It doesn't need nearly the irrigation it does during the summer so no need to run it through the irrigation system. A simple hose and sprinkler will do the trick.
When turfgrass is under ice and snow for prolonged periods of time, which can happen in the latter part of our winters, we can also sometimes see tissue loss and die back. That's more common to see on turf that's frequently walked on it even sledded on by children. In these instances, traffic causes cellular damage that results in browning of the leaf blade that can be seen in spring. This is why we recommend avoiding walking on your lawn once winter hits. Damage can be caused even when there's just frost before the ground warms up in late fall or early winter.
Overseeding is key because grass that germinates in the fall has a nice, strong root system the following spring. If you suspect damage over the winter, winter seeding is possible. The soil heaves and forms cracks in the heave-frost conditions we have in Madison and along the Connecticut Shoreline. Some of the seed will fall into these cracks and that will increase the total germination come spring, as some seed inevitably doesn't germinate until spring anyway.
Turfgrass benefits from a late season fertilization. This slow-release application allows food to be stored and available for use as needed to help combat winter stress.
One thing that we've found that TREMENDOUSLY improves the health of turfgrass, which in turn allows it to handle winter stress (and all stress) better, is topdressing with compost.
Fertilizer feeds your grass compost feeds your soil. It fills it with all kinds of nutrients, as well as beneficial bacteria and microorganisms. This was the first year we did this and the success rate and overall improved health of the lawns we topdressed was staggering. It started off with ours and one other client who really wanted a nice lawn, and when people saw the results, it took off from there. Our neighbors, our clients neighbors and it snow balled from there once people started to see the results.
Weeds can also be a problem as well. Winter weeds such as common chickweed, annual bluegrass and Bentgrass because they rob turfgrass of vital nutrients. The best strategy is to improve turfgrass coverage by overseeding in fall and ensuring you have a proper weed control management program in place during the season.