How to manage your turf in winter

Temperature is an important factor in determining the growth rate of turf. Read these tips on how to manage turf grass in the winter period.

March 16, 2022

What happens to your turf when the temperature declines:

  1. In low temperatures, grass growth will slow and eventually become dormant; in very low temperatures, the turf will be damaged.
  2. Exposure to cold temperatures may cause water to freeze within the plant. Ice crystals may form in and around the cells and, in doing so, can cause physical damage to plant cells.
  3. Water can also be pulled out of individual cells while ice crystals form around the cells. Plant cells will die from desiccation if enough water is lost. This form of freeze damage often occurs during periods of thaw or in later winter, and is commonly referred to as crown hydration injury.
  4. Suffocation or anoxia can also damage turf that is encased in ice or is under some type of impermeable cover for an extended period.
  5. Soil microbes and the plants under the ice cover utilize oxygen as they respire, and anaerobic condition develops as the oxygen is depleted.


Approach cold management:

  1. Raise cutting height in late summer to increase photosynthesis potential and the ability to produce carbohydrates, and develop an improved root system.
  2. Minimize shade where possible to maximize carbohydrate production. Turf growing in shade also has higher moisture content and a reduced cell thickness.
  3. Harden turf coming into winter by appropriate use of fertilizers. Use fertilizers with low nitrogen: high potassium ratios to harden turf.
  4. Increase aeration / reduce compaction to encourage better rooting and to help diffuse toxic gas during winter months.
  5. Improve surface drainage to minimize prolonged ice cover and freeze injury.
  6. Irrigate sparingly in fall to reduce plant hydration. This will allow the plants to tolerate dehydration in cold winters.
  7. Select cold-tolerant grass species and cultivars.