Winter Turf Damage: Cold Temperatures Affected Southern Lawns

Winter Grass Damage

Blog Post Provided From Roland Freund, Spring-Green Franchise Owner of Spring, Texas

This past winter will be remembered as an unusually cold one in the South region, and landscapes are now telling the story.
Homeowners are busy trying to replace dead plants and repair lawn areas. Since Eastern Redbuds are blooming, there is a very good chance the freezing cold weather is behind us.

Lawn Care companies and the Extension Offices have been inundated with phone calls regarding dead areas in lawns. Everyone is quick to blame someone, but the truth of the matter is that no one had control over the weather and the amount of winter kill to lawns.
Based on my observations in different communities, most of the damage occurred to turf in open areas with no protection from frosts or low temperatures.

Lawn areas beneath a tree canopy, between buildings or next to water bodies fared much better because they got some protection from the cold. One lawn may be damaged and the one next door may be fine.

Lawns Affected By Cold Weather

There are lots of variables that affect cold hardiness such as the type of lawn and variety, soils, mowing height, etc. Also, new lawns installed after late August or later did not fare well, because the lawns did not have sufficient time to establish.

According to University of Florida turfgrass specialist Bryan Unruh, winter injury is a very complex and poorly understood phenomenon in turf. It is not only related to low temperature but also to fertilization rate (individual applications and seasonal quantities), state of hydration at the time of low temperatures and perhaps most important is the number of times that it greens and re-greens throughout the winter.

Warm temperatures are often followed by cold, creating a roller coaster of temperature fluctuations. As a result, the stored carbohydrates in lawns dwindle and are depleted when spring rolls around. Based on this information, it would be difficult to blame any one thing for the damage we experienced this year.

Repairing Your Lawn From the Winter

If you have dead areas in the lawn, it’s time to move on and repair them. If the dead areas are small, gently rake out the damaged turf so the surrounding lawn can fill in the gaps. If the areas are large, use a garden rake to remove the dead material; then loosen and level the existing soil.

Depending on the type of grass, replace with sod, plugs, or seed. St. Augustine, Zoysia, and Improved Bermuda lawns can be planted as sod and/or plugs. Common Bermuda can also be grown from seed. Plugs, sod, and seed are readily available at sod nurseries or garden centers.
Don’t mix different grasses in the same lawn, because the growing requirements are not the same. Also, try to match the variety with what you currently have unless you are dissatisfied with the existing lawn. For example, Floratam, Delmar, Palmetto, Bitterblue, Captiva, Seville,and Classic are all St. Augustine grass varieties.

If you are unable to match the variety, make your own plugs by cutting out sections with a shovel or a special steel plugger. Plugs are typically spaced 6 to 12 inches apart but can be spaced closer so the bare areas will fill in quicker to reduce weed problems. Store-bought plugs will establish sooner because they have a more developed root system.

Seed or Sod Your Lawn

Seeds should be applied evenly, lightly raked into the soil and/or covered with a thin layer of topsoil, and then rolled to ensure seed to soil contact. Cover the seeded area with a thin layer of mulch to prevent seedlings from drying out. Watering is the next critical stage to the success of the new sod, plugs or seed. Keep the area moist by applying small quantities of water several times each day for about two weeks. Do not turn the sprinkler on and let it run constantly as this keeps the area too wet, promotes disease problems, and wastes water.

After the seedlings emerge or the sod starts to grow and take root, reduce the irrigation frequency but increase the amount. Once established, and the grass is actively growing, apply 1 inch water/week when you run the irrigation system to encourage a deep root system.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact your local Spring-Green.