Winter season is a time when almost all living things hibernate. This is the season when our survival instincts would tell us to store and preserve as much heat and energy to fight the cold. We observe this phenomenon among animals and even humans. But do you know that plants also hibernate?
Plants go through a dormancy phase where they save up their nutrients in their roots to survive through the coming harsh weather conditions. According to a study published in Annals of Botany, this applies to both summer and winter seasons. Plant dormancy also shares the same characteristics during both seasons: there is the browning of their blades while its crown (tip) remains green.
Unlike animals and humans who can move around and hibernate themselves to safety, plant obviously can’t. So, dormancy is their best way to protect themselves.
Why Does My Grass Look Dead After Winter?
One reason grass looks dead after winter is dormancy. By the end of winter, your grass is still trying to recover from it and in a short few days, you will see how your lawn will start to look greener again. Of course, that should be aided with lawn care such as clearing, watering, and fertilizing appropriately.
However, another more concerning reason is winter stress. The effects of winter stress are varied depending on the type of grass. But one common effect of it is that your lawn starts to look brown or dead after the winter.
Sudesh Kumar Yadav wrote a review on ‘Cold Tolerance Mechanisms in Plants’ and noted that a plant’s cold tolerance (including grasses) depends on its sensitivity. Thus, its physical characteristics in the effect of the winter season also vary. This includes chlorosis (yellowing or browning), wilting, reduced expansion, and necrosis or death.
The extreme cold weather can also stunt the growth of the plant. Like dormancy, the winter stress can stop the grass from growing lush and green. Thus, it would look dead after the winter.
This can also be because it is in the plant’s nature to adapt to its external factors like the weather. One of the affected systems of plants during the winter is their reproductive development. Cold stress delays its growth and its ability to reproduce. This would explain why your grass won’t be as healthy as it usually is in the warmer season.
But the most adverse effect of cold stress in plants is the damage on its plasma membrane.
The plasma membrane contains saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The ratio between these two determines a plant’s transition temperature. The plants that have more saturated fat have a higher transition temperature, this makes them more sensitive to cold temperatures.
That is why it is essential to know which grass species are more resistant to cold so you can plant them on your lawn rather than planting those that are sensitive to cold temperatures.
What Kind of Grass Turns Brown in the Winter?
Like most plants, some grass species are also seasonal. If you plant a warm-season grass species, they are the kind of grass that would be more likely to turn brown in the winter.
As the name suggests, warm-season grasses thrive in warmer climates and can withstand drought. However, they mostly go partially or completely dormant during the winter turning into brown during this season.
Two of the most common warm-season grasses are St. Augustine and Bermuda grasses. Zoysia is a popular one, too. However, the two mentioned earlier grow faster than Zoysia.
The Bermuda grass also tends to survive the winter season more, especially the hybrid ones. St. Augustine, on the other hand, is tough and can withstand drought but would look shabby during the winter.
Other warm-season grasses that turn brown during the winter are Bahia Grass and Centipede Grass.
8 Steps to Restore Dead Looking Grass After Winter
What should you do to restore dead-looking grass after winter? You have probably said to yourself “my grass looks dead after winter”, but you wondered what should you do. I have put together a list of 8 critical steps and tips you need to do after winter to help improve your lawn’s overall grass quality. Let’s get into the list!
1. Clean Up Debris
When your grass looks dead after winter clean up whatever debris the winter season has brought to your yard. This could be anything – from tree branches to trash. Both organic and inorganic objects could fall across your yard. Cleaning up all the debris allows you to assess the damage that the winter season brought to your yard; hence, this will help you in the next steps, especially in addressing the damage.
2. Dry Up Snow Mold
You might notice some gray patches around your yard where there was snow. These are snow mold, a fungus that thrives during the cold season. These are easier to get rid of than you think. You just have to rake the affected area to loosen the grass. Let the grass dry before you overseed the area.
De-icing salts are common in areas where it gets too cold that the sidewalks and driveways get too thick with ice. If you have a lawn in this area, there’s a possibility that there are remaining salts on it. If your grass looks dead after winter it could be from the salt used, but what should I do?
To amend this, just apply a thin layer of granular gypsum to replace sodium chloride with calcium and sulfur and naturally condition the soil. Then, water the affected area.
4. Remove Thatch
Now, you can easily see thatches that are in your yard after the winter. Clear them out of your lawn by pulling them out with your hands or raking them. It is important to clear them out to make sure that there would be no fungi or other insects that would thrive under thatches, which might damage your grass.
The best rakes for this would be the same ones used in our Best Rakes for Dead Grass article, see the 5 best options.
5. Aerate Soil
The cold snow and heavy traffic may have compacted your lawn. Aerate your soil to loosen it up and make it easier for your grass’s roots to absorb the nutrients as they prepare to grow back during the spring.
After aerating, the grass starts to grow back – so do weeds. Before it gets any worse and to prepare your yard for the entire spring, spray a weed killer to get rid of them. You can use Roundup For Lawns since it can both kill the weeds and prevent them from growing.
It’s time to fix the more significant damage that winter brought to your lawn, and that is filling in the dead patches. You can reseed these areas and water it regularly so it will grow along with the rest of the grass.
It is advised to overseed when the soil temperature is 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit to make sure that there’s no more frost and that it is warm enough to accommodate seedling growth.
Fertilize your lawn, especially the overseeded areas, to make sure they receive the proper amount of nutrition. Scotts Turf Builder with Moss Control is perfect during winters end or for spring fertilizing. The moss control formula prevents any buildup while your lawn is transitioning from cold to warmer weather.
Lastly, Maintain Grass After Repair
After all the steps you’ve done to repair your dead grass, the work doesn’t stop there.
Remember that your yard needs constant care and attention to maintain its overall health. Keep an eye on it as it grows towards spring, and slowly prepare for the summer in the process.
Your lawn will remain green and lush if you regularly to water and fertilize it. Make sure to check the NPK ratio of your fertilizer and apply them evenly so there will be no light green or brown patches as it grows.
If you have brown grass or brown patches read: Why is my Grass Still Turning Brown Despite Watering?
If you have yellow grass read: Why is my Grass Turning Yellow and Dying?
Be keen on any indication of pests, insects, and other fungal diseases so you can address the problem immediately.
By now, you should understand that growing a healthy yard entails a lot of work and responsibility. With this repair guide and maintenance tips, you’re assured of green and lush vegetation. We have answered many lawn questions, please check out our Lawn and Garden category for much more lawn information.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.