Let's set the scene: You have a cool-season grass like Kentucky bluegrass or fescue, and it usually sees snow in winter. But this year, something's different. The slush has vanished and, well, your lawn is a wreck. Don't worry! Dead grass, vole damage, or any other winter lawn problem you're spotting is likely fairly common, and—best of all—usually fixable.
Show winter who's boss with these solutions to typical turf issues, as well as tips for preventing them next season.
Winter Lawn Problems & Solutions
If you're anything like us, once you spot a problem, you want it fixed—stat! Have patience, friend. You may need to live with some of these concerns until the weather warms back up, but rest assured, with this cheat sheet, you'll be ready once the timing is right.
Cold weather is no match for voles. These burrowing rodents are active year-round, and in winter their labyrinth of runways can be hidden by snow, making their activity hard to notice (and giving them the misnomer of "snow moles").
- If you spot voles early on, you can try to catch them using a rodent station designed for outdoor use (place it perpendicular to their trails and follow label directions). However, most vole activity is fast and furious, and they usually leave on their own soon enough.
- Once vole damage is discovered, rake out the dead grass their shallow, criss-crossing tunnels have created as soon as the ground isn't covered in snow.
- Then, wait until spring to patch any bare areas (for tips on how to repair bare spots, see the section below).
Dead or Patchy Grass
Dead grass is unsightly and nobody wants that. However, bare spots are best repaired in spring because the name of the game is reseeding, and seeds are not down with frosty conditions. It's much easier to revive your lawn when temps stay steadily between 60°F and 80°F.
- Grass that has died will not "come back." It's a goner, buddy. Rake it out to clear space for the grass to be replaced.
- If you only have a few bare areas, follow the label directions and put down Scotts® EZ Seed® Patch & Repair Sun and Shade, a robust combo of grass seed and slow-release fertilizer. Those spots will have turf growing in no time at all.
- For larger areas of concern, you'll want to reseed your whole lawn using a spreader and Scotts® Turf Builder® Thick'R Lawn® Sun & Shade (following all label directions). This will improve the soil and fill in bare spots, like magic.
Snow mold can happen when a ton of snow falls on your lawn before the ground fully freezes. When the snow starts to melt, you'll see patches or circles of straw-like grass in the form of gray or pink mold. Admittedly, this one looks pretty bad, but don't give up.
- The key to snow mold is repair and then prevention. If this is the first season you see it on your lawn, loosen any matted grass in the affected areas to help your lawn dry out more quickly.
- Come spring, use Scotts® EZ Seed® Patch & Repair Sun and Shade to fix up the damaged areas.
- Take note, and come fall, remember to apply Scotts® DiseaseEx™ Lawn Fungicide to help discourage fungal problems from popping up in the first place.
De-icing salts can do a number on your lawn, resulting in patchy grass with an ugly orange hue. While you can't stop local road crews from using these salts, you can minimize the damage.
- For areas that are under your control, apply an all-natural product, like Scotts® Eco-Blend Snow & Ice Melt, as soon as snow begins to fall. (Always follow the label directions.)
- To help out parts of your lawn affected by industrial applications, flush the areas with 6 inches of water to help leach the salt from the soil. Most sprinklers generate about an inch of water every 15 minutes, but check the flow rate to be sure. Timing is key here: You don't want to do this in freezing temps, but it needs to happen before any spring growth, so find a stint of warm weather and get out there.
Tips for Preventing Winter Lawn Damage
We can hear your audible sigh of relief over there. Now that you've identified the problem and how to fix it, you can turn your attention to stopping much of this from happening next year. The best form of prevention? Having good lawn care habits.
Fall Lawn Care Tasks
- Mulch leaves into your lawn. Use your lawn mower to mulch leaves down into your lawn, because leaving a thick layer on your lawn over the winter is no bueno. That can smother your lawn, cause snow mold, and inhibit growth come spring.
- Complete a last mow before the temps drop. And while you're at it, mow it down about 1 to 1.5 inches shorter than usual. Long grass blades are a breeding ground for all sorts of nonsense over the winter, including those pesky voles who see it as a heaping winter meal.
- Dethatch in the fall. Dethatching your lawn relieves a thick buildup of dead grass just waiting to invite trouble in (pests and diseases are one thing, drainage issues are another). Give your lawn breathing room in the fall and it'll work wonders.
- Fertilize for winter weather. Feeding your lawn too much nitrogen too late in the season is a recipe for problems down the road. However, you do want it primed for winter weather, so use a formula designed for the season, like Scotts® Turf Builder® WinterGuard® Fall Lawn Food. Just apply it at the right time, following all label directions.
Winter Lawn Care Tasks
- Manage snow and ice. It's essential to shovel snow off your driveway or sidewalk areas, but don't pile it onto your lawn—use a snow melt or stack it in a single corner of your lawn (like at the base of your driveway). Also, keep snow piles away from your landscape beds, as they can block air flow to precious plants.
- Avoid lawn traffic. Frosted or dormant lawns are more susceptible to damage caused by repeated foot traffic, so consider moving your snowball fight to the park or, at the very least, rotating where you play so one area of your lawn isn't beaten down.
The bottom line? Take care of your grass year-round, and complete your fall lawn care tasks diligently, so you lay your lawn to rest in the best shape possible before winter hits. You can't prevent everything—even the strongest lawn still needs some help every now and then—but with the right care at the right time, you can dramatically minimize some of the damaging effects. Take that, winter!