What is winter die-back?

Winter die-back is a lawn problem that occurs mostly during the winter months. However, it can also occur during other seasons depending on the amount of rainfall and the types of usage. Your grass plants may start to become yellow, and the lawn’s growth becomes sparse, exposing the soil.

Newer lawns (those under 3 years old) are more susceptible to winter die-back, but even the most mature of lawns can suffer. 

To find out how to maintain a new lawn and which problems to look out for, please click here.

Winter die-back

What causes winter die-back?

The environment within which your lawn is growing will play a major factor in how your lawn will look, especially during the winter.

In  order to grow strong, grass plants require four major elements: air, water, sunlight and nutrients. If any of these elements are reduced, the overall health of your lawn will be affected. Lawns surrounded by fencing, structures and walls will be affected by reduced amounts of sunlight and airflow. These two factors alone are enough to cause a lawn to suffer from winter die-back and sparse growth.

Fences, structures and walls also have footings and foundations, which will probably surround and enclose the soil within which your lawn is growing. These reduce the natural flow of water throughout the soil, causing poor drainage. A good amount of airflow over the surface of a lawn and a sufficient amount of sunlight can help to evaporate any excess water from the soil. However, when your lawn is presented with all of these problems in one go, it is likely to suffer from winter die-back.

Excess usage during the non-growing season will add to the major issues caused by winter die-back. As the plants are already weakened, any amount of usage by you and your family, and especially pet dogs will make the issue worse. The grass plants are unable to rejuvenate and the lawn is unable to recover due to the colder temperatures.

If your lawn is new (under 12 months old), it is important to follow our guidelines on caring for your new lawn, and noting the dos and don’ts. Heavy use of a new lawn (especially turfed) can cause winter die-back.

What can be done to overcome winter die-back?

It is difficult to make structural changes to anything (such as buildings or fences) that are causing a lack of airflow over the surface of your lawn or reducing the amount of sunlight. So it is best to give your lawn the most advantage possible given its current circumstances. During the winter, make sure you use lawn as little as possible. If you need to get from one side of the lawn to the other (for example, if you need to get to a shed at the back of your lawn), install a pathway. Try and limit the amount of times your pets use the lawn. There are also a few other things that we can do:

Improve soil drainage

The first and main factor that causes winter die-back is over-saturated soil. Soil with a high clay content will hold onto water for longer, reducing the flow of water throughout the root zone. Adding sand to your soil will help to improve its overall condition by increasing the pore size within the soil’s structure, allowing water to flow through it more freely.

Use the correct seed variety for the growing environment

Some varieties of grass plants will grow better than others in specific growing environments. For lawns growing in a shaded environment or in an environment surrounded by fences and trees, the best variety of grass seed to use would be a mixture that contains a shade-tolerant variety such as creeping red fescue.

Green Man recommends

Based on the above solutions, we would recommend the following Green Man Lawn Care treatments:

  1. Hollow-tine Aeration to help relieve soil compaction. This treatment also creates holes for top-dressing to fall into and mix with the original soil.
  2. Top-dressing will help improve the soil by adding sand to the original soil content.
  3. Overseeding (using a shade-tolerant mix) will introduce a more appropriate seed to the lawn.
  4. Spiking – Although Green Man does not offer this treatment, this is something you can carry out yourself using a garden fork. To spike the lawn, press the fork into the soil to a depth of over two inches. The holes made by the fork will allow air to pass through the root zone and help the excess water evaporate.

Lawn mowing

Lawn mowing plays a major role in lawn maintenance, especially for lawns growing in an unfavourable environment. The key is to maintain a cutting height of two inches, and mowing ‘little and often.’ This means you will need to cut your lawn more often, taking only a small amount off the height of the grass plants. This method prevents the grass plants from using too much energy to search for sunlight, whilst maintaining a thicker sward of grass.

For tips on lawn mowing, please click here.

When will I see an improvement?

The grass plant requires a minimum temperature of around 8°C to grow. The solutions offered above will help improve the lawn once it has a chance to start growing again. It’s important to note that the lawn may improve on its own once temperatures start to increase in the spring. Remember also that some lawns may take many years to mature enough to the point where winter die-back does not become a problem.

How will my Green Man Lawn Care treatments help?

Lawns that suffer from winter die-back will also suffer from weeds due to the amount of exposed soil. Our seasonal treatments help to reduce the number of weeds taking advantage of the exposed soil.

It is important to maintain a sufficient level of nutrients available to the grass plants to ensure your lawn stays healthy and to help it thicken up quicker in the spring. Nutrients will also help to improve the amount of roots within the soil. A healthier root zone will improve the overall condition of the soil.