What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months? 

PART 8 – VOLE DAMAGE

Damage from voles can be a very unpleasant site in the spring when you see your lawn for the first time in months after the snow melts.  To make matters worse, vole damage seems to appear that much more dramatic when it’s combined with all the other conditions affecting the lawn that go along with winter including snow mold disease and winter kill.

voledamage2

Vole Damage Tunnel

  Voles are small rodents very similar in size and appearance to mice.  They are herbaceous and tend to be prevalent in areas situated in close proximity to areas with suitable cover including wooded areas, parklands, bushes and shrubs, and tall grasses.

Vole

Vole

Vole damage is commonly most prominent during winters with long continuous periods of snow coverage.  The snow provides the voles with a sense of protection from natural predators as they can move about freely under the snow cover without exposure to the outside.

 

Voles tunnel along the surface of the lawn protected by the snow and create turf damage by feeding on the grass plants tissue and also from continuous “wear” from the traffic of tunnelling back and forth across the lawn.  Voles do not feed on the roots or crown of the grass plant and therefore the damage they cause is usually not considered severe.

Voledamage1

Vole Damage to a Lawn

Recovery can often take place on its own when damage is minor by simply lightly raking up the areas of matted down turf.  When damage is more severe and the tunnelling has been extensive, a more aggressive approach including overseeding, topdressing, and slitseeding may be required to repair the damage.

voletunnels

Vole Tunnel Closeup

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

PART 7 – SNOW MOLD DISEASE

Snow mold is a fungal turfgrass disease that commonly affects lawns in early spring.   The Symptoms and visual damage are very evident as the snow melts away and brown matted down circular patches of turf ranging in size from a few inches in diameter to over one foot cover the lawn.   Depending on the severity of disease activity, these patches coalesce together and form bigger patches when the conditions are favourable for the disease.

Snow Mold Damage

Snow Mold Damage

There are two types of snow mold disease that affect turf.  Pink snow mold also commonly referred to as Fusarium Patch, and Gray snow mold also known as Typhula Blight.   Pink snow mold poses a greater risk for more severe damage and can be identified with the distinctive pink coloured mycelium.  Damage to the roots, crowns and leaf may cause plant death and require renovation to bring back the lawn in these areas.  Unlike pink snow mold, gray snow mold mycelium is greyish white in appearance and requires snow cover for infection to occur.  Damage is usually only minor on the leaf blades and the turf can generally recover on its own from this damage.

Spring Snow Mold Damage

Spring Snow Mold Damage

Most of the turf species that make up a home lawn including Kentucky Bluegrass, Fine Fescue and Perennial Ryegrass are all susceptible to snow mold.   Although preventing snow mold disease can be tough, a few things to consider before going into winter to better prepare the lawn include:

  • Proper Fertilization (avoid applying excessive nitrogen)
  • Mow the lawn at the recommended height until it stops growing
  • Rake up leaves, clippings and other debris before snow cover
  • Core aerate and remove undesirable thatch accumulation

Although the appearance of the lawn with snow mold can look rather rough, this typically only lasts for a couple weeks until the lawn wakes up from dormancy and begins greening up and growing quickly.  As the lawn begins to dry up, lightly hand raking away the brown matted down areas can also help speed the recovery process up.   If more severe snow mold damage has taken place beyond just cosmetic, aggressive renovation practices may be required to repair these areas.  Cultural practices such as Core Aeration, Overseeding, Topdressing and Slitseeding can help with this.

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

PART 6 – LOW TEMPERATURE KILL

Extreme cold temperature conditions persisting for days, weeks and even months are nothing but normal to many parts of Canada during the winter months.  The winter of 2014 has proven to be this just this, with an exclamation point at the end of extreme cold temperatures lasting for months!  When the mercury dips below freezing the turfgrass plant is exposed to many extremes that can cause damage.  These freezing conditions cause damage, and Direct Low Temperature Kill is what this is known as.

The turfgrass plant in large part is comprised of water and when freezing temperatures occur, the water freezes forming ice crystals inside the turfgrass plant ultimately causing the damage.  Direct low temperature kill is most commonly a result when rapid drops in temperature occur, or when extreme cold temperatures persist.  Several factors can affect direct low temperature kill including:  the susceptibility of the turfgrass species, plant hardiness, rapidness of freezing, the number of times the plant freezes, and the rate of thawing.

lowtemperaturekill

Extreme Low Temperatures

Although there is no exact direct low temperature kill measurement or way to determine if, when, and how bad the damage could be, plant hardiness as it relates to turfgrass species tells us more about which species are more susceptible.  Creeping Bentgrass, and Kentucky Bluegrass are regarded as having very good plant hardiness whereas perennial ryegrass and fine fescue have poor plant hardiness in which case low temperature kill damage is a lot more apparent on these species.

An aggressive approach to speed up recovery in the damage areas include a combination of cultural practices.  Core aeration, overseeding, topdressing, and slitseeding may be required.

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

PART 5 – WINTER DESICCATION

Add winter desiccation to the long list of what can happen to your lawn during the winter months.  Winter Desiccation takes place when the turfgrass plant is in its dormant or semi-dormant stages and can cause varying degrees of damage severity.  All turfgrass species are prone to winter desiccation if the right conditions persist.  Winter Desiccation occurs when the leaves and other parts of the turfgrass plant are damaged often to the point of death because its roots are unable to supply enough water to keep up with the amount of water the turfgrass plant is losing to the atmosphere.

Prolonged snow coverage during the winter months is considered ideal and certainly helps reduce the risk of desiccation damage.  Snow provides valuable moisture, and acts like a blanket, insolating the turfgrass and covering it from the potential harsh winter winds and unfavorable conditions.   Without snow coverage, preventing damage from desiccation is difficult if susceptible site conditions exist or the weather conditions are less than ideal.  The most severe damage typically occurs when there is no snow coverage and Dry, windy conditions persist.  Generally, the worst affected spots in the lawn are in elevated areas, on exposed slopes, and well drained sites in sandy soils.

The extent of the desiccation damage can range from minor to severe.  If minor damage has occurred, the lawn should recover on its own during the spring when the lawn begins to actively grow and break dormancy.  If major damage has occurred, aggressive renovation practices will be required to repair these areas.  Cultural practices such as Core Aeration, Overseeding, Topdressing and Slitseeding may be required.

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

PART 4 – CROWN HYDRATION

 

Crown Hydration continues to be one of the most destructive yet least preventable forms of winter kill that causes damage to a lawn.  Crown hydration commonly occurs during the late winter months when warmer daytime temperatures cause the snow to melt followed by rapid freezing temperatures.  The worst affected areas are in the low lying, poorly drained soils that are prone to standing water.  Under these conditions the turfgrass crown begins to absorb water and become saturated.  Extreme temperature fluctuations cause thawing and rapid refreezing creating ice crystals in the turfgrass plant cells that ultimately rupture and cause plant death.

Predicting when and how extreme damage could be from crown hydration is very difficult when considering temperature extremes and other environmental conditions that the turfgrass is faced with.   There is no exact science that determines under what circumstances crown hydration will cause the most damage or the turfgrasses ability to withstand the susceptibility.  Eliminating standing water by improving soil drainage is one of the best methods to help prevent crown hydration.  Proper fall fertilizing, can also help prepare and improve the turfgrass plants hardiness for the winter months that will reduce the susceptibility to damage as well.

Damage caused by crown hydration can vary from extreme turf death to minor damage where the turf can recover on its own.  As mentioned above, poorly drained soils, and low lying areas are commonly the worst affected that will require the most repair to fix the damage.  A combination of cultural practices such as core aeration, overseeding, slitseeding and topdressing will help with re-establishing the damaged turf.  If drainage or poor soil conditions exist, it is recommend to address these problems to help prevent possible damage from occurring in the future.

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

PART 3 – ICE DAMAGE

The effects of Ice coverage can cause varying degrees of lawn damage depending on the severity of the ice coverage, the length of exposure, and the hardiness of the turfgrass species effected.   Where snow coverage is generally considered desirable with the exception of the increased risk for snow mold disease, ice coverage on the other hand is more of a concern and is undesirable often causing more severe damage that requires renovation practices to speed up recovery.

The formation of ice coverage can take place from a number of different factors including freezing rain and rain, poorly drained soil and areas where standing water settles and freezes, and the natural melting of snow and refreezing as ice.   The critical duration of ice coverage before plant death starts to occur is usually somewhere between 30 – 120 days depending on the turfgrass species.  Creeping Bentgrass and Kentucky Bluegrass both have excellent winter hardiness making them less susceptible to winter kill related issues.   Fine fescue and perennial ryegrass have poor winter hardiness and are far more susceptible to ice damage and other winter kill causes.

Long durations of ice coverage significantly increase the chances for severe turf damage regardless of the turf species.  Plant death occurs as a result of ice coverage by the following reasons.  Carbon dioxide gas builds up and becomes toxic when it is trapped under the ice, crown hydration takes place when freezing and thawing occurs and plant cells rupture resulting in death, and the plants hardiness is weakened and reduces its susceptibility to resist damage.

The extent of the turf damage is first visible when the snow and ice melt away, and in many cases this damage may be isolated to only certain areas of the lawn specifically in the lower lying spots and also in the shaded areas where the ice coverage persisted the longest.  If complete death has occurred, an aggressive combination of renovation practices such as slitseeding, topdressing, and core aeration will help repair these areas.  If the damage is sparse and only appears minor, the lawn can usually recover on its own or a light seeding can help speed the recovery up.

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

PART 2 – SNOW COVERAGE

Depending on what part of the country you live in, the amount of snow coverage and the length of time the lawn is covered by snow can be significantly different region by region.  The majority of Canada with the exception of the coastal regions in British Columbia regularly experience consistent snowfall and snow coverage for the better part of 3 – 4 months (specifically December through March).  With that being said, these areas can be faced with winter kill damage that’s caused by snow coverage.

Generally speaking, when a lawn is covered with snow vs. not being covered during the harsh winter months it is usually regarded as a positive considering the lasting effects other factors can have on a lawn.  Consistent snow coverage acts similar to a blanket and helps insulate the grass plants and their roots from cold temperature extremes.  Exposure to these temperature extremes, combined with wind, ice, and freeze/thaw conditions can be very damaging without snow coverage.

Although snow provides protection against low temperature kill, wind desiccation, ice damage, and crown hydration, conversely snow coverage can help contribute to the likes of snow mold disease, and vole damage.  The same blanket effect that acts as a positive insulating the lawn as mentioned earlier, can have a negative effect providing optimal conditions for snow mold disease to transpire, and voles to tunnel their way across the lawn.  Prolonged snow coverage directly contributes to both Pink and Grey Snow Mold Disease.  The damage caused by snow mold is generally not considered severe and often times looks far worse than it really is.  The lawn typically recovers on its own in the early spring with minor renovation practices required only for the areas worst affected.

Snow Mold Damage

Snow Mold Damage

Vole Damage is another common problem that can be an un-pleasant surprise after the snow cover melts in the spring.  Voles tunnel along the surface of the lawn protected by the snow coverage and create turf damage from the surface tunnelling traffic and by feeding on the grass plants tissue.  Voles do not feed on the roots or crown of the grass plant and therefore the damage they cause is not considered severe and recovery can take place on its own or with minor renovation practices.

Vole Damage

Vole Damage

What Happens To Your Lawn During The Winter Months?

What Happens To Your Lawn During The Winter Months?

What Happens to Your Lawn During the Winter Months?

 PART 1

Have you ever thought about what happens to your lawn over the winter months when it is covered under ice and snow?  Or wonder why the lawn looks so bad in the spring after the snow melts when it looked so good in the fall?  Or Better yet, all the work you will need to do this spring to quickly get the lawn looking its best again?

To help answer these questions, it is important to outline what can and commonly does happen to your lawn during the winter.  Secondly, determining the what, where, why, when, and how things take place and the damaging effects they can have on your lawn is equally as important.   Understanding this can provide helpful insight on what can be done to help prevent these things from happening next winter, and help determine what course of action might be required to fix your damaged lawn.

Measuring Snow Coverage

Measuring Snow Coverage

Winter Kill is a common term used to describe turf damage that takes place during the winter.  A number of factors and a variety of conditions can contribute to winter kill resulting in moderate to severe turf damage depending on the circumstances.  Most people assume winter kill only happens if and when snow is covering the lawn.  This is not true.  Lawns covered with snow for months at a time certainly do see their fair share of turf damage, but snow alone is not the only factor that causes damage.

Highlighted over the next several blog posts, I will outline some of the most common types of winter damage and the steps to help your lawn recover if and when they do happen.  These include the following:

Snow Coverage

Ice Damage

Crown Hydration

Desiccation

Low Temperature Kill

Snow Mold Disease

Salt Damage

Vole Damage

The 113th United States Golf Championship Merion Golf Club

The historic East Course at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, PA hosted the 113th US Open Golf Championship over Father’s Day weekend, and for second year in a row I was fortunate enough to be live on location for another Major Championship.  As I walked along in the galleries or sat in the grandstands I truly saw up close and firsthand what the players were up against.

113th US OPEN MERION

113th U.S. OPEN – Merion Golf Club

Merion Golf Club has rich US OPEN history from previous Champions with the likes of Lee Trevino (1981), and Ben Hogan (1950) who hit the legendary “1 Iron shot” from the 18thfairway on the 72nd hole where a bronze plaque now marks where his famous shot was taken from.  Merion Golf club is also famously recognized for its unique Red Wicker Basket flagsticks, it treacherous bunkers nicknamed the “white faces”, and the “gauntlet like” stretch of holes leading into the clubhouse.

Ben Hogan 1 Iron Plaque

Bronze Plaque marking the spot where Ben Hogan shot his legendary 1 Iron on the 72nd hole in 1950

The US Open Golf Championship has always been highly regarded for its extreme level of difficulty delivering one of the toughest tests in golf.  Narrow fairways, challenging greens, demanding pin placements, penalizing rough, long yardages, and extremely fast green speeds leave golfers with very little margin for error.  Precision and accuracy on every shot are a prerequisite on a golf course where a par seems like a birdie and mistakes are compounded quickly resulting in scorecards filled with black numbers and squares instead of red numbers and circles.

Although Merion is considered a short golf course (under 7000 yards) by todays Championship standards, anyone who tuned into this past US Open quickly saw how challenging the golf course was from every angle.  For the second straight year, the winning score was over par (+1 Justin Rose) with every golfer in the field including the likes of the Worlds top golfers Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy scoring over par.

RED WICKER BASKET

Famous Red Wicker Basket with Tiger Woods and Leader Board in Background

As I observed the golf course from a turf management perspective, I couldn’t believe how perfectly dialed in every aspect of the golf course was from the creeping bentgrass greens, tees and fairways, to the white faced bunkers lined with knee high fine fescue growing along their edges, to the deepest, thickest Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass rough I have ever seen.  Many years of planning and preparation made it possible to manage the turf across the golf course at the highest level so it hit its peak during the tournament.

Merion Bunker - White Face

White Face bunkers surrounded by brutal rough in front of the 16th green

Managing the key cultural practices correctly played a major part in the golf course looking and playing the way it did.  Core aerationoverseedingtopdressingfertilizationpest managementirrigation, and mowing practices all contributed to the success of the turf management.  For all the nay sayers, and people who doubted that the Merion would be too easy and short for the golfers and the technologies of today’s game….. I say wait a minute, not so fast!

Money Clip buried in the Brutal Rough just a few yards from the fairway

Money Clip buried in the Brutal Rough just a few yards from the fairway

In a very difficult, but yet fair challenge, Merion Golf Club stood her ground even when the weather wasn’t on her side.  After the last shot was struck, and a champion was crowned the white faces of the bunkers were smiling and the blades of grass in the greens, tees, fairways and rough were still “green side up” adding another chapter to the rich history of Merion Golf Club.

A view of the 521 Yard Par 4 18th hole from the grandstands. (Quarry Hole)

A view of the 521 Yard Par 4 18th hole from the grandstands. (Quarry Hole)

Insect of the Month – White Grubs

In an average landscape, hundreds, even thousands of insects make their home across parts of the lawn, in flower beds, in plant materials, in trees and shrubs, and many other environments they see fit. The good news is, the majority of these insects are considered beneficial and non-harmful or destructive to the landscape. Only a small group of insects are classified as destructive turfgrass insects, and if left untreated they can cause major damage and devastate turfgrass in a lawn.

 

The White Grubs, commonly known as the “European Chafer”, “May/June Beetle”, and “Japanese Beetle” are very common in home lawns across many regions of the United States and Canada. White Grubs are very destructive and can devastate and damage a lawn in short time if left untreated. Extensive damage to the lawn is also commonly created by animals digging in the lawn searching and feeding on the white grub larvae such as racoons, skunks and birds. In many cases this damage can be far more severe than just areas of dead grass. Often sections of the lawn are ripped up, overturned and torn away as the animals dig through the soil in search of the white grub larvae to feed on. Evidence of animals digging is usually a very good indication that white grub larvae could be present or some other type of damaging insect is active.

 

One of the most important aspects of insect management is making sure the insect causing the damage is properly identified what life cycle the insect is in, what the infestation threshold limits are, and the location in the lawn where the insect is. These pieces of information will all help determine what control options are available and what the best course of action is required.

To learn more about the white grub identification, life cycle, threshold limits, damage, and control options click here to view presentation.