In recent years, Virginia has seen record high December temperatures followed by sharp cold snaps. These drops in temperature can severely damage or even kill turfgrass, so it is important that groundskeepers remain vigilant and make appropriate maintenance decisions. Dealing effectively will frost and ice will ensure that your turf has regrowth in spring.
Some of the preparation you did in October may have to be repeated if December remains warmer than usual. Check conditions and make sure the following factors are in place.
Mowing: It is important to keep cutting grass until it stops growing. If your grass is still getting higher, you need to take out the mower. In most cases, it is best not to cut lower than three inches or frost damage and surface desiccation will be a threat.
Drainage: If funds permit, seek professional advice to improve drainage surfaces. Alternatively, cut small holes in areas with poor drainage and fill them with gravel or sand to keep water away from the surface.
Shade: Winterkill is more likely to affect less healthy turfgrass such as that which grows in shady areas. Thin out tree canopies to improve sunlight penetration.
A blanket of snow allows oxygen to reach the turfgrass below. It also protects the grass plant from wind damage. Frost and ice are the real enemies of turfgrass in winter. These restrict oxygen availability and greatly increase chances of winterkill. Here are some ways to minimise damage.
- Do not allow foot or vehicle traffic on frosted or icy surfaces. Putting pressure on these surfaces causes ice crystals to puncture grass cells and kill the blades. A further problem occurs when the top layer of soil thaws and water collects in the depressions. Therefore, it is better to keep parks and golf courses closed till later in the day when frost has melted.
- Consider whether or not a cover is useful for your park, golf course or sporting field. Permeable covers provide some protection in low temperatures and are best used if a lengthy ice cover is not expected. Impermeable covers protect from ice cover damage, but need to be tucked down tightly. This prevents oxygen exchange, so it’s important to vent them regularly.
December is the crucial month in determining whether or not your turfgrass will survive until spring. Check the weather forecasts, consult your turfgrass expert and make key decisions based on the conditions that are emerging. Come spring, your chances of seeing healthy grass will have greatly increased.
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