When the lush green carpets of lawns get covered first with falling leaves, and then with blankets of snow, you may wonder how your grass plants will survive the freezing temperatures and low light levels of winter.
Grass does keep growing in winter, but not by producing fresh green blades. Instead, the plants are preparing themselves for the following growing season by growing vigorous root systems. You can help them by preparing your lawn for winter before they enter their dormant phase.
Can Grass Grow Under Snow?
A thick layer of snow is actually one of the best things that can happen to your grass in cold winter months. It forms a layer of insulation that will protect the grass from bitterly cold temperatures and harsh winds.
At the same time, some sunlight will still be able to make its way through the snow to the blades of grass, allowing photosynthesis to take place, and fueling the growth of strong roots throughout the winter months.
However, grass plants do not waste any energy on upward growth when covered with snow.
Does Grass Go Dormant in the Winter?
If you live in a region with cold winters, you can expect that your grass will go dormant during the winter months.
A dormant lawn will stop growing fresh blades, and the existing ones will turn brown. This is a normal response to frigid winter temperatures, so don’t panic.
What’s important is that the crowns of the grass plants are still healthy, with strong root growth below ground.
What Happens to Grass in Cold Winters?
When temperatures are consistently at or below freezing, grass simply reverts to dormancy and stops growing fresh blades. It will turn brown, whether covered with snow or not, but new green growth should resume in spring.
While the blades won’t get taller until warmer weather returns, the combination of root growth and the strengthening of the cell walls will get your lawn off to a great start in the spring.
What Happens to Grass in Locations with Mild Winters?
In regions with mild or warm winters, such as Florida, Texas, or California, warm season grasses such as Bermuda grass still go dormant.
One of the best ways to ensure a green lawn throughout the winter months is to overseed your existing lawn with perennial ryegrass in early fall. This is a cool-season species that will thrive in the relatively cooler temperatures of winter in the South.
As temperatures rise in the spring, the ryegrass will be killed off by the high temperatures, but by then your warm-season grasses will have bounced back from their winter dormancy.
When Does Grass Start Growing After Winter?
Your grass will emerge from its dormant phase in early spring as temperatures start to rise and rain moistens the ground. The exact timing depends on your latitude; southern lawns will turn green weeks before those farther north.
However, once temperatures stay around 8-10°C (45-50°F), you will start to see lots of fresh new green blades poking through the dead blades left behind from the autumn.
Can Grass Die in the Winter?
Grass does not usually get killed in winter.
Even frequent temperature fluctuations from cold to more moderate temperatures, and then back again, are unlikely to kill your lawn. Grass plants are extremely tough, and the species grown in northern regions have evolved to survive these conditions.
What are Some Common Winter Grass Damages?
Even when the ground is frozen, your lawn can suffer damage if you don’t take care.
One of the worst things that you can do is walk on grass that has been frozen, which often happens after a frosty night early in the season. This can break the brittle blades.
If you have to shovel your drive after a heavy fall of snow, try not to pile it up on the lawn. You may not have a choice if it’s the city plow that’s depositing it there as it plows the streets, unfortunately. As well, the salt and other melting agents that are used can kill the lawn.
Small animals such as voles can tunnel under the surface of your lawn, causing significant damage.
Finally, fungus infections such as snow mould, or plants such as moss or liverwort, can spread in cool conditions and damage your lawn.
How to Fix Grass After Winter?
Once winter has gone and temperatures start to rise, you should be able to clearly see where your lawn needs help after months of cold and snow.
Look for patches that are not showing fresh green growth, and check the plants. If they pull loose easily, you need to clear out the whole patch, and then scatter fresh seed to fill in the bare spot.
Use the same species as the rest of your lawn, or you will end up with a spotty appearance. Different grasses have varying shades of green and texture of the blades.
How to Prevent Winter Lawn Damages?
Start preventing winter lawn damage before the first snowflake has fallen by preparing it for the winter months.
Shortly before you expect the first fall frost, aerate and fertilize your lawn. This will give it room to breathe, and a rich store of nutrients to encourage root growth through the winter and quick new growth next spring.
Leaves can smother a lawn through the winter months, so they need to be dealt with before things freeze up. You can shred them with a mulching mower and leave them on the lawn to recycle their nutrients. Otherwise, rake them up and either bag them up for municipal leaf collection, or pile them up in an out-of-the-way spot to break down into a compost called leaf mould.
Finally, don’t stop mowing your lawn until it has stopped growing. You should aim to go into the dormant period with blade lengths from 5 to 6 cm (2 to 2.5 in) to keep your lawn as healthy as possible through the winter. Read more about mowing your lawn before winter in our guide here.
Does a Long Winter Cause More Lawn Damage?
A long winter is less likely to cause severe damage to your lawn than a winter with big temperature swings. If you get a stretch of balmy weather in February or March, followed by an intense cold spell, your grass might have started to come back from its dormancy and get hit with a deep freeze.
Will Grass Seed Grow in Winter?
Grass seed will not germinate and grow in cold temperatures, but if you scatter seed in late fall or early winter before the ground freezes, it can sprout and get off to a good start as soon as temperatures start to warm up in spring.
Read my more detailed article Can You Plant Grass Seed in the Winter? for more details!
How Can You Tell if Grass is Dormant or Dead?
You can tell if your grass is dead or merely dormant by giving the blades a tug. If the crown pulls loose easily, that means it’s dead. However, if the plant resists, that means the roots are healthy and strong. As temperatures warm up in spring it should bounce back and start producing fresh green growth.
Read my full article that provides much more details here: Dormant Grass vs Dead Grass | What’s the Difference?
Whether you’re in the far North or the tropical South, lawns are not going to be at their best through the cold months. However, by preparing your lawn in the fall, you can ensure a thick, green carpet when warmer temperatures return in spring!
Janice is a retired High School teacher who is spending her leisure years keeping busy with all sorts of projects. Aside from freelance writing, she’s an enthusiastic amateur chef, home wine maker, and tends a large raised-bed vegetable garden, while at the same time running a Bed & Breakfast.