Dealing With Winter Lawn Damage
Winter in West Michigan can be a stressful experience.
Sure, most people who live here do enjoy an occasional snow day once in a while, or the opportunity to do some sledding, skiing, and snowball fighting with the kids.
But we’re also guessing that, by now, the weeks of bone-chilling temperatures and treacherous road conditions have taken their toll on your psyche—especially with the crazy snow and ice storms of a few weeks ago.
Well, people and animals aren’t the only living things suffering the effects and after-effects of a brutal winter. Your lawn may be struggling as well!
True, the plants and grasses that make up most West Michigan lawns are definitely of the hardier sort—types that are used to weathering cold winter conditions. But that doesn’t mean they’re indestructible, or that they haven’t sustained any damage to their health that could linger into the spring and beyond.
What might you be dealing with this spring?
Snow mold is a fungal turf disease that produces grayish or pinkish roughly circular patches of dead or damaged grass. Gray snow mold tends to indicate damage only to the blades, while the more severe pinkish hue indicates more significant damage to the roots and crowns of the grass.
Snow mold is more likely to develop on areas of your lawn that get a lot of shade and are continuously covered by snow for long stretches of time. (That describes a large percentage of many of West Michigan lawns in the wintertime, unfortunately.)
The good news is that you can usually deal with winter mold in the springtime by lightly raking the affected area after the snow has melted. This removes dead tissue, fluffs up the lawn, and allows more air and sunlight to penetrate the soil, dry out the lawn and kill off the snow mold.
That said, if your snow mold persists and continues to blemish the visual appearance of your lawn, we can certainly take a look. In severe cases fungicide may be required.
You can’t always prevent snow mold, but you can lower the odds of future disease by making sure you stay on top of raking, mowing, and maintaining your lawn in late fall. Clearing out fallen leaves and excessive thatch, as well as keeping blades from getting too long, will allow more air and light to reach the lawn and prevent severe matting under the snowpack.
De-icing salt is a pretty crucial tool to have on hand in the middle of a West Michigan winter—especially after a heavy snow or flash freeze. Without it, sidewalks, driveways, and roadways may be too slippery to navigate safely.
That said, too much salt can be toxic for grasses and other plants, and it’s not always easy to keep the salt on the pavement and away from the lawn. As the snow and ice melt, salty water can flow off pavement or splash into lawns from passing cars, and seep into the soil.
Once there, the salt sucks up moisture and prevents your grass from getting needed nutrients. As a result, your lawn may appear quite a bit browner than usual come springtime, and may require a thorough rinsing and treatment with calcium sulfate (pelletized gypsum) soil conditioner to break down the salt and help the grass heal.
How can you reduce the risk to your lawn? Follow these tips:
- Keep your lawn well hydrated throughout the year, including late fall.
- Shovel, snow blow, or plow as often as you can (especially after storms) to reduce the need for de-icing chemicals.
- Salt only when necessary.
- Although they’re (sometimes considerably) more expensive, consider using de-icing compounds that are safer on lawns, such as magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, or acetates (calcium, magnesium, sodium, or potassium) if you can afford to. All these options are far less toxic than standard sodium chloride rock salt, with acetates being the best overall.
Our February ice storm that immediately followed a mass melt-off, sad to say, may have caused this problem for you—although it’s generally less common here, where our “cold-season grasses” tend to be a little more resistant to crown freeze.
Basically, if relatively warm and moist weather (say after a lot of rain or mass melt-off of the snowpack) is followed up immediately by a sudden freeze, the waterlogged grass crowns can expand and freeze, potentially killing the grass.
There’s not really a good way to prevent crown freeze, unfortunately—you’re pretty much at the mercy of the mercurial Michigan weather. Still, if a small-to-large section of your grass has died off, we’re happy to help you resod or reseed, and if the problem comes back year after year, you might just need to start over with a different blend of grass.
Cold desiccation happens in situations where the ground is frozen solid, but the grass is still exposed to the air (i.e., not covered by snow). The problem, basically, is that uncovered grasses will continue to lose moisture and oxygen to the cold winds, but can’t replace that moisture due to frozen roots.
For what it’s worth, this is one situation where constant lake effect snow actually comes in handy! That said, cold desiccation can still be a problem in West Michigan if we go several days with frozen temps but no snow cover, or if you make a habit of uncovering patches of grass when you shovel—perhaps to make a path to the garage, or to provide a place for your dogs to do their business.
This is another problem that’s hard to prevent, aside from leaving the snowpack over your lawn relatively untouched. The grass may return to health or fill in over the course of the spring, but if problems persist you may need to resod or reseed.
Need Help Getting Your Lawn Back to Full Health?
If winter has really done a number on your lawn, make sure you give Bosch’s Landscape & Lawn Specialties a call.
We can assess and repair any existing damage, and we’re also happy to handle any spring maintenance tasks you may require help with—dethatching, weeding, mulching, pruning, filling in bare patches, and so much more.
And if you’re looking for a more major re-do of your lawn and landscaping, we’ll also do a complete site assessment and make sure that any especially salt-sensitive plants are placed far away from roadways and driveways.
It’s all part of making sure your lawn and landscaping spring back to full, vibrant health in the spring, so you can get the most out of your outdoor space all year long!
To schedule an appointment with the Bosch’s team or request a free estimate, give us a call today at (616) 399-6861.