Winter Lawn Care

Winter Lawn Care

  • By Nancy Bolton
  • /
  • February 2015 - Vol. 1 No. 2

Last month we talked about lawn alternatives, which is laudable, but some of us enjoy jumping on the riding mower, putting the headphones on, and listening to country music.  And we wouldn’t want to miss the enjoyment of surveying the beautiful green grass that spring brings and its fresh smell when cut.  However, it is February, and looking out the window I see only dormant looking grass with a freezing rain coming down.

Lawns can be a lot of work, and the winter provides us with a needed break from the routine maintenance required to have a beautiful lawn.  Sometimes we work hard on our lawns,  yet they are still not beautiful.  Is there something we can do now to jump start it before spring rolls around?  Maybe…..

Keep it Clean
After you push that mower into the shed for the last time of the year, look around then, and as the winter goes by to be sure all objects and debris remain off of the lawn.  Intermittently, check to be sure no lawn furniture has been moved onto the lawn itself and all toys such as soccer goals are removed.  Additionally, as leaves, branches, and sticks fall onto the yard, remove them as soon as possible.


If an object is left on the grass during cold weather and snowfall, it can create large dead spots because of the weight of the objects.  In the spring the grass in that area will be stunted and thinner than the rest of the yard.

Avoid Excessive Lawn Traffic
When the grass is brown and short, it’s easy to forget that it shouldn’t be walked upon.  Try to prevent foot traffic on your winter lawn.  Grass is relatively resilient, but it will have a difficult time recovering if a path becomes well worn across the lawn.

  • Keep your sidewalks cleared of ice and snow so that you and your guests won’t be tempted to cut across the yard very often.
  • Never allow anyone to park a truck or a car on your lawn.  Even the smallest vehicle will leave impressions in the soil and kill off the grass that is underneath the tires.  Using the lawn as a parking lot is the fastest way to kill the good grass and encourage the growth of crabgrass and other types of weeds.
  • Keep the lawn cleared of debris and help everyone in the family respect the yard while it is dormant.

Frost/Ice on the Lawn
Dr. Mike Goatley, turfgrass specialist for the Virginia Tech Extension Office, had to tell his kids that they could not play on their southwestern Virginia lawn after a severe winter freeze.  Why, they asked?  In simpler words, he explained …..”Trafficking frost or ice-covered turf usually results in extensive physical “breaking” of the grass leaves.  The internal pipelines of the leaves (the xylem and phloem tissues that are involved in moving water, nutrients, and carbohydrates around in the plant) are usually severed when traffic is applied to ice-covered foliage.  The damaged turf leaves don’t fall away completely from the stem, but instead slowly turn brown and die.”  Listen to his entire podcast at

Golfers who arise early in late fall or winter have experienced “frost delays.”  The purpose of the delay is to prevent further damage that would be caused by foot or cart traffic.  This is what Dr. Goatley was trying to avoid on his own lawn.

You will likely see the damage caused by walking on frosted grass in the form of footprints.  This will last until new leaf blades develop, and that won’t happen until April or May.  Fortunately, frost damage is more cosmetic than anything and should not affect the overall survival of the lawn.
If that is true, what about sledding?  The bottom line is enjoy the sledding with the kids.  Repeated sledding can cause some wear and compaction, but not nearly the same damage as stepping on frost/ice covered lawns.  If it snows enough in Central Virginia to go sledding, go for it!

Ice Melters
In another great podcast from Virginia Tech turf specialist, Mike Goatley, he discusses how to select the appropriate ice melt product and how an informed decision can protect our water quality.  Go to:

VDOT uses “salt” on icy roads from January to March.  This is a precaution taken for the safety of those driving on dangerous roads.  These ice melt compounds are usually chloride based and are the cheapest and most readily available.  Cities in our locality — such as Charlottesville – have safety ordinances requiring removal of snow from sidewalks within a specific time.  It is also important, though, to consider and reduce any untoward environmental effects these products may bring.  In general, the chloride salt based products are not considered environmentally damaging , but can be corrosive to cars and sidewalks if not washed off.  These products can also kill roadside/curbside vegetation.  Rainfall usually washes away the corrosive effects of the salt based products and should have a minimal environmental impact.

Another environmentally friendly deicer to consider for homeowners is calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), but it may be more difficult to find and is costly.  However, Dr. Goatley has found that some box stores have encouraged the use of products that can have a serious impact environmentally — garden or lawn fertilizers that contain nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P).  If you use these products as a deicer, you risk adding these chemicals to our storm drainage systems, which will adversely affect water quality downstream, specifically the Chesapeake Bay.
Snow mold
Although it may be too late in February, next year remember to mow your grass fairly short at the end of the season.  If the grass is left too long, it will lie over on itself when snow arrives.  When this happens, air circulation around the plant is reduced and snow mold, a destructive early spring lawn disease, can become a problem in your lawn.  It can cause large areas of grass to die, or at least weaken in vigor.  This is seen more often in northern areas that have snow on the grass throughout most of the winter .

Using sharp mower blades to prevent diseases from attacking, and proper fertilization prior to winter will help prevent the snow mold fungus.  For more information, go to the following podcast:

In summary:

  • Keep the lawn clear of lawn furniture, toys or debris
  • Avoid excessive lawn foot traffic
  • Avoid parking a truck or car on any part of the lawn
  • Avoid walking on lawn of there is frost or ice
  • Ensure that appropriate “ice melt” chemicals are selected to minimize possible environmental effects. Avoid using those with nitrogen and phosphorus.
  • Consider servicing your lawn mower now in preparation for Spring and avoid the rush at the repair shop.

So sit back for now… for snow……order seeds for your garden…….go skiing … because spring is right around the corner.

Goatley, Mike.  Podcast from Virginia Tech.
Goatley, Mile.  Podcast from Virginia Tech.
Goatley, Mike.  Podcast from Virginia Tech. :