What Happens to Your Lawn During Cold Weather?

If you live in the northern United States or Canada, the odds of experiencing cold or freezing temperatures are extremely high. In fact, it’s common for the ground to freeze in during the winter weather conditions in these northern regions. Unfortunately, cold temperatures and other winter weather conditions can be bad news for your lawn, especially if the snow and freezing temperatures hang around for several months. To get a better idea of how to protect your lawn, take a look at what happens to it during cold weather and how each season can have a different impact. The information below can help you prepare for this inevitable shift in condition and temperatures and find out what you can do to save your lawn.  


Why It's Good to Leave the Leaves • Preen

Think of fall as your preparation time to get your lawn ready for winter. Raking the leaves in your yard and making sure your soil is fertilized for winter is crucial during this time. Fall is also one of the best times of year to aerate your lawn. Start as soon as the weather starts turning cooler because, depending on where you live, you might start seeing freezing temperatures as early as October and November.  

Fall maintenance is crucial to ensuring the survival of your grass through the winter and into next spring. Forgetting to do things like removing leaves, fertilizing, and watering your lawn during the autumn months is a recipe for disaster for your yard. Luckily, well-established grass is strong and resilient so, with a little love and care, it will stay healthy through the fall and winter until it’s ready to roll in the spring.  


Snow, Ice and your Lawn - Good's Tree and Lawn Care

Winter lawn care can be challenging, especially when dealing with extended periods of snow and ice. Freezing temperatures have a detrimental effect on grass and if you didn’t complete your fall preparation, your lawn is more likely to be damaged during the tough winter months. Winter is definitely the most dangerous time to be a blade of grass in a lawn. Cold weather can have the following effects on your lawn.  

  • Grass looks brown and dead during the winter.  When the frost and snow set in, your grass will turn brown and may look dead. It’s actually gone dormant, turning brown in order to conserve water and nutrients. Even if it gets covered with snow or ice, most of your grass will stay alive if you properly prepared it for winter.  
  • Some grass death and desiccation.  No matter how well you prepared you are for winter, there will ultimately be some casualties. Extreme cold can cause your grass to not get enough moisture, even when it’s covered in frost and snow. This “desiccation” of your grass can cause some of it to die off, but usually not enough to be a serious problem. 
  • Some continued growth by resilient grass.  Not all types of grass go into hibernation. Some “winter grasses” like ryegrass or fescue will continue to blossom and grow even through harsh winter conditions. You can even purchase winter grass seed that’s specifically designed to keep your lawn green during winter months. 
  • The risk of mold damage.  A common grass disease during the winter months is snow mold. While preventative measures can be taken to greatly reduce this risk, there’s still a possibility in can develop on your lawn. However, don’t let the risk of mold prevent you from fertilizing your lawn in the winter. Go ahead and apply a winter fertilizer after the grass has stopped growing in the fall, but is still green on top and has an active root system. In many parts of the Northern U.S., this usually means sometime in mid-late November or early December.  


Spring is when you’ll finally get to see if your fall preparations paid off and your lawn survived the winter. However, patience is a virtue—especially if the winter has been particularly harsh. Don’t get carried away and try to do too much, too early in the year. As your grass recovers, you can begin to: 

  1. pick up large twigs and branches that are covering your lawn.  
  2. fertilize and overseed your lawn.  
  3. repair any large, bare patches.  
  4. stay ahead of the weeds.