University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Lawns and Winter Problems

November 19, 1998

Shade trees are bare, skies are mostly cloudy, and the lawn is usually a combination of brown and sick green. Welcome to late fall in northern Illinois! While most people don’t think much about it now, how can the lawn be helped through the long winter ahead?

As conditions cool down in fall, some grasses go dormant faster than others, leading to multicolored lawns. For example, warm-season perennial grasses, such as nimblewill, now appear as white or light gray patches in the lawn. Crabgrass, a warm-season annual, died several weeks ago, leaving brown areas in the lawn. Different cultivars of desirable lawn grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, may vary in how fast they go dormant, which can add to the mottled appearance of lawns this time of year.

One of the main problems facing lawns over winter is snow mold disease. Remember all the crusty patches early last spring as the snow melted away? Lawns left very high for the winter, along with being covered with debris such as leaves, are prime candidates for damage. Other factors increasing the chances for snow mold include excess nitrogen fertilizer, shade, poor drainage, and excess thatch.

Avoid heavy snow mold development by cleaning up fallen leaves and other debris off your lawn. If the lawn is quite tall, a final mowing may be needed; although it could be too late if grasses have gone dormant and are matted down. Also avoid packing down snow cover on lawns, as slowly melting areas may be more prone to snow mold early next spring.

Another lawn problem that can be very visible early next spring is vole, or field mouse, damage. These animals will leave a series of winding trails in the grass as they burrow under snow cover. Cleaning up leaves and mowing until the end of the season will help minimize damage. In addition, remove any excess vegetative debris near lawn areas, as it could be cover for voles.

Finally, one last problem to consider this winter is salt damage to lawn grasses. Avoid shoveling or plowing snow containing high levels of deicing salts onto turf areas, as high levels of salt will lead to turf damage next spring. Try to clear snow before putting down salt and only use enough salt to get the job done.


Click here for the full article index