The recent deep freeze in Zone 8B and throughout the state has left a lot of lawns worse for wear, but the truth is that lawns usually need a lot of tender loving care after winter passes. Besides freezing, other seasonal damage includes:
Salt: This isn’t usually too much of an issue in our area, but as we all know, this year is different. Salt and chemical ice melters that municipalities spread on roads and homeowners spread on sidewalks don’t stay on the pavement. As the ice and snow melt, the chemicals leach into the grass, especially around the edges. When you can, “wash” your grass with two or three generous waterings, then lay down new seed and fertilizer, or a three-in-one mix if you prefer.
Dog Pee: When it’s too cold for long walks, lots of us let our dogs out to do their business in the yard. However, if the nitrogen-heavy dog pee gets buried under a layer of snow and ice, it has time to soak in and damage the grass. As above, wash the grass with a few generous waterings, then reseed or patch with sod as desired.
If you notice particularly bad patches, you can test the pH to determine if you need to rebalance the soil first. If you get a pH reading below 6.0, you can apply lime with a spreader to reduce soil acidity and then fertilize two weeks later.
Of course you want to get your lawn looking lush and green again as soon as possible, but it’s important to wait until there’s no more chance of another freeze. A lot of what we’re suggesting will leave your grass and other plantings vulnerable, at least temporarily, and you really don’t want them to suffer if there’s another cold snap.
We weren’t necessarily expecting the first one, and Mother Nature can be unpredictable at best, but check your local weather reports and perhaps the local agricultural extension office. When you feel confident that there’s no danger of another deep freeze, you can work on restoring your lawn!
The first thing that you’ll need to do to help your lawn recover is to cut it pretty closely. You don’t want to go all the way down to the ground, but two or so notches shorter than usual will be ideal here. This gets rid of the dry brown tops that you’re seeing now, and the new growth will be bright and healthy.
Be sure to bag and remove the clippings. If you leave them on top of your newly shorn grass, it will just increase the thatch below the surface. Many mowers have an option to bag as you mow, but if yours doesn’t, you’ll have to do a good rake-and-bag yard cleanup after you cut down your lawn. Either way, you need to be sure that your lawn is cut short and free of dead material.
The next step is to fertilize. If you’re concerned about weeds, you can use “weed and feed” fertilizer at this time so that you’re only promoting the growth of what you want growing. A good choice would be nitrogen/phosphate 15-5-10 fertilizer, and if you’re using weed killer as well, choose atrazine or Trimec.
After that, give the lawn a thorough watering – at least half an inch. You should do this the same day that you mow and fertilize, or at the very least, no later than the next morning. If you can, plan a lawn care day right when a good rain is due so that this part is taken care of for you; otherwise, set your sprinkler and irrigation system.
Flowers and Gardens
You’ll want to do much the same to fix your flowerbed, trees, and other garden areas. Start with a good yard cleanup: prune dead branches and damaged plants. Trees and plants that keep their dead branches are stifling new growth, and it just doesn’t look great.
Be aware that young trees or trees with thin bark could have suffered damage that isn’t immediately visible. “Frost cracks” will become more apparent as the trees grow. Check the tree a few times during the spring to see if first aid becomes necessary.
Other cold-weather damage includes leaf tips that have been burned by the cold. This may appear as if the leaves or even the entire plant is dead, but that’s not necessarily the case. Check the stem tissue; if it is bright green and the stem itself is flexible, there’s a good chance that this plant will come back. However, if the stem is brittle, mushy, or cracked, it’s probably dead and you’ll need to prune it to preserve the rest of the plant.
Your mulch may have been displaced or otherwise damaged by the snow and ice. Plants and flowerbeds need plenty of high-quality mulch, especially in the winter. It breaks down and enriches the soil, allows the plants to absorb water at a steady rate, and (right now) most importantly, it creates a barrier between freezing air and the roots of the plants.
Finally, enrich the soil around your flowers or other plants. Soil that has been shocked by the cold is soil that has been depleted of nutrients. Amending it with premium soil that has been enriched with expanded shale, coconut coir, earthworm castings, composted pine bark, composted rice hulls, sphagnum peat moss, dolomite lime, and/or beneficial mycorrhizae will help your plants spring back to life in the spring.