Winter can be a tough time for our Pennsylvania lawns. The heavy snow, freezing temperatures, dry wind, and hungry critters all take their toll on our dormant lawns. When the snow melts in the early spring, many of us will be upset to find that large parts of the turf are dead or dying. This is what we call “Winter Kill”. Winter kill simply refers to the dying off of grass over the winter and it can have many different causes.
When it comes to winter lawn damage, crown hydration is the king. This terrible winter lawn ailment can happen any time during the winter, causing death and destruction to your turf. Crown hydration happens when temperatures climb above freezing and then quickly drops back to below freezing. When the temperatures rise, it tricks the grass into thinking that it’s spring. The grass reactivates and starts to draw in water through its roots, storing it in the crown. The rapid change to below freezing causes the water in the crown to freeze and expand, bursting through the cells in the crown and causing total plant death.
Crown hydration isn’t something that can really be prevented. If the weather shifts, there’s not much we can do about it. One way to prevent it is to provide your lawn with consistent lawn care and proper lawn maintenance throughout the year. Getting your lawn as healthy as possible before the winter hits makes the lawn more resilient against environmental issues, like rapidly fluctuating temperatures.
One of the worst causes of winter kill in our Pennsylvania lawns is the tiny vole. These voracious little rodents remain active throughout the winter. They travel through the lawn under the snow, munching on grass. When the snow melts, you’ll see sprawling networks of intersecting highways. Vole damage leaves a lawn looking stressed and unhealthy. Voles are even capable of killing a tree. If they find a tree trunk while traveling through your lawn, they have been known to chew away a strip of bark from around the entire tree. This is called tree girdling and it halts the tree’s ability to transfer water from the roots up to the rest of the tree.
The good news is that vole damage to your lawn is easily repaired. Simply rake the affected areas to break up the dead grass. In a short time, the grass will grow back and you’ll have a beautiful lawn again. Vole prevention isn’t too difficult either. All it requires is consistent lawn maintenance, especially in the fall. Remove all leaves and lawn debris before the first snow as these are common hiding spots for voles. Voles love long grass, it gives them cover from predators, so continue mowing your lawn in the fall until the grass stops growing. Trim your trees and shrubs so the branches aren’t too close to the ground. This eliminates more hiding places for voles.
Another devastating cause of winter kill is called winter desiccation. Winter desiccation, like crown hydration, is caused by weather conditions during the winter. When the temperatures remain below freezing with no snow cover, severe damage can be done to the grass. The frozen ground prevents water from being absorbed through the roots. The dry winds of winter suck the water right out of the blades of grass. In a short time, the grass becomes dehydrated and dies.
Like crown hydration, winter desiccation is difficult to prevent. The best course of action is to provide your lawn with proper care and maintenance throughout the entire year. If your lawn is healthy by the time winter rolls around, it’ll be more likely to resist winter kill from desiccation and other causes.
The final cause of winter kill on our list is snow mold. This lawn fungus forms in the excess thatch and matted grass under the snow. When the snow melts in the early spring, many of us will find fuzzy or web-like patches of diseased grass. These patches are usually circular and can grow and combine to create large swathes of fungus infested grass. Snow mold is most common when snow falls on ground that is not yet frozen. Gray snow mold appears as a white or gray mold, while pink snow mold is copper-colored, red, or pink.
You can help your infected grass by raking the affected areas. This allows better airflow, allowing your grass to dry out quicker. Make sure to only water your grass in the morning so it has enough time during the day to dry out. In the fall, you can prevent snow mold by removing all leaves and lawn debris and continuing to mow your lawn until the grass stops growing. Aerating your lawn in the fall helps with drainage, keeping your lawn free of excess moisture and dissuading mold from growing. Avoid piling snow anywhere in your lawn to avoid a snow mold infestation.
Don’t let your lawn succumb to winter kill, invest in a comprehensive lawn care program throughout the year. The professionals at Delaware Valley Turf have the experience, resources, and services needed to protect your lawn all year. Combine this with services like aeration and overseeding for the best lawn care possible.
For more information on how we can set your Pennsylvania lawn up for a healthy year, call us at (610) 328-4170 or request a quote here. Follow us on Facebook for our latest news and deals and make sure to check out our blog for all the best lawn tips from the experts.