Now, I don’t want to sound like too much of a humbug, but in most of the UK, winter sucks.
It’s freezing outside. Your car is frosted over in the morning. You can only feel your fingertips for, like, 15 minutes a day. You don’t feel like doing anything except eating another box of mince pies. Pipes freeze. Your lips and noses and cheeks get chapped. Black ice gives you a wake up call three times a week. You start studying the dangers of a polar vortex just in case. And even though snow hats look pretty cool, eventually you’ll step indoors and realise your hair now looks the worst. It’s horrible.
But most horrible of all is what winter does to your lawn. Not to alarm you, but winter has the ability to knock off your lawn with the same ruthless edge as a hitman from your favourite mafia movie (it’s Goodfellas, right?). Christ, it even has a name: winter kill, which might lack inventiveness but definitely gets straight to the point.
Anyway, winter kill is basically an overarching term that refers to any severe damage (or death) caused to your lawn during, you guessed it, winter. The good news is, spotting it is pretty easy: you’ll see brown or bare patches in your lawn come spring. Thankfully, if you’ve been caring for your lawn, you can simply carry on living your life knowing your grass is both resilient and strong. That said, one harsh winter can be enough to take out even the most lovingly looked after lawns, with your turf taking months and months to fully recover on their own. Heck, you may even have to reseed or resod those patches.
That’s why I’m here, tapping away at my keyboard, trying to tell you that the best defence is offence. And in that spirit, I’ve pulled together a list of conditions that can encourage winter kill so that you can be prepared to a) help your lawn fight back or b) call Joe’s to do the fighting for you.
Bad Guy Name: Snow Mould
If I’ve learned anything since starting Joe’s, it’s this: you can’t trust weather reporters. Some say it will be a mild winter, some say it will be a wild winter. Either way, snow mould is ready to pounce because when heavy snow falls on a lawn that’s not yet cold, these moist conditions can create a load of fungal diseases we like to call snow mould. Then, come spring, when the snow has melted, you’re left with pink and grey crusty patches covering parts of your lawn. Now, usually snow mould is cured with a bit of sun and wind, but if the snow has been particularly bad, the grass could well die. The odds of that happening are slim, though, and usually your grass will recover fully… but it can take a long time.
Your Best Defence: there are a few things you can do to help your grass out, starting with raking any and all debris off your lawn to boost the air circulation to your grass. Once you’ve done that, a combination of scarification and aeration will help you against snow mould as this will improve the amount of air and nutrients getting to the roots. The stronger your roots, the hardier your grass.
Bad Guy Name: Cold Desiccation
I might have sold snow as a bit of a bad guy just now (okay, I literally sold it as a bad guy), but a blanket of snow can also act as an insulator, protecting your lawn from even the sharpest dip in temperature. The problems really come when grass is no longer covered, and the winter weather freezes the ground solid. Why? Because frozen roots can’t replace the moisture that’s sucked away by those cold, dry, winter winds, meaning your grass plants could get hit right in the cells and even the crowns. Thanks a lot, Elsa!
Your Best Defense: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but all you can really do is wait and see how bad the damage is come spring. If the damage was pretty minor, your lawn should have no real problems making a full and healthy recovery, and even if that doesn’t happen for each individual plant, the surrounding plants may well fill in the gaps. If, however, the damage was hardcore and widespread, you’re looking at a reseeding-slash-resodding job.
Bad Guy Name: Crown Freeze
As you can imagine, your grass crowns are more resilient than Jon Snow. But they do have one weakness: warm, wet weather followed by a sudden freeze. That combination spells bad news for lawns, and those conditions tend to arise twice a year: once in late winter and once in early spring, when unexpected frosts pop-up despite it getting warmer. Anyway, the reason this combo is so nasty is because your crowns will have been busy absorbing lots of water, only to freeze, expanding at such a rate that your crowns are killed. RIP, crowns.
Your Best Defence: unless you’re happy to cover your lawn in patio heaters or force your kids to stand outside armed with hairdryers, there’s not a lot you can do to stop crowns from freezing. All you can do is wait until the winter is over and then reseed or resod any damaged areas. That or replace your current turf with a more cool-season variety.
Bad Guy Name: Monsieur Vole
First thing, I just mean voles — I only added the Monsieur because I thought it would make those sweet and innocent cutiepies sound a little more sinister, which they are. Yup, some winter kill is caused by voles, and it happens due to those little rodents tunnelling around your lawn, eating your plant roots and leaving slim bands of dead grass in their wake. Pesky little pests.
Your Best Defence: Usually, this problem isn’t much of a problem as the surrounding grass will just create new roots and shoots. But if those voles have had a field day, you might have to think about reseeding come spring. As for the voles themselves, the best thing you can do is get your rake out in the autumn and rake up all the dead grass and fallen leaves you can, which is what voles use as shelter when out on their festive adventures.
And, Lastly, The Ultimate Defence Come Winter
No matter what you’re concerned about on the winter front, calling in the pros (as in us, Joe’s) and having a blast of autumn aeration will open up your lawn’s root zone and encourage new growth, especially if you double-down and do some overseeding too.