Grass is an very hardy plant and has evolved to survive in some of the harshest environments on earth.
Left on their own, most lawns will make it through the winter without any problem. However, there are some simple things that you can do to help your lawn through the winter, reducing the possibility of damage, helping you to be sure of a fantastic piece of turf the following year.
Tips to help your lawn through the winter
1. Keep the leaves off
A blanket of leaves will kill a lawn in weeks. If you leave something on your lawn for a week or so, like a lawn chair or a dog toy, you will notice that the grass shaded out underneath turns yellow. This is because it has been denied access to sunlight, and without sunlight all plants die.
Leaves are a big risk to a mown lawn. In its natural environment grass grows long and the leaves fall down in between the grass blades enabling the grass to reach for the sunlight. On a lawn that is mown short, leaves can quickly smother entire areas, denying the grass plants the valuable sunlight they need.
So during early winter, either blow the leaves off your lawn and into the borders, or collect them up and compost them.
2. Be very careful if it is wet
In the UK, and especially in the North West of England, the winter months can be very wet. When you put pressure on wet soil, all of the tiny pockets of air contained within it are squeezed out. This is bad news for soil and a lack of air pockets means that the soil will lose its structure and the particles will bind together, compacting the soil. This reduces the space available for grass roots and causes the lawn to thin.
3. Stay off when frosty
During a heavy frost the water contained within grass will freeze. Grass can cope with this without any problems as it is fully hardy. However, if you walk on a heavily frosted lawn, the action of bending the grass blades over will cause the ice in the plant to break the cells within the plant, damaging them and causing some of the leaves to die. Brown patches will then appear in the damaged areas and the grass will be susceptible to fungal diseases.
Prevent this by not going on the lawn in a heavy frost. Wait until the sun has burned it off and avoid the areas still in the shade which will take longer to defrost the grass.
4. Apply a preventative fungicide
During the winter months your lawn will be under attack from many airborne fungal diseases, the most common being fusarium (commonly called snow mould). This is one of the few fungal diseases which cause permanent damage to grass. You can take steps lessen the chance of attack.
Grass is most at risk from fusarium when it is under a blanket of snow. Snow creates a stable, damp, carbon-dioxide-rich environment which is perfect for the fungus to bloom.
A professional-grade, preventative fungicide treatment should be applied to the lawn before snow is forecast, to give the grass protection against a fusarium attack when it is at its most vulnerable.
5. Brush out worm casts
Worm casts can be troublesome on fine lawns over the winter. They are the small piles if soil brought up to the surface by common earthworms.
Worms are great for the soil and the general ecology of your lawn, so we don’t want to kill them, or prevent them from naturally aerating the lawn.
The best way to treat the casts is to simply sweep them away with a stiff brush. This will prevent the casts from being tread into the soil, causing a mess and smothering a patch of grass.
6. Prevent leatherjackets from destroying your lawn
The humble crane fly lays hundred of eggs in lawns in late summer. These soon hatch into white grubs called leatherjackets, and they spend the winter munching through the roots of your grass.
The damage leatherjackets can cause can be devastating, but they can be treated with a nematode biological control in autumn.
Follow these simple steps to help your lawn through the winter and your lawn will have a great start and look fantastic the following summer.