What happens to your lawn during the winter

Winter Lawns

In a climate like we have in Richmond, VA, grasses usually go dormant and have a tan appearance in the winter. Shorter days and colder temperatures slow down grass growth. Older grass leaves will die in continuous cold and the lawn will look brown. This will occur with all grass types including tall fescue and bluegrass.

Grass blades can also go dormant from a process call desiccation. This occurs in cold windy areas. Cold wind causes the grass blade to lose its moisture. The roots are frozen so no water can be taken up to replace the lost moisture and the grass turns brown. This is most noticeable on west facing areas that have no protection from the wind.

snow in virginia

Though the grass looks dead, it is alive and once the temperatures rise in late March to early April, the turf color will begin change and start growing again.

Snow on treesThere are some steps to take to minimize injury to your lawn during the cold winter months:

  • Late fall fertilizer. This acts as natural anti-freeze for better cold tolerance, maintains lawn density, and stimulates spring color and growth.
  • Continue to mow your lawn in the fall until it stops growing. Never reduce mowing to less than 3”.
  • Remove leaves as often as possible, never less than once per week.   Leaves smother grass and by eliminating light and oxygen. New grass growth is especially sensitive and leaves must be removed more often. Use a blower instead of a rake
  • Continue to water until Thanksgiving in our area if it does not rain.
  • Stay off the lawn if it is frozen. Walking on the grass can kill spots as the crown of the plant is more sensitive to being crushed when frozen.

Lawn dormancy is normal and we should expect our lawns to be off color in the winter. By properly preparing our lawns now we can expect outstanding color and growth in the spring.