Common Causes of Winter Kill in Pennsylvania Lawns

February 27, 2020

During the harsh, cold winter here in Pennsylvania, our lawn is tested. The cold temperatures, heavy snow and ice, and dry winds all take their toll on the grass. Between the weather, pests, and disease, your lawn could be at risk of winter kill. Anything that causes damage or death to the lawn during the winter is considered winter kill. This makes monitoring and preventing winter kill more difficult. However, if you know the common causes of winter kill in Pennsylvania lawns, then you’ll know exactly what to watch for.

Snow Mold

Snow mold is one of the common causes of winter kill, but you’ll have to wait until the snow starts to melt to find out if your lawn has it. This cold fungus quietly creeps through your matted grass and excess thatch beneath the snow. It’s much worse if the snow falls before the ground freezes. Snow mold is made worse by long grass, piles of leaves or debris, and heavy piles of snow throughout the winter. When the snow starts to melt in the spring, watch for the web-like, fuzzy fungus growing in irregularly shaped patches of soaked grass. Gray snow mold is white or gray in color whereas pink snow mold is more red, pink, or copper-colored.

For snow mold, the only option is prevention and control. Keeping your lawn healthy and maintained throughout the year is essential to preventing snow mold. Finish out the fall with strategic maintenance to ensure your lawn is as healthy as possible before going dormant. Aerate the lawn in the fall to break up thatch and reduce pooling water. Remove the fall lawn debris, leaves, and grass clippings before the snow starts. If you find snow mold in your lawn, use a rake to break up the mold and thatch in that area. By improving the airflow in your grass, you can dry out the mold and prevent further damage.
 
Another common cause of winter kill and winter lawn damage here in Ephrata, PA is crown hydration.

Crown Hydration

The king of the common causes of winter kill is crown hydration. This disastrous form of winter lawn damage is especially common in the winter when the temperatures rise above freezing for a while and then drop back below freezing. This extreme temperature change has a terrible effect on the grass. The warmer temperatures wake the grass up, causing it to start absorbing water and storing it in the crown. When the temperatures drop back below freezing, the water in the crown freezes and expands, destroying the plant cells and killing the grass. Crown hydration is not to be taken lightly.

The only option when it comes to crown hydration is active prevention during the rest of the year. Keep your lawn healthy by meeting all of its seasonal needs in the spring, summer, and fall, so the grass can go into the winter as healthy and hardy as possible. Healthy lawns are much better at standing up to the tough conditions of winter.

Winter Desiccation

Winter desiccation is another common cause of winter kill that is a direct result of tough winter weather conditions. This form of winter lawn damage can only happen to grass, trees, and shrubs that are not covered by snow. The ground must also be frozen for winter desiccation to happen. The lack of snow cover leaves your grass exposed to the dry winter wind. As the wind rips the moisture out of the leaves, the plant needs to replace it. Because the ground is frozen, the grass can’t replace the lost moisture via absorption through the roots. In the end, the affected grass shrivels up and dies from extreme dehydration.

Like crown hydration, the only way to control winter desiccation is through year-round prevention. A lawn care program from Showcase Lawn Works allows you to ensure your lawn’s needs are being taken care of all year.
 
Voles are some of the most common causes of winter kill here in Ephrata, PA.

Vole Damage

Finally, there is vole damage. These tiny, hungry rodents remain active all winter, feasting on your grass and roots below the snow. When the snow melts in the spring, you’ll see tiny trails of stripped and chewed grass. This network of intersecting runways is an ugly eyesore but rarely results in much more damage. However, a vole can kill an entire tree over the course of winter. If the vole has easy access to the trunk of a tree, it can chew a strip of the bark away. If it removes the strip all the way around the tree, then it cuts the roots off from the rest of the plant, causing it to die of dehydration. This is called tree girdling.

To prevent vole damage and tree girdling in the winter, there are a few things you can do. First, trim away low branches from trees and shrubs, especially the ones close to the ground. This removes a vole hiding place. Next, continue mowing your grass until it finally stops growing. Again, this removes a hiding place for the voles. Finally, make sure the base of your trees and shrubs are protected. By wrapping them or keeping mulch from piling up against the trunk, you can protect your trees from hungry voles.

Prevent Winter Kill With Year-Round Services From Showcase Lawn Works

Not only do the experts at Showcase Lawn Works know the common causes of winter kill, but we also know how to prevent it throughout the year. With a consistent lawn care program from Showcase Lawn Works, you can be sure that your lawn is getting everything it needs to stay healthy all year. A healthy lawn is the best defense against winter kill causing threats.

To find out how to get started, call us at 717-354-3226 or request a FREE estimate here. To be the first to hear about our news and deals, follow us on Facebook. Check out our helpful blog for all the best tips on tree care, lawn care, pest control, and more!