Monday, December 10, 2018

What happens to the lawn in Winter?

                                                           Melting snow reveals green grass still not dormant

As the temperatures and snowflakes begin to drop on the area in late fall, many things are happening to the lawn that are often ignored.  As attention turns to gift buying, cooking and holiday festivities, the lawn is doing things most people don't realize and that can help answer many misconceptions about lawn care and lawns by most homeowners.  Lawns in the area are primarily cool season grass types which will actually thrive until the soil freezes.    Early snow cover will blanket the lawn and act as a heat trapping blanket, while extended snow cover between now and spring may cause severe snow mold and vole damage that will need to be repaired in spring.  Snow shoveling will begin to cause severe compaction and damage to the lawn.  Winter dormancy creates a reset for the lawn which may or may not be complicated by these additional issues.

                                 Snow shoveled onto landscapsing and lawn creates growing complications in spring

Late fall brings cooler air temperatures and lower sun angles reducing the soil temperatures across the area.   Cool season grasses thrive between soil temperatures of just above freezing to 80 degrees.  Soil temperatures will lag air temperatures as the ground is slower to heat and cool than air.  So even though it may be too cold to go outside for recreational activities, the grass will actually thrive until the soil freezes.  Rains and snow melt from early season snowfall will help maintain the health and life of cool season grasses in conjunction with the late fall fertilizer well into December on average.  Even though many homeowners have forgotten about the lawn at this point fall lawn fertilizer is getting utilized and stored by the lawn roots until soils freeze and will contribute to green-up in spring as lawn come out of winter dormancy.

                                        Compaction from extended snow cover on shaded part of lawn

Snow cover can come early or late as proven the last few years across the Northern Illinois area.  Early snow cover before the ground freezes will actually act as a blanket and keep soil from freezing.  This will also allow for the grass to continue to stay green and awake.  As early snow cover melts we see the grass come back through as emerald green as it has not yet gone dormant.  Once the ground freezes the lawn will turn brown as desiccation and dormancy take over the grass.  This will cause the grass blades to turn brown as the plant shuts down for winter.  But don't worry a properly fertilized lawn in late fall will bounce back in spring.  Extended snow cover in late winter will create opportunities for snow mold to take over and voles to begin tunneling under the canopy.  Tunneling from voles and severe snow mold damage will need to be seeded in spring to help repair.

             Snow mold and vole damage in spring

Shoveling snow in winter may have an impact on the lawn come from spring.  Large piles of snow along sidewalks, driveways and patios will cause compaction.  Compaction of the lawn can cause slow green up or thinning of the lawn come spring.  Carefully planning out snow piles from shoveling and plowing in winter can prevent this damage. Shovel and plow damage can also damage the lawn as snow removal is n process.  Marking driveway and sidewalk edges can help prevent this damage.  Otherwise, seeding in spring may be needed to help repair these areas as well.  There are many reasons lawns come out of winter damaged but these are some of the main examples.  Hopefully careful planning can help eliminate or minimize some of the damage.  Keep an eye on conditions this winter and pay attention to these issues which will help explain the damage come spring.

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