Stand Up to Winter Kill

“Winter Kill”

It probably makes you shudder just saying it, even if you’re not sure what it means.

Winter kill simply refers to the damage your lawn can suffer during the winter months. Even yards that have been thoroughly maintained can suffer from the huge temperature swings common to a Mississippi winter.

This year, temperatures in North Mississippi dipped all the way into the single digits. Central Mississippi experienced bitter cold as well. Coastal cities didn’t fare much better. Though centipede and St. Augustine grasses are the most vulnerable of the varieties commonly found in Mississippi, these temperatures are hard on every species of turf.

Since your grass naturally becomes dormant in the cooler months (more on that in the next blog post), it can be hard to tell actual damage from your grass’ normal winter phase. On diseased patches of grass, the turf may green very slowly, or green quickly only to turn back to brown.

Here’s what to look out for

  • North-facing slopes will often show more damage from winter kill. South-facing slopes generally hold up better due to warmer soil temperatures. North-facing slopes and areas that receive less solar irradiation are at greater risk.
  • Fall fertility and lawn health can guard against winter kill, but sometimes not in the way you think. Many well-maintained lawns can still receive heavy damage. For St. Augustine, this could be due to excessive top growth at the expense of the roots. For Bermuda and zoysia grasses, excess moisture left in the plants may prolong dormancy. The timing of fall fertilizer application and the product applied can make all the difference. Your lawn care professional will know the ideal timing of these applications.
  • All of these problems are compounded by excessive moisture, like standing water. This is what makes areas near the coast just as susceptible to winter kill as the colder parts of the state.

Be Patient

The good news is that all but the most damaged lawns will recover from winter kill naturally. As is often the case, the best advice is the most difficult—be patient. Fertilize your grass, but do it sparsely. Your lawn will really start to perk up when nighttime temperatures consistently hit the upper 60s.

If you feel winter kill is damaging your lawn, one of our lawn care specialists would be happy to evaluate your yard and make suggestions for its care through the coming spring.

If you choose to sod or seed your yard, make sure you know your sod and seed. Since your grass got hammered, your sod producer’s probably did, too. Implementing weak sod may be a quick fix aesthetically, but it would be much more advantageous to simply be patient.

If you choose to seed, it only makes sense to seed with a turf strain that is more resilient in the cold. Zoysia grass typically holds up to the cold better than other varieties. On the other hand, St. Augustine is usually decimated. Proper seeding is affected by several factors, including time of year, soil type and if a pre-emergent has been applied. Please contact us for questions regarding seeding of your lawn.

Being patient is the best strategy. Once warm weather arrives, replanting in shaded and high-traffic areas will become an option. A good rule of thumb is that if you have one green blade per square foot, you’ll likely see full recovery this season.

As always, lawn care should be considered in yearly increments. It’s healthier for your lawn and your wallet to take small measures each season to prepare your grass for whatever’s coming next, rather than start from scratch each season. That’s the purpose behind our Lawn 360 service plan.

Next post, we’ll talk about the state of your grass during the winter months, and what to do to take full advantage of the spring season.

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