The first official day of winter in the United States is Monday, December 21, 2020, but your lawn begins preparing for it far in advance.
When the soil temperature begins to cool, this triggers a signal to your lawn to begin entering a process called dormancy. Dormancy is a safety mechanism used by your lawn to help protect it from inadequate moisture and challenging temperatures. Proper fall and winter fertilization will also help your lawn retain important nutrients in the root system – often causing the blades to go brown and stunted before spring’s arrival.
Of note, while many of us believe our lawn only enters a state of dormancy in the winter months, extreme drought conditions can also force your lawn to go dormant at any point during a stressful season.
Every area of the country experiences differing winter conditions. Moreover, some grasses are more tolerant of temperature fluctuations than others, such as cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, which is well-suited for areas like the Northeast where cold-tolerant grasses are necessary.
Warm-season grasses such as bermudagrass, are more fragile and can be easily killed if lower than expected temperatures creep into the area.
It’s also important that you pay close attention to your lawn during the dormant winter months. While there’s no lawn mowing and edging to take care of on a weekly basis, your lawn could be stressed by several factors which could prevent its vibrant reemergence come the spring.
According to the University of Minnesota, “Desiccation is extreme dryness that occurs when water in the plant is lost at a faster rate than water is replaced.” If you find yourself with an unseasonably warm winter with little precipitation, your lawn could find itself in desiccation. While we’re not suggesting you activate your automatic sprinkler system, a good dousing with a garden hose every three to four weeks will certainly help.
While using de-icing salt is sometimes necessary on sidewalks and walkways, it can be extremely damaging if left on your lawn. Essentially, de-icing salt will impact the ability of the lawn to properly absorb water from the soil by actually altering the soil structure. Use salt sparingly on your property, especially around your lawn, and if necessary, it’s important to go back and use a stiff broom to make sure no granules are left on the surface.
Traffic (foot, vehicles, equipment) on a frozen lawn can actually cause damage to the blades. The weight compression actually forces ice crystals into the cells of the lawn and rapidly kills the tissue. This is irreparable so try your best to limit traffic when the surface is frozen.
While your lawn will pretty much take care of itself during winter dormancy, it’s important to keep an eye out for any potential problems before they cause damage come the spring.
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