Helping Your Lawn Survive the Winter

Lawn careAlthough we get to enjoy mild winters here in Central Florida, without some planning and preparation, you could find yourself having to replace portions of your lawn come the spring. The cold can get harsh enough to kill off more delicate varieties of grass. But if you follow the tips below, you can reduce the chances of that happening to you, and you can enjoy a lush, green lawn in the spring months.

Dormancy is Normal

To better prepare for the winter, it’s important to understand the natural cycles of grass growth. Warm season species of grass will experience a period of dormancy during the winter, where growth is slowed. Your lawn may remain green, or it may turn brown. Both are perfectly normal during the winter months.
During this time, it’s important not to encourage growth with too much fertilizer. In Central Florida, it’s recommended that you fertilize no later than late September and no earlier than late March.

Don’t Cut Too Short

Some lawns need to be mowed all year round, especially the further south you go in Florida. Just remember that winter is a stressful time for grass, and you shouldn’t further add to the stress by cutting your lawn too short. Keep your mower at its highest setting for the winter months.
For most St. Augustine grass cultivars and Bahia grass, the height should be at about 3.5” to 4”. If you have centipede grass and coarse-textured Zoysia grass lawns, you can reduce the height to about 2” to 2.5”.

Treat Cold Damage When You See It

Don’t neglect to water your plants and your lawn after a harsh freeze. Just be sure to check the soil first. If it’s dried out or frozen, your plants won’t be able to get the moisture that they need, and watering can help with that by defrosting. Just be careful not to over-water. Winter is a drier time in the state of Florida, and when your lawn is in a state of dormancy, it doesn’t require so much care. Scale back on any irrigation systems you may have implemented.

It’s also important to resist the temptation to fertilize! This can’t be emphasized enough. Winter is not the time for new growth.

If your plants are showing signs of cold damage with dead foliage, resist the temptation to prune it. Despite how ugly it might look, the damaged leaves and branches provide insulation for the parts that are still living. The only time you should prune is if the plant begins to collapse. Herbaceous plants like impatiens and begonias are especially susceptible to this.

If Your Lawn Dies Anyway

Even with precautions, your lawn might experience patches where the grass dies, turns brown or whitish, and begins to rot. It happens to everyone, and it’s best to be prepared to deal with it.
To reduce the chances of further damaging your lawn, stay off of it. Excessive foot traffic can stress out what grass still remains, especially if it’s all still frozen. Don’t mow until the lawn’s had time to recover too, and when you finally do have to mow, do it at the mower’s highest setting possible.

There’s not much that can be done with a frozen lawn until winter passes. For those patches where the grass has died and isn’t coming back, you can get sod pieces or plugs, which you can lay down in the spring.

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